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City to Small Business Owners: Are You Ready for the Next Big Disaster?

memorial-floods-2015-n-lamar.jpg
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Lamar Boulevard after Austin was hit with a round of heavy storms last Memorial Day.

This year's heavy rains and severe thunderstorms have city officials asking Austin’s small business owners to set aside time to prepare for natural disasters and emergencies.

David Hook was working at his furniture store last year when floodwaters began seeping in from under the door. He was able to move a lot of the merchandise out of the water’s way.

“And our furniture, a lot of it is made from old fishing boats, and the water was only in here for about an hour, hour and a half, so we managed to just wipe those pieces down," Hook said.

He and his wife are the owners of Jaya Furniture on North Lamar. They cleaned up and recovered quickly, partially reopening the store after just two days. But other businesses on the street never recovered. Some closed for good. Hook said the experience made him rethink his plan for dealing with natural disasters.

“Now we have sandbags…to barricade the door, because the water mainly comes underneath the doors and underneath the windows.”  

City officials say it’s those small steps that can make all the difference during a disaster. Jake Dirr of the city's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management says most businesses don't take those small steps, which is why the city's launched a campaign encouraging Austin business owners to come up with their own preparedness plans.

“Very rarely do people take time to think about, well gosh, what would I do if there was an extended power outage?” Dirr said. “Or what policies do I need to have in place, so that if there’s a flu pandemic, I can work with my employees remotely and/or at least have some HR policies in place to address such a thing?”

Dirr said they’re reaching out to small businesses in particular because they tend to have a harder time recovering.

“Find out if you are in a floodplain, find out if you are in a wildfire prone area, and take time to think about [this] with your key staff," Dirr said. "If there was an incident, what would you do to maintain our businesses so that you don’t fall victim to a disaster?”

But, even with plans in place, damage can still happen. When it does, Dirr said the city has resources and temporary workspaces available to help businesses get back on their feet. 

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