As a Houston native, Stephen Carter has weathered many storms, but the devastation of Hurricane Harvey opened his eyes to the true meaning of emergency preparedness.
Carter is CEO of Sterling Staffing Solutions, whose 575 clinicians provide healthcare to about 800 patients in their homes across Texas, including Houston. He shares with you the lessons his business learned during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
“As a native Houstonian, sometimes you can get to feeling a little immune,” Carter said.
“You prepare for a storm, but think, ‘This too shall pass.’ But as we got close to the end of the week, we realized the storm was significant and shut down the office to allow employees to prepare their homes.”
“Saturday, Aug. 26, is when the storm started to roll in. Even then, I remember people on social media joking about the storm. From Saturday on, it was nonstop rain. By Sunday, we’re watching the news and realize it’s a disaster across Houston and we’re just not prepared.”
Ensure your business is ready for disaster
From loss of business income to trying to track down clients and clinicians displaced by the hurricane, Carter discovered he had a lot to learn.
“Honestly, we were about 1 percent prepared at work,” he said. “We all have a personal emergency plan as to where you’re going if you have to leave your home … but I have this business that may need to be protected as well. We did have a rainy-day fund, and we had professional liability insurance, but we didn’t have flood insurance.”
Luckily, it wasn’t needed because his business offices stayed dry.
Key business challenges post hurricane
Sterling Staffing Solutions’ biggest challenge was that its patients often are recently discharged from hospitals and need aggressive therapy. Even one appointment can have a crucial impact.
“When the storm came through, we had patients displaced, and we had no clue where they were,” Carter said. “Then we had scenarios where we had patients, but we could not find clinicians who could service them. Sometimes we couldn’t find either.”
But Sterling Staffing Solutions was able to find solutions. “We got creative and formed partnerships with sister businesses in the Houston area and helped each other to make sure our patients got the care they needed,” Carter said.
The agency also called clinicians’ emergency contact info until they could find employees or backups.
Carter’s goal is to develop “a written emergency plan to analyze everything that could happen. I learned from the storm it’s just not one thing.”
Items businesses should add to emergency plans
Not all businesses were as fortunate as Sterling Staffing Solutions, so Carter wants to share lessons he learned during Harvey, including these tips:
- Maintain a financial cushion. When mail delivery – and payments – were delayed, Sterling Staffing Solutions’ income was slashed to 25 percent for two weeks. Luckily, the business had a rainy-day fund to bridge the gap. Carter recommends starting with one month of savings and increasing it as a business grows.
- Take a critical look at risks to your business. Consider multiple scenarios, whether it’s a natural disaster, terrorist attack, equipment failure or other event, and formulate a plan to handle each.
- Reassess insurance policies. Consider the calamities that could impact your business, and choose policies accordingly. Even businesses that aren’t in a flood plain can experience water damage capable of destroying valuable assets like computers and data. Consider professional liability, rental, property and workers’ compensation coverage.
- Have a communication plan. Ensure you know how you will communicate with employees and clients, and know what alternatives are available if cell towers are down. Carter said the “Cajun Navy,” Louisiana volunteers who used their own boats to rescue people, were able to use a walkie-talkie app on cell phones to stay in touch.
Carter said while things are improving for Sterling Staffing Solutions in the wake of Harvey, “Frankly, we have quite a few businesses in Houston that won’t recover.
“Our business is slowly recovering from a sales perspective, getting close to normal, but it’s still been a struggle,” Carter said. “We’re fortunate that we were diversified and had business in different cities.”
But Carter’s determined not to depend on luck, and vows to be better prepared in the future. “As they say, ‘If you don’t have a plan, you’re planning to fail,’ ” he said.
Freelance writer Sue Pierman contributed to the writing and research of this article.