Business Monday

Here’s how small businesses should prepare for a bad storm’s aftermath

Bloomberg News/File, Oct. 24, 205

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily impacted our coastal areas recently, we’re reminded how important it is to prepare for and respond to natural disasters to minimize losses and ensure long-term viability. The actions a business takes in the first few days after a loss can often determine the success of its recovery and settlement of insurance claims for property damages and lost profits.

Following are tasks that well-prepared businesses incorporate in their continuity plans. If such a plan does not already exist, a business should still consider adopting these best practices to make the recovery process smoother.

1: Assess damages. As soon as the danger has passed, business owners should conduct the following activities:

▪ Identify the cause and origin of the loss.

▪ Assess structural components of the remaining facilities.

▪ Determine the scope of physical damage.

▪ Reach a consensus with an insurance representative on the scope of the damages.

▪ Conduct a count of damaged and/or destroyed inventory.

Business owners should record the damages they incurred via videotape as soon as possible after incurring a loss. A narrated video provides an inexpensive ounce of prevention if there are future disputes with insurers.

2: Protect and secure the site. Boarding up broken windows, making temporary roof repairs, covering machinery to protect it against the elements and disconnecting utility services are examples of things businesses should do to protect their property from further damage.

In addition, consider securing the damaged area with temporary fencing or security personnel to ensure it remains intact for subsequent investigation and calculation of losses. Retail establishments should take extra care to avoid looting. Securing the site and protecting property is typically an insurance policy requirement. Plus, it will help to expedite the business’ return to its normal operations.

3: Form a recovery task force. Business owners looking to get their operations up and running quickly must act fast to reestablish revenue streams from customers. The best way to accomplish this is to have a solid recovery plan carried out by a company task force made up of:

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Jimmy King looks at what is left of his three-bay garage shop after a storm hit at his Arab, Alabama, home on April 27, 2011. Robin Conn AP File

▪ Employees representing the business’ damaged operations, such as an operations manager, head of manufacturing, etc.

▪ Personnel responsible for rebuilding, such as a facilities manager, project manager, etc.

▪ A representative with the construction contractor

▪ A risk manager or other staff member in charge of corporate insurance policies

▪ Key staff members who interact regularly with customers, such as sales directors or customer relations representatives

▪ A corporate finance or accounting liaison, who will serve as the gatekeeper to gather, track, and record the repair costs as well as distribute the necessary information to other appropriate parties

▪ Other consultants retained to assist in the recovery, including engineers, reconstruction experts and outside accountants and consultants

4: Be involved in estimations of losses. When an insured business has a covered loss, the insurance carrier will typically send out an adjuster to establish a “reserve” — an initial estimate of the loss. Rather than leaving this initial loss estimation solely in the hands of insurance adjusters or other outside consultants, business owners should involve themselves in the process: No one knows a business better than its owners.

Moreover, a business interruption estimate prepared with a business owner is less likely to overlook important factors that might affect the ultimate amount of covered losses, such as recently awarded contracts, new customers, new products, recently implemented or soon-to-be implemented cost savings or efficiencies, which may affect the ultimate amount of the loss.

5: Establish a loss-accounting system. There are many ways for businesses to account for a loss, but the best is to use a simple system that follows their normal day-to-day activities. Examples can include creating a set of charge codes related to the loss, establishing separate costs centers for each repair expense category, or creating a project work order, as if the repair was a normal project. The goals should be to separate repair costs from normal operating expenses and keep them organized and easy to access.

6: Run expenses and invoices through a corporate gatekeeper. Invoices for loss-related expenses should be routed to an individual in the business’ accounting department (e.g., controller, chief accountant, etc.), who can review them for accuracy, appropriate detail and relevance to a claimed loss. A gatekeeper ensures that all invoices meet an insurance company’s reimbursement requirements before a business pays an invoice.

If further detail is required from the vendor, it is often much easier to get the information before the invoice is paid rather than after.

7: Get help. The recovery from a loss is a traumatic and potentially significant event. Getting help from a professional accountant, lawyer and/or engineer who specializes in financial recovery from losses and keeps your best interests in mind can make the process less complicated. They will work with your company, insurance broker and the insurer’s representatives. In addition, their fees may be covered by an insurance policy with a “professional fee” or “claim preparation cost” endorsement.

Daniel S. Hughes, CPA/CFF, CGMA, CVA, is a director in the Forensics and Business Valuation Services practice at Berkowitz Pollack Brant. He can be reached at 305-379-7000 or at dhughes@bpbcpa.com.

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