Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

When superstorm Sandy hit,water poured in 3 feet deep at the offices of EmPower Solar in Island Park.

The firm, which installs solar electric and backup battery systems for residences and businesses, continued to service clients even without full use of its office, tools or six trucks, five of which were destroyed.

EmPower has worked hard to rebuild and recover since the October 2012 storm, but company officials know full well the Island isn’t immune to another devastating storm. They’ve taken extra precautions in case the region is hit again.

“The biggest takeaway from Sandy is that disaster response planning is really critical,” says David Schieren, CEO of EmPower Solar, who says he never fully realized the impact the storm would have on his workforce, clientele and business.

“It’s been a long process, he says.” It’s taken the company a few years to recover its momentum, but last year, he says, it finally eclipsed the financial performance it achieved in 2012 pre-Sandy.

CEO David Schieren outside EmPower Solar's design center in Island Park, Tuesday, Sept 19, 2017. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

This time, the firm built smarter.

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In 2014 EmPower opened a Solar Design Center about a half-mile from its existing headquarters. The center, used as a sales and marketing office to showcase the firm’s solar technologies, can also serve as a post-storm recovery center, says Schieren.

It’s located above flood-plain height, and the building is 100 percent solar-powered. It has eight electric vehicles also solar-powered, with charging stations, which will come in handy in case of gasoline shortages.

“I think we’re much better positioned now to weather another storm system,” Schieren says, noting they also now have a dedicated resiliency officer.

In the wake of the recent hurricane activity globally, experts say Long Island companies need to put disaster preparedness on the front burner. NOAA forecasters predicted a 60 percent chance of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, and powerful storms Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have had major impact. The hurricane season continues until Nov. 30.

Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

“It’s so important to have a plan,” says Chloe Demrovsky, president and CEO of Disaster Recovery Institute International, a Manhattan-based business-continuity and disaster-recovery education and certification organization. “When you see hurricane season is rolling around again, that means it has been a year, and it’s time to review your plan.”

EmPower recently did just that.

“We discuss it regularly,” Schieren said. “But in light of all the recent major storms, we had a special planning session where we updated our resiliency plan.” That included updating the personnel management plan, which outlines chain of command and communication protocol, as well as plans for inventory.

A plan and a point person

Small businesses don’t need huge complicated plans, Demrovsky said. But they do need a plan, as well as a point person or persons in charge of preparedness as part of their regular duties, she says.

As part of the rebuild at Nawlins Seafood Co. in Freeport, seen on Sept. 11, 2017, all of the kitchen equipment -- both electric and gas -- was installed with "quick disconnect" technology. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

“More extreme weather is the new normal, and we have to be prepared for that,” Demrovsky said.

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Ivan Sayles, president of 25 Sails Hospitality, which owns and operates Rachel’s Waterside Grill on the Nautical Mile in Freeport, knows this all too well.

“We learned a tremendous amount from Sandy,” he says, estimating the firm had to make more than $350,000 in repairs to Rachel’s after Sandy.

As part of the rebuild, all of the kitchen equipment — both electric and gas — was installed with “quick disconnect” capability, meaning it can be easily disconnected from either the gas pipeline or electrical box and wheeled out, says Sayles. Pre-Sandy, the equipment was hard-wired in.

“Within two hours I can get every piece of equipment out of the kitchen,” onto a truck and out of harm’s way, said Sayles, who is also co-owner of Nawlins Seafood Co., next door to Rachel’s. Nawlins is on the site of a former hibachi restaurant that was damaged in Sandy; Sayles and partners reopened it in 2016 as Nawlins.

Ivan Sayles stands in the kitchen of Nawlins Seafood Co. in Freeport on Sept. 11, 2017, where he put all the kitchen equipment, including big appliances, on wheels with "quick disconnect" utilities to protect against future hurricanes. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

That restaurant also has quick disconnects on kitchen equipment, and features a solid acrylic floor in the kitchen and a painted concrete floor in the dining room.

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“We purposely didn’t put carpet or tile in the dining room area, realizing it could flood,” Sayles says.

Continuity training

In addition to prepping for the worst with your physical structure and identifying alternate work locations, having your people prepared and trained on your continuity plan is critical, said Patty Catania, chief operating officer of TAMP Systems in Merrick, which offers business continuity software and consulting.

“I think people didn’t prepare for the worst-case scenario” before Sandy, she says, but the recent spate of storm activity has gotten people thinking about the possibility of another extreme weather occurrence.

Catania estimates she’s seen a 10 percent uptick in calls for continuity planning help since Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Demrovsky says the Disaster Recovery Institute has seen a similar uptick.

You can’t predict every scenario that might occur, but you can plan for the probability of core problems such as not having access to your data, computers and machinery, said Jeff Stern, principal at Eagle Business Solutions in Port Jefferson Station, a strategic management consulting firm, and president of the Long Island Chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners.

Preparation at home too

In addition to making sure your business can function, you should educate staff on how to keep prepared and safe on the home front. If they’re prepared at home, there’s a better chance they’ll be able to come to work sooner, he says.

If there is a disruptive event, determine the minimal amount of work that needs to get done until that event passes, and know your communication plan, Stern says.

For clients he creates pre-written “crisis communication” templates to have on file, ready to send to various stakeholders in an emergency. They offer a quick, fill-in-the-blanks way to communicate with customers, shareholders and others if your business operations are interrupted.

You may never need them, but they’re there if that next big event ever happens, Stern says.