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Adams and Reese Partner Chris Kane, the firm’s Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Recovery Team Leader, was interviewed by New Orleans CityBusiness on what businesses can do now to prepare for hurricane season. 

The beginning of June hits a little different for Southeast residents who know June 1 as the start of hurricane season. Since 1980, there have been 355 weather events that have caused in excess of $1 billion in damages, totaling $254 trillion. It’s not just hurricanes; it’s fires, ice storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, high wind occurrences, flood events, all impacting our communities, ways of life, and causing significant disruptions to our local economies.

On May 25, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasted a “near-normal” 2023 hurricane season. The NOAA forecasts a range of 12 to 17 total named storms, with five to nine forecasted to become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), and one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).

Kane was interviewed with Mike Pugh, Royal Engineering President; and Brooke Laizer, WGNO-TV, ABC Meteorologist. They discuss how it is an ideal time for businesses to take a look at what they can do now to prepare for the event of a hurricane or natural disaster.

What can business owners and administrators do now to prepare for hurricane season?

Kane: Be proactive and get a preparedness plan. Review your insurance coverage and policies; have property regularly appraised; know your deductible; review evacuation steps and staff responsibilities; review work at home policies; create a maintenance and operations preparation checklist; update your vendor list and be aware of their disaster policies; ensure the effectiveness of emergency contact information and systems; and become familiar with required information needed for incident and property loss reports.

The underlying key is: Document – Document –a Document. In any coverage or insurance dispute, documentation is extremely valuable and can reduce the timing of receiving insurance proceeds and state and federal assistance.

Why is it so important to prepare beforehand?

Pugh: We represent state, local governments, port authorities, and private nonprofits, specifically electrical cooperatives and municipal utilities. One of the services we recommend is to bring us in before the storm. The Stafford Act is vital to these entities to survive after a disaster, and if you don’t have things aligned, it slows down the recovery. We align all of these services before the disaster, ensure that they’ve been procured properly according to the Stafford Act and HUD compliance.

I always tell our clients the lifeblood of recovery is cash and pre-planning, because in most cases, it may be six months before they see the first federal dollar. You need to finance recovery sooner rather than later for the sake of your continued operations. Pre-planning is critical.

What are important resources for natural disaster assistance and funding?

Pugh: We work with our clients and also business clients at Adams and Reese from various industries to understand what funds they may be eligible for and how these funds can be leveraged and maximized, but not duplicated so we are in compliance. The main outlets are the FEMA Public Assistance Program, Hazard Mitigation Program, and Housing and Urban Development funding which comes through Community Development Block Grants. But there are more than 1,500 federal agencies and programs that can be leveraged with initial funding received from FEMA, not to account for additional funds available at the state and local levels.

Let’s just touch on several. You have the Small Business Administration and its low-interest disaster loan programs; Economic Development Administration; U.S. Department of Commerce that has agencies such as National Institute of Standards and Technology for manufacturers; Public Works Program; Federal Housing Administration; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for hospitals and healthcare entities; U.S. Department of Education disaster assistance programs for schools; Livestock Indemnity Program for farmers; Emergency Conservation Program; Emergency Forest Restoration Program; EXIM for exporting companies; MARAD for maritime firms; and FAA for airports, all to name a few. There are a lot of programs, and of course, requirements and exceptions for them all, so we encourage businesses to take the time to understand these opportunities before a disaster hits.

You hear “force majeure” a lot around natural disasters. Explain this legal phrase for businesses, and what should they be aware of?

Kane: Force majeure literally translates to “greater force,” or you may hear the phrase interchanged with “Act of God.” The force majeure clause is typically included in contracts to excuse certain obligations of the parties in unforeseeable and unavoidable catastrophes, such as natural disasters. A well written force majeure provision will adequately spell out the rights and obligations of each party should a hurricane or other natural disaster occur.

Depending on the extent of the natural disaster, a party may obtain temporary relief from performing under the agreement, such as providing a service or paying rent. Likewise, if the disaster is severe, a force majeure provision may allow the parties to terminate the agreement or renegotiate terms that reflect the post-disaster situation. In any case, it is important for businesses to negotiate and understand their force majeure clauses at the time of entering a contract. Revisit them regularly as part of your company’s disaster preparedness routine.

We have had less named storms, but bigger ones over the last several hurricane seasons. What kind of forecast do we anticipate for 2023?

Laizer: Climatologically, this is an El Nino year developing. During El Nino years, there are fewer storms, but bigger storms evolve later in the season. For example, Hurricanes Andrew and Betsy made landfall during El Nino years. The A and B named storms did not occur until late August and early September. It only takes one hurricane to impact an area, such as Ian last year throughout Florida. Ian was one of only 14 named storms in 2022 but caused $113 billion of damage in late September. So, even if we get through June, July, and August, with minimal storms and damage, we can never let our guard down until the season is over.

How has technology and communication developed and improved among meteorologists and government officials?

Laizer: Make sure you have the right information in order to develop your best personal hurricane plan. Our accuracy and technology have greatly improved as we forecast for potential storms before they’re even named. Meteorologists now watch tropical waves coming off of Africa’s coast and share development percentages before outlining cones of uncertainty and likely tracks. We constantly relay updated forecasts to local government and state officials, even the presidential administration. Everyone works together to communicate so the public can prepare effectively and efficiently.