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Preparedness Workshops Help St. Johns County Businesses Get Ready for Hurricane Season

The workshops were covered by a grant from the Economic Development Administration for areas affected by last year's hurricane.

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(TNS) - One in four small businesses that are forced to close due to a disaster will never reopen their doors.

That's according to Gail Moraton with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety who led two workshops for business owners and others in the business community Monday at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center.

Moraton, a business resiliency manager with the nonprofit's Tampa office, shared other sobering statistics — such as the average daily cost of disruption to businesses ($3,000) — but also practical tips that can help local merchants prepare ahead of time for the height of the hurricane season.

The workshops were covered by a grant from the Economic Development Administration for areas affected by last year's hurricane. Over the last two years, St. Johns County businesses have been significantly impacted by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

St. Johns County Director of Emergency Management Linda Stoughton said that, just as emergency officials have taken lessons from those storms, businesses could look back upon their own experiences.

"What made you uncomfortable during Matthew and Irma? What made you sweat?" Stoughton asked. "Write those things down ... address those things, and you're going to have more confidence going into that next disaster."

Karen Everett, economic development manager with the St. Johns Chamber of Commerce, said that connecting those across the business community has been a priority in times of crisis.

"So we try to get the local businesses that can help others through the storm," Everett said. "That can be products, like ice, or a list of local hotels that still have rooms available."

Moraton said that with factors such as the weather so variable, one thing business owners can do to ensure they are ready for a potential disaster or disruption to service is to draft a business continuity plan.

"Small businesses typically feel they don't have time to make a preparedness plan, because they're so engaged in the day-to-day of running their businesses," Moraton said. "Or they may think it's there on the top of their head, but it is not a formal plan."

Most small businesses operate from a single location, making them especially vulnerable to flooding and/or closures. Add to that that many owners live in the same communities as their places of business.

"So they're going through their own personal crisis as well as at their work site," Moraton said. "And whether it's one day or three days, would you be able to function? How would it affect your income?"

The workshops also outlined steps businesses can take to minimize flooding and/or damage including shoring up property, removing important contents to storage and planning for backup power.

Tom Dolan, who operates Meehan's Irish Pub in downtown St. Augustine, had to deal with storm surges as high as 9 feet over the last two hurricanes.

While Dolan has a business preparedness plan, after attending Monday's workshops, he said, "I think there's room to tweak it and customize it to fit our small business."

It can also help, Moraton said, to practice scenarios of other emergencies that could strike the workplace, such as an active shooter or a cyber attack, and draft contingency plans accordingly.

As Everett said, "Our biggest enemy is complacency."


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