Make emergency repairs to prevent further damage. Keep all receipts. Create a list of damaged contents. Take photos, if possible. And most importantly, contact only licensed vendors for repair estimates.
“A lot of people are out there saying they’re somebody they’re not,” said Jeff Zachary of Jackson, an agent for State Farm Insurance Company, the largest policy-writer on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Make sure vendors are legitimate before doing business with them.”
Expediting the process
To expedite the claim process, contact your local insurance agent, call the company’s toll-free number to reach catastrophe operators, or visit the company’s Web site to initiate a claim online, suggested Zachary.
“The reality of our business, for business continuity, is that most of the planning has to be done up front, and if you have not planned and prepared for this, it’s infinitely more difficult to recover,” said Glen Curole, director of business continuity for International Paper, and president of the mid-south chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners.
“The presumption you make beforehand is that your site is totaled, you cannot go back in and you cannot get anything out,” said Curole. “Knowing those are the ground rules up front, you plan for that. Now here’s the problem. If now you’re confronted with your business being totaled, how do you start over? I don’t have an easy answer for that.”
Two days before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, President George W. Bush authorized an emergency declaration to release federal resources to help, among other things, protect property in addition to other emergency protective measures. On August 29, the director of U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made federal aid available to Mississippians and business owners in Amite, Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Pike, Stone, Walthall and Wilkinson counties.
“FEMA will help, when capable,” said Curole. “The big difference in this disaster is New Orleans is largely under water. In Florida, everyone knew the water would drain off in a week or so, and the recovery effort could begin. Now, other areas will be disadvantaged temporarily because resources will be focused in flooded areas.”
Grants and loans
The FEMA-coordinated assistance includes grants to help finance temporary housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also has available low-interest loans to cover business losses not fully compensated by insurance. Visit fema.gov to begin the registration process for claims.
“It’s important to get in line early,” cautioned Don Fischer, director of the University of Mississippi Small Business Development Center. “Find out what you need to have in order to secure these emergency funds.”
Unfortunately, Mississippians won’t be able to call on members of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) for disaster recovery advice because the only chapter remaining in Mississippi was housed on the Gulf Coast, said Fischer.
“If your business is up and running, the best thing to do is let the customers you can reach know you’re still in business and ask how you can service them,” said Curole.
Disaster-affected small business owners unable to pay their bills should contact their vendors about payment arrangements. Some companies have made allowances for late payers. For example, UnitedHealthcare is offering deferred payment options to business clients impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
“Offering a grace period on premiums is one way of helping people who need to concentrate on getting their lives back to normal,” said UnitedHealthcare’s Roger Rollman.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.