What the Disaster Help Desk Means For Your Business

October 7, 2019

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Disaster Help Desk for Business assists small businesses with disaster readiness, relief, and long-term recovery. The Help Desk receives hundreds of calls from businesses all over the U.S. Many of the main questions these businesses have for us are similar—important topics that are on every business owner’s mind whenever thoughts of disaster preparedness and response arise.

To assist business owners who have not yet used the Help Desk, but could benefit from the discussions that take place with other owners, we have compiled some of the most common questions our team receives. These FAQs will offer pertinent information on what a disaster could mean for your business and how the Help Desk can assist you, now or in the future.

What Kind of Help Do You Offer?

Pre-Disaster

Research shows that every $1 invested in mitigation leads to $6 in savings if and when a disaster strikes. A large part of the Disaster Help Desk is working with business owners before a disaster strikes.

The assistance the Help Desk provides before a disaster strikes covers everything from what gaps to look for in business insurance policies to specific readiness measures a particular business should take based on its sector, location, and size. A conversation with the Chamber Foundation’s Help Desk team comes at no cost to the business—we are here to help and believe any preparedness measures taken now will help in the long term.

Post-Disaster

Currently, most of the Help Desk phone calls are from business owners in the “here and now” of grappling with a disaster that has compromised their business. They are stressed and uncertain of what to do. In large-scale federal disasters, many of those calls take place in the early stages before government agencies have had a chance to fully set up in the disaster zone and while business owners are awaiting access to the disaster zone, which is often under evacuation orders or is unreachable due to debris.

We start by offering a sympathetic and experienced ear to the overwhelmed business owner. We know the immense toll disasters take. After understanding the specific scenario, we arm the caller with a list of questions and next steps in dealing with the insurance company. If the disaster received a federal declaration, then government assistance will be available and we also arm the caller with questions and next steps for the Small Business Administration and other avenues of potential recovery funds.

After those early-stage needs are handled by the business owner, we have also assisted companies with ideas for generating community support and funds for re-opening. Local chambers of commerce also find it helpful to discuss community-wide recovery strategies with our team.

If there is no adequate business insurance policy in place or no federal disaster declaration, the business owner is often left to their own resources, such as savings accounts and credit lines, to recover and re-open. To avoid situations like this, the Help Desk can be utilized before a disaster strikes so mitigation measures can be shared.

How Do I Find Money Available for Recovery Aid?

As alluded to in the previous section, the scale of the disaster makes a big difference in the monies available for business recovery. If a U.S. president makes a federal disaster declaration, typically upon request from a state governor, then federal assistance becomes available: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for individuals and families, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) for businesses.

The SBA makes low-interest loans to business owners who have registered for assistance and who qualify for the assistance. It’s important to know that registering a business for assistance does not obligate the owner to accept an SBA loan. Registering by the deadline, however, creates additional options for the business owner to consider. If the SBA registration deadline is missed, that option for recovery assistance is off the table. We urge every business owner in a federal disaster area to register with the SBA. If a business decides to take an SBA loan for damage to the physical structure or for economic injury, about 20% of the money can be used for mitigation measures to prepare for the future.

If no federal disaster declaration is made, recovery funding is limited to the terms of the insurance policy and to the “rainy day fund” the business owner may have created in advance. At times, a limited amount of business recovery funds become available at the local government level. Local chambers of commerce will also often establish a charitable fund to help the businesses in the area recover.

The Chamber Foundation’s Help Desk team establishes communication with federal and local leaders when disasters strike and are available to assist business owners in navigating their options.

How Long Will It Take Me to Re-Open?

The simplest answer to how long it will take for a business to re-open is: it is all contingent on the preparedness done before the disaster. Minimizing risks in advance is a business imperative.

For every hazard, something can be done in advance to mitigate the negative impacts. There is an investment of time required, but the financial cost has to be weighed against potential losses.

Consider this: if it costs $5,000 to prepare for an emergency, but you stand to lose $100,000 in inventory or business if a disaster happens and you’re not ready, what’s the best business decision to make? The vast majority of mitigation measures are business expenses that can be written off at tax time. The journey of re-opening directly correlates with mitigation.

During disasters, people are inundated with information and their own thoughts about what to do—and both can be overwhelming. When it feels like too much to handle, instinctual response is to tune it all out, go at it alone, and try to power through it. This will slow the recovery process down. Being able to talk to someone who knows how to navigate disaster processes and will foster an objective discussion about what’s next will help a business owner line up their options and make judgement calls on what is best for their unique situation. This is what the Chamber Foundation’s Help Desk team does, at no cost to business owners.

Still have an unanswered question about small businesses and disaster management? Give us a call at 888-MY-BIZ-HELP and we would be happy to talk through your scenario and concerns. As the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s free resource for small businesses facing a disaster or aiming to be better prepared to withstand a disaster, we welcome your call and encourage you to share this resource to other small businesses in your area.

Disaster Help Desk for Business
888-MY-BIZ-HELP (888-692-4943)
Online Contact Form: https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/disaster-help-desk-business