Properties & Leasing

Finding the silver lining: How retailers can bounce back from a disaster

Posted by: Levie Johnson Levie Johnson
on November 4, 2015

May 2015 was the wettest single month in the history of Texas. The city of Webster, in particular, received five inches of rain in 12 hours, and the constant downpour created a “perfect storm” of conditions that led to a partial roof collapse at our Center at Baybrook.

The deluge of rainwater overloaded the city’s storm water system, which isn’t designed to process that volume of water over such a short period. Soon, the retention pond at Baybrook filled to capacity, and the parking lot flooded. The water falling on the shopping center roof wasn’t moving because the downspouts were underwater. As a result, water began pooling on a tenant’s roof that was situated lower than the others in the shopping center, causing it to collapse.

You never know when a disaster will strike your business, whether it’s natural or man-made. A responsible owner must know how to fix the situation, get doors open, and customers shopping as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips for dealing with disaster.

1) Take stock of the situation.

The first thing an owner needs to do is survey the situation. Seeking medical attention for any injuries is top priority. If the authorities haven’t been notified yet, call them. In some situations, alarms set off by the existing building system will alert local police and fire departments to the area. For example, at Baybrook the roof collapsed under the weight of the water, and with it came two HVAC units. As the machinery fell, it clipped a fire sprinkler line which alerted the fire department and Kimco as a water flow alarm. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Then, ascertain the extent of property damage and secure the area to make sure it’s safe. Determine who the best decision makers are for the emergency, and clearly assign each task to a person in charge with a clear action plan.

2) Have a chain of command in place.

No matter how small the business, there needs to be a chain of command. In the event of an emergency, make sure that managers notify executive management, your landlord, and other necessary off-site personnel to provide details of the situation and outline the current actions that are being taken. Give daily or as-needed updates on the situation.

For unfortunate events like robberies or other crime-related happenings, local media may reach out for comments. There should be one person designated as the media contact, whether it’s an owner or an outside public relations firm. If the spokesperson is not located immediately on site, ensure that he or she is briefed completely on the situation prior to any media interviews. Having one person speak to the media ensures message continuity and that only relevant facts are disclosed.

3) Enact the emergency plan.

You never hope to use an emergency plan, but having one is essential in a time of crisis. Having a set emergency plan is a two-step process. First, small business owners should conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) so that operational disruptions are less of a surprise. A BIA analyzes the vulnerabilities in your business and evaluates the severity that could occur, and it can inform you on how long it might take to get back up and running. For example, a building that’s up to code will withstand an earthquake better than a structurally unsound building, which could be reduced to rubble in wake of an earthquake.

Second, use this BIA to create a thorough emergency action plan. This document includes contact information for the aforementioned chain of command, local authorities, and also a list of contractors and tenant contacts. Don’t forget about your IT needs either. You may need to have IT vendors on hand to help you recover computer hardware, data, and get back online as quick as possible. Ideally, the business will routinely backup all records and critical data so they will be easy to retrieve. Be sure to refresh the emergency plan often to ensure that when an emergency does strike, your contractors can step in and do the job.

Having this updated and well-detailed emergency action plan really saved us when Baybrook was in the midst of a natural disaster. Because Kimco has thorough emergency plans for each shopping center, within one hour of my arrival at Baybrook we had a partial water extraction team on site; within four hours, we had a structural engineer on site to check the stability of the center and put together a plan to brace the area to make it safe; and within nine hours, there were 40 people on site doing water removal and ensuring the center was secure. When including contractors into an emergency plan, make sure to have a mix of both local and national vendors. Here in Webster, local crews were busy with their own flooded homes and trapped cars. Our national contractor, however, could pull crews from neighboring cities that weren’t underwater. Right after the rain stopped, their crews arrived to begin the cleanup of Baybrook.

4) Good customer service benefits everyone.

A disaster should not be a time to strain relations between you and your customer. Retailers and small business owners should have their designated social media managers post any updates and respond to customer concerns transparently and courteously.

Did the disaster affect neighboring businesses? Helping other businesses around you with cleanup efforts and sharing emergency tips is an act of good will and can get back to your customer base by word of mouth.

At Baybrook, we walked door-to-door and made phone calls to our 11 tenants, alerting them of the collapse and determining if the flooding caused any collateral damage. Twenty four hours later, we had two of the three tenants open for business and a plan with the city to secure and brace the collapsed area.

5) Reassess your response.

After the clouds have lifted and business is back to normal, evaluate your company’s response to the situation. Were there gaps in response time? Were your contractors up to par? What could be improved? Once these and other questions are answered, refresh the emergency plan, check it often to make sure contractors can step in and do the job, and conduct further employee training in case another disaster strikes.

Have more questions? Leave them in the comments for us to answer. Ready.gov also provides resources for individuals and businesses to help prepare, as does the U.S. Small Business Administration, which breaks their tips down by each type of disaster.

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