Four lessons small businesses learned from Hurricane Sandy

Of all the risks businesses face, the ones they can’t control, such as increasingly frequent and intense bouts of extreme weather, can seem the most formidable. Businesses confronting the growing threat of devastating storms and other climate impacts will need to become more resilient to avoid the most serious damage, even if they do have to close their doors for some time.

In a C2ES business resilience webinar shortly after the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Jay Bruns, vice president for public policy at The Hartford, discussed how his company evaluates climate risks and how it encourages and helps its customers to prepare.

The insurance industry regards severe weather as a serious and growing risk. From 1992-2011, weather-related losses across the United States accounted for more than 85 percent of catastrophic insurance losses, those with claims totaling more than $25 million. Those totals don’t include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Last year, the most costly weather-related disaster worldwide was Hurricane Sandy, with an estimated $65 billion in damage.

Earlier this year, The Hartford surveyed more than 450 small businesses in areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut hit by Hurricane Sandy to find out what challenges they faced and what lessons they learned.

More than half the businesses surveyed reported they lost sales or revenue, and about 75 percent had to close their doors for some period of time, many for at least seven days. But the major challenge wasn’t damage to buildings; it was a loss of connection to the power grid. In fact, only 11 percent of the businesses reported structural damage, while 71 percent experienced a power outage.

This shows how important it is for companies to think beyond the fence line when assessing climate risks. Aside from threatening the availability of power and water supplies, extreme weather can also keep employees from getting to work and disrupt communication systems.

Survey respondents said based on their experience with Sandy, they’d give the following advice to fellow small business owners:

  • Review your property insurance coverage
  • Invest in a generator
  • Create a backup of important records, and
  • Develop a business continuity plan

Some of these efforts involve spending money on supplies and equipment while some are investments of time and effort to protect a business’ most valuable assets: its employees and data.

As we continue to address the causes of climate change, we also have to face that climate impacts are happening here and now and businesses and communities need to be prepared.

C2ES Business Resilience Webinars:

  • Dec. 4, 2-3 p.m.: Sue Lacey, Climate and Energy Principle at Rio Tinto, discusses climate impacts on the mining industry. Register here.
  • See video and slides of previous business resilience webinars with Entergy, Weyerhaeuser and American Water.