Sydney Lewis Sydney Lewis
Associate Manager, Communications


September 20, 2023


This month marks National Preparedness Month, which reminds us all to prepare for disasters and emergencies of all kinds. It’s especially pertinent this year as we face uncharacteristic and unpredictable weather patterns, with impacts of wildfires, hurricane season, and severe storms impacting communities across the U.S. and the globe.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is proud to participate in National Preparedness Month by responding to the needs of small business owners and connecting them with resources to help them withstand the next disaster. Our team deploys business-led solutions—from supporting relief efforts on the ground immediately after disaster strikes to working with government at all levels to gather timely updates for the private sector and tracking corporate aid. Additionally, our Small Business Resilience Hub features tools and resources to help business owners plan, prepare, and recover from disasters. For the past decade, we’ve hosted 30 coordination calls with over 10k registrants, with over $10B tracked in corporate disaster relief donations.

As Preparedness Month makes its way, hurricane season peaks, and we continue to anticipate new challenges related to resilience, we cannot forget the effects of these novel crises on small businesses. Small businesses comprise 99.9 percent of all businesses in the U.S., fueling job growth and stimulating local economies. However, when disasters strike, small business owner vulnerabilities, including access to capital and facility maintenance, are exposed, and in many cases exacerbated. An estimated 25% of small businesses will never reopen following a major disaster, according to FEMA.

Disaster preparedness and planning can significantly reduce risks associated with disasters and crises. Proactive planning can be the difference between a few weeks of recovery to long-term disruptions and closures for small business owners.

In Their Own Voices: Small Business Resiliency

Made possible through support from FedEx and Allstate, the Small Business Readiness for Resiliency Program (R4R) aims to slow small-business failures by encouraging investments in readiness and resiliency before a disaster strikes. By establishing a disaster preparedness plan and proactively registering their business, grantees become eligible for $5,000 in disaster relief when a disaster declaration from FEMA is made in their area, enabling small business owners to move swiftly to safeguard their business from further damage.

Towanda Friday, owner of Sweet Advantages II Ice Cream Shop in Selma, Alabama, registered her business for the R4R program to plan and prepare for what she could not predict. When tornadoes struck her hometown earlier this year, Towanda faced staff reductions, temporary closures, and a loss in revenue. As a minority-owned “mom and pop” business still recovering from the pandemic’s economic impact, she was on the brink of closing. Towanda expressed, “I was about to close, and not only did the R4R grant help out a lot, but I had the opportunity to keep one of my employees. An opportunity to buy more products to serve the community. I had the opportunity to actually grow just a little bit,” said Friday.

Towanda found access to resources for small business owners were scarce and applying for assistance was cumbersome, causing some business owners in her area to wait months for approval to simply receive funds. She notes the R4R grant program as a key tool in both preparing her business, expediting recovery, and getting back to serving her community.

Bistro del Mar in Luquillo, Puerto Rico continues to recover from the lasting economic and structural damages brought on by Hurricane Fiona in addition to layered impacts from the pandemic and Hurricane Maria in 2017. Marina Martinez, owner and mother of four, has scaled her catering business with social responsibility and promotion of food security at the helm all while struggling with infrastructure hindrances stemming from natural disasters, in particular access to electricity.

Ultimately, Marina identified the pattern of impact, registered her business, taking the future resilience of her business into her own hands. As a result, when Hurricane Fiona hit in September 2022, Marina was eligible for assistance from the R4R grant program, providing essential capital to cover basic utilities like rent, water, and electricity.

Small business owners primarily use their $5,000 grants to build their customer base through marketing and advertising, therefore continuing to serve their communities and reinvigorate their local economies during recovery periods.

Words of advice? “Plan and be prepared,” says Friday. “I learned you have to be humble. You have to believe. You have to be patient because it all worked out in the end.”

How You Can Prepare Your Business For Today and Anticipate Tomorrow

Knowledge sharing, awareness, and education are vital tools in educating yourself as a business owner, employer, and community leader. Here’s how you can prepare your small business for the unexpected:

  • Prepare a disaster checklist. Taking stock of what you own, how you operate, and what is at stake is one of the first steps towards preparedness.
  • Register your business with databases and networks. Declaring the operating status of your business can increase the speed and allocation of disaster relief to get the help you need.
  • Connect with your local chamber of commerce. Connecting with your local chamber of commerce is a key way for small businesses to build community, share knowledge, and come together in times of crisis. Know that you are not alone.
  • Leverage free resources available. Many business, governmental, and non-profit organizations offer resources and tools free-of-charge to drive awareness and connect small business owners with tools to succeed.

Take Action Today

Don’t wait to take action; be proactive and prepare your business today for what tomorrow may hold. As pillars in the community, small businesses play a vital role in a community’s recovery following a crisis. Before disaster strikes, be prepared and help ensure your business’s success in the long run whether it’s completing an annual review of a disaster response checklist or engaging with public and private partners to ensure community resilience. We all play a part in cultivating resilience in our communities.

Ready to get started? Take the first step by completing the Emergency Preparedness Checklist and register your business today to become eligible for relief through the Small Business Readiness for Resiliency Program (R4R). Click here to get started.

For more information on Disaster Response and Resiliency programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, visit this link or contact us

About the authors

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis is associate communications manager for education, workforce and corporate citizenship at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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