Operating a business can be an unpredictable occupation. Things come up, and fairly often. One of the greatest threats posed to the health of any business is a severe storm or some other kind of weather-related emergency.
Even when operations are running smoothly, businesses need to be prepared for heavy weather, especially during the colder months. Because a blizzard, ice storm, or freezing spell can generate unexpected costs and affect the bottom line, it’s best to devise a weather policy to deal with these occasions well before they happen.
Working with a weather emergency plan in place will likely be much less costly than facing winter without one.
Impacts of Heavy Winter Weather
A heavy winter storm can impact businesses in many ways.
- A blizzard can shut down local roads and freeways, meaning that customers, clients, employees, and products can’t get to their destinations. If workers in particular can’t make it to a store, a manager or owner may need to close even if customers are showing up.
- High winds can damage building roofs and exteriors, down trees, and interfere with power and communications systems.
- Cold temperatures combined with precipitation may cause icing on roofs. The resulting heavy ice dams may cause structural and water damage.
- Ice on sidewalks can turn them into highly hazardous slip-and-fall zones, injuring customers and/or employees and leading to liability headaches for owners.
- A winter weather event can leave the need for costly repairs and snow removal.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, an estimated 25 percent of all businesses affected by a major disaster never reopen. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to storms, whether that’s a spring-season tornado, flood, or winter blizzard. They have less capital and personnel available to resume operations and recover losses.
Luckily, any business, large or small, can get help formulating a weather plan by partnering with a professional employer organization. Resourcing Edge, for example, drafts policies and procedures to deal with winter storms. These can be individually tailored to a client based on their size, location, and business sector.
Preparations and Notification
One positive aspect of winter storms is they can usually be predicted. If they keep an eye on weather reports, business owners usually have a day or two, at least, to prepare.
When a blizzard is approaching, a business can notify employees of closing policies. For a large number of workers, the most efficient way to do this would be a mass e-mail and a “phone tree” in case Internet connections are down. For a phone tree, a few people are assigned several others to call and notify.
The most efficient way to communicate with customers is via social media. Procedures may include announcing any closures and later reopening via, for instance, a Facebook page and/or Twitter account. Signs on storefronts and sidewalks are also a common way to notify customers of unexpected closings and openings. If the business maintains an e-mail list of clients, this channel can also be used for notices and updates.
Prior to the storm’s arrival, check backup power units. Are there flashlights available in case the power goes out? Are snow shovels and snowblowers available? Is the backup generator in working order? What’s the status of the contract, if any, with snow-clearing services?
Smart business owners also come up with a backup plan for mail interruptions. Although the USPS is pretty diligent about getting the mail out in all kinds of weather, road closures can affect the post office, as well as any commercial delivery or package service.
Even a one-day shutdown can affect a business that relies on the submission of time-sensitive documents and/or products. Does the business have some alternate way of getting out contracts, for example? How about an electronic funds transfer arrangement with a bank or an online money transfer app to replace mailed checks? Keep contact numbers for delivery vendors such as USPS and FedEx handy, and check their websites or call to keep abreast of service interruptions.
Checking Structures and Verifying Insurance
A thorough infrastructure check is also advisable when a winter storm is on the way. Pipes should be insulated and ready for freezing temperatures. Furnaces, smoke alarms, and CO detectors should be in working order. Are there first aid kits on the premises? Does the business display numbers for medical emergencies and insurance information for employees?
If the business does stay open, it would be wise to have a supply of sand and/or salt available. Commercial ice melting compounds are also handy. Business owners should ensure that all sidewalks, entrances, and walkways are clear. Meanwhile, a floor fan will help to dry snow-logged rugs and carpets at the entry.
Businesses would also be wise to check their insurance coverage for storm damage and flooding. Regularly update inventory lists in case a loss occurs and an insurance claim needs to be filed.
It would also be a good idea to review liability and workers’ compensation coverage, which certain states and local jurisdictions may require depending on the type and size of a business. Business compliance is vital. Otherwise, lawsuits may follow.
Closures and Reopening
In case of a weather event, make sure employees, key vendors, and customers are notified as soon as possible of closing offices, stores, and other business facilities affected by the storm. There should be an up-to-date contact list included as part of the plan.
If a single event, such as a shareholder meeting, has been affected by road closures or other incidents, reschedule once the business has reopened and resumed normal operations. Reopening should only occur when public emergency operations are completed, the weather is favorable, and transportation facilities have resumed operation.
Pay and Benefits
Will employees be paid for down days? How about overtime pay for those who can show up for emergency help, clearing flooded stores or shoveling sidewalks, doorways, driveways, and parking lots?
A business needs a plan and a policy in place so that workers know what to expect. There may be local and state regulations concerning pay during snow emergencies, usually covering public services such as schools, DWV offices, public employee offices, courthouses, first responder stations, snowplow stations, and the like.
The pay policy might affect benefits such as life, health, and disability insurance. How long will these continue to be covered if a business suffers a long-term closure? Every business extending these benefits should make this clear to covered employees.
Arrangements can also be made so that employees who don’t need to be on the premises to work can do so from home.
After the Storm
Finally, a winter storm plan should describe procedures for cleanup and a thorough systems check. This step is often neglected, but bear in mind that the true costs of a storm, in any season, might only truly be felt once the weather has passed and the business reopens.
The after-storm plan should include a contact list for all cleanup and repair services. This could include plumbers, electrical contractors, building inspectors, haul-away services for damaged equipment and structure, and water mitigation services.
This is also the time to check inventory for any losses and file insurance claims for storm damage. When a heavy storm hits, an insurance carrier should be prepared with a large crew of inspectors and adjusters to handle the surge in claims activity.
This will be the right time to assess an insurance company’s professionalism and preparedness.
Professional Help With Your Winter Storm Plan
Owning and running a business means dealing with a lot of details. It’s easy to overlook details and put off non-urgent business in the stress and bustle of day-to-day operations, and planning for a winter weather emergency can easily become one of those overlooked tasks.
It might help to partner with a professional employer organization. With experience assisting many different kinds of businesses in many different locations, PEOs such as Resourcing Edge have the skills to handle details and planning even in the case of inclement weather.
Resourcing Edge can help draft a winter weather/emergency policy that considers your industry, geographic location, and size. They can make recommendations for physical improvements and repairs, recommend contractors and insurance, and review any plans or policies the business already has in place.
This kind of partnership can save business owners a lot of time and trouble, not to mention a tremendous amount of money if the worst comes to pass and a damaging blizzard or ice storm hits.
Contact Resourcing Edge for a consultation. They can draw up a set of best practices and policies so you can focus on your business and your bottom line.