Is your business ready for a disaster?
A disaster has the potential to have an extreme negative impact on your customers, your employees, and the future of your business.
You might experience a technical disaster, such as the computer malfunctions that have caused several airlines to ground their flights. It could be a PR disaster, such as the one many companies have recently faced when they got caught in a political crossfire.
Or your business could experience a natural disaster, such as the flood that submerged parts of Houston, Texas in April 2016.
Earthcare Management, a full-service landscape management company, suffered millions of dollars in damage when its office and equipment yard flooded.
I spoke with Brent Abshire, Earthcare Management's President and Owner, to hear how he and his team handled the disaster, avoided layoffs, and came back stronger than ever.
Q: When did you first learn your business had been flooded?
"It started raining pretty heavily on Sunday, but it wasn't until Monday when the flooding happened. I woke up Monday morning, turned on the local news and saw an aerial view of my shop from the station's helicopter!
"I could tell the shop was flooded from the picture on television, but I didn't know how bad it was going to be."
Q: What did you do once you learned about the flooding?
"There was flooding in the streets around the neighborhood where I live, so I was stuck at home on Monday and couldn't get in to the office.
"I knew it was probably going to be pretty bad, though, so I immediately started making calls and hunting down replacement vehicles and equipment. I called the John Deere guy and ordered about 100 machines [lawnmowers, etc.]. I called my truck guy and rented 65 trucks. I ordered about 1,000 tons of gravel rock to put down in our equipment yard because I knew that was going to be a mess too.
"I was able to meet with my management team on Tuesday by mid-day. The shop was still flooded, so they came over to my house and we made a plan to assess the damage, clean everything up, and get back up and running.
"We were able to get to the shop by Wednesday. We had to wade in the last 1/4 mile because there was still water.
"My insurance agent came out to help assess the damage. The office itself was a total loss, but we started cleaning up and salvaging whatever equipment, trailers, and tools that we could.
"I had the whole family help. Friends came and helped us too."
Q: How did the flooding impact your clients?
"When I met with my management team on Tuesday after the flood, we targeted the following Monday to get back to our normal operations.
"Many of our landscape management clients experienced the same flooding we did, so their properties had a lot of debris. We called them and said, 'We can't mow, but we can pick up trash and help you get cleaned up.' They were happy to hear from us.
"By Thursday, we got about 25 rented trucks in, so we were able to start sending out crews to our client sites to help them get cleaned up. We kept at it through Sunday while other employees stayed at the shop pulling equipment out, putting new rock in the yard, and cleaning up tools.
"We were able to resume our normal schedules by the next Monday."
Q: Disasters like this can have a big impact on employees who risk losing their jobs when there's no work. What happened to your employees?
"Nobody lost their job. We actually grew as a result of the flood.
"My employees are really committed. It was a team effort throughout the whole process. I think they thought, 'If the flood didn't stop this guy, we'll do anything!' I know many of our employees had friends or family members who lost jobs because the place where they worked flooded too, so it probably made an impact that we got people working so quickly.
"We're also contractually obligated to serve our clients, so it was very important that we keep our deals."
Q: Were you able to learn anything from this experience to help you prepare for another disaster in the future?
"We did some research and learned that once rainfall reaches 8 inches, we should start evacuating the equipment yard. The office is pretty seamless since we have offsite backups for the computers. What really hurts is losing our equipment because that's what we take out every day to make money.
"A couple of weeks ago, we did a small-scale simulation where we practiced a procedure for moving vehicles and equipment out of the yard. It went well, so now we're going to run a large-scale simulation.
"The plan is to practice our disaster plan one or two times per year and never stop practicing, so everyone will know what to do if this happens again."