After Hurricane Ian – what happens to small businesses hit by disasters?

Image by Jan Helebrant from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

Hurricane Ian slammed the southeast United States on September 28, 2022, creating destruction across Florida, particularly its Gulf Coast, and then making landfall in South Carolina. However, its impacts extended to Georgia, North Carolina, and even Virginia.

For small businesses, a natural disaster like Ian can mean anything from the end of the company to incredible opportunity. While many impacts are outside the owner’s control, it’s possible to prepare for others.

-Opportunity: Contractors and service companies in the southeast, and particularly in Florida, are enjoying a heyday after Hurricane Ian. Want a tree removed from your roof? A crushed lanai cage rebuilt? Get in line. The smart contractors are keeping track of inquiries, answering or returning calls, and even hiring sub-contractors as needed. Others are overwhelmed by the volume of inquiries and don’t return calls or put prospects on a waiting list. This can make the difference between great opportunity and business as usual, or reputational damage. Taking advantage of intense opportunity requires a commitment to organization and capacity.

-Near or total catastrophe: Businesses in areas like Fort Myers, Florida were flooded and severely damaged by storm surge. Many plan to reopen, but the costs in some cases are astronomical. Some, like Rude Shrimp Company on Fort Myers Beach, were completely submerged or ripped to pieces, and have decided to close permanently. “The business is gone,” TJ Holzapfel, owner of Rude Shrimp told Fox News. “It was a little surreal to see the surge come in and take the restaurant. Mother Nature has her own agenda.” Even businesses trying hard to reopen after local devastation, from stricken Sanibel Island and Pine Island to points well north, may or may not make it. Costs and infrastructure issues are complicating plans for even very determined business owners.

While it’s not possible to avoid every catastrophic event, you can take steps to protect your business, before, during, and after a disaster. The big picture is that your company should have a disaster recovery plan. Be sure to plan for the most likely natural disasters that may hit your area (hurricane, flooding, tornado, and more) and also other possibilities (major internet outages, cyber-attacks, and burglary).

Consider your location, especially if you aren’t totally committed to it. Are you in a clear hazard zone? Do you need to be? It’s safe to assume that weather-related disasters will occur more frequently in the face of climate change, and locations prone to flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides, fires, and more may become riskier in coming years.

Get the insurance. In Florida, many businesses considered flood insurance unaffordable. Unfortunately, being without it proved worse in many instances. Put the proper insurance in your budget.

Have offsite file back-ups and other protection for assets and information. Be ready for the worst. Often, a disaster will take out your computers, paper files, and important equipment. Make plans BEFORE disaster hits.

Have contingency communication plans set up to keep in touch with employees, customers, and vendors. Even if you can’t open your facility, or can’t serve your customers, it’s prudent to keep everyone in the loop about what’s happening now and what may happen later.

Find financial assistance for rebuilding. After a disaster, look into small business loans, FEMA small business assistance, special state programs, and any other support to help get your business back on its feet.

Know when it’s time to call it quits. While deciding that a business has suffered so much loss that it’s not worth reopening is a difficult and personal decision, some guidelines apply. When you are considering how much loss you can tolerate rather than how much opportunity the future may bring, it’s time to take a hard look at your options – including closing down and doing something new.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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