“The morning started out as any other morning,” said Brian Garrison, owner of Garrison’s Home and Garrison’s Sleeper in Southern Oregon. Within a few hours, two of Garrison’s four stores would burn to the ground in a massive fire that swept through the Rogue Valley on September 9. Fortunately, Garrison and his business are doing okay. How? He both prepared his business for an emergency, and he’s now taken a step that few small business owners know about: he’s hired a ‘public adjuster.’
“We had just finished a massive remodel (of the two stores that burned) two weeks ago,” said Garrison. “The stores looked so good, and sales (after the Covid shutdown) were starting to improve. The staff was so proud, and we had so much positive energy.”
Like most small business owners, Garrison had little reason to expect such devastation. His businesses weren’t even in fire country; this was a city fire, not a forest fire. But with climate change—higher temperatures and years of drought—the fire quickly tore through the Valley. “Every year when we’d sit down with my insurance agent, it felt like I was paying so much for something I’d never use,” said Garrison. “You feel it can’t happen to you, but it can.”
Increasingly, small businesses are victims of climate change, whether fires, hurricanes and tropical storms, floods, massive blizzards. Emergency preparedness now needs to be part of your business plan.
“The devastation is unfathomable,” said Brian Garrison, “I got to see the store site and see the ash and rubble, that’s all that’s left. It felt like what I imagine Hiroshima would have been like after the bomb dropped.”
Because of his insurance, Garrison is confident his business will recover, and he quickly turned to taking care of his employees. He was able to keep all seven of his employees of the burnt-out stores on the payroll of his two other stores, and he told them to take whatever time off they needed to deal with their personal issues.
Even in the midst of his own loss, Garrison started a GoFundMe fire relief fund to help those who’d lost homes and did not have insurance. Garrison’s matched the first $15,000 in donations. (If you’d like to donate, you can find it at: https://gf.me/u/yx5mxk).
Fortunately, other business owners who had gone through disasters elsewhere in the country reached out to him with a recommendation: hire a “public adjuster.” These are state-licensed professionals hired by the insured party who help navigate the claims process.
“We work to make sure the insured gets paid everything they’re entitled to, help figure out what everything’s value is, whether it’s a total loss,” said Steve Severaid, Principal with Adjustors International. They handle all the financial paperwork and communication with the insurance company, and are an independent party to talk through a business owner’s options. “Without someone who knows all the ins-and-outs of how settlements get made, you (a business owner) tend to ask questions of (insurance company representatives) that might not be in the best interests of your claim.”
Garrison said that hiring a public adjuster frees him to focus on the future of his business rather than having to focus on insurance matters.
What can you learn from Garrison to help you both prepare for, and recover from, a climate disaster?
- Get adequate insurance and review it regularly. “Make sure you’re buttoned up from an insurance standpoint; don’t try to cut corners,” advises Garrison. “Guess high on what you cover for contents. And make sure you have a loss-of-business (business interruption) clause.”
- Engage a Public Adjuster quickly. Adjusters International has eight affiliates across the United States, but you can find other public adjusters wherever your business is located.
- Back up your data to the cloud. I worked with small business advisors helping owners after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Paradise fire. All bemoaned the high percentage of small businesses that were unable to recover their data and had a hard time getting federal assistance or fully recovering on their insurance. Back up to the cloud!
- Help your employees and your community. If you’re able, remember you need a whole community to heal to enable your business to recover. “We’re going to be fine,” said Garrison, who chokes up when he talks about what he’s seen others in his community going through, “but I’m overwhelmed with emotion.”
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 25, 2020