Meteorologists are predicting a very active 2011 Atlantic hurricane season with up to six major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or above and 15 named tropical storms. With the deadly storm years of 2005 and 2008 still fresh in people’s minds, hospitality properties in vulnerable areas can ill afford to skimp on hurricane preparations with the peak of the season drawing near.
History teaches harsh lessons. Hotels in Galveston, Houston, and New Orleans that bore the full wrath of such major storms as Hurricanes Katrina and Ike never recovered. While hospitality properties can’t deter a hurricane’s path, they can take numerous measures to prepare for the worst and assure their properties will be back up and running as soon as possible after the storm passes.
Build a Pre-Loss Plan
Revisit insurance coverage: While hotels typically have adequate hurricane, tornado and fire coverage, many don’t have enough flood insurance. Damage to lower-level hotel floors, caused by flooding after a hurricane, can be profound, but is often only partially covered. Business interruption coverage is frequently overlooked as well. Whether a portion of the facility is closed for restoration or the entire operation comes to a halt, ample business interruption insurance can be a crucial stopgap for costly hotel downtime.
In addition, content insurance can play a major role. While much of the décor and furniture within in hotel will be covered under a general insurance policy, expensive artwork and the like may require additional coverage. If a hotel has recently undergone significant improvements, the owner or manager should ensure that the insurance policy is up-to-date.
Secure a contractor: Don’t wait until the last minute. There aren’t enough quality restoration contractors to go around. Interview several firms and ask about response times, emergency communications, code-compliance and quality of subcontractors. The firm should tour your facility and know your power needs and building materials. Hotels are free to choose their own contractors; insurers can’t dictate them.
Lifelines: Maintain an employee contact list with cell phone numbers and email addresses. Appoint a key staff member as hotel disaster coordinator—adjusters will need a knowledgeable ally to show them around. Seek out employees who may want to be housed on the premises in the aftermath of the storm to ensure adequate staffing.
Inspect and secure: Make sure you have copies of hotel records and reservations, both onsite and offsite. Tightly secure or store outside furnishings and other moveable items that could damage hotel buildings. Identify building utility shut-offs.
Personal safety: Have a safety plan in place for all guests, contractors or employees who ride out the storm. They will need to know where to gather during the storm—ideally in an enclosed area on the main level of the hotel. Be prepared to conduct room checks to make sure everyone is accounted for.
Boarding up windows and doors is practical for multifamily units and small businesses, but less so for the more durable hotel sector. In some cases, however, it may make sense to board up vulnerable doors or windows on the ground floor that will directly face the storm to ensure that looters are kept at bay during the aftermath. Should you choose to utilize boards, make sure they are purchased, measured and marked well in advance and use barrel bolts to secure them.
A hotel also needs to keep as many rooms open as possible for immediate occupancy after a storm. Area residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed will need a place to stay, as will contractors. A key component to operating as fully as possible is emergency power…be sure to discuss temporary power options with a disaster restoration contractor in advance.
Prepare a Post-Loss Plan
Prioritize contacts: Start with your insurer. That will get the adjuster to your site as soon as possible. Then call the restoration contractor. Getting workers onsite early can help deter looting, decrease flooding and prevent additional wind damage.
Know what to expect: Restoring power and securing the roof will be the restoration contractor’s first major concerns. Some firms can transport and mobilize high-power generators to your property in very short order. This will keep you up and running to support guests, as well as reconstruction efforts.
If part or the entire roof is blown off, a temporary covering will be installed to protect contents of the top floors and prevent water leakage into lower floors. In cases where looting is made easier by holes in walls, broken windows and other breeches, those areas will be secured immediately.
Accommodate: Make way for the crew. You will need to clearly designate walkways, stairways and appropriate elevator banks, if operating, to make sure guests don’t wander into potentially dangerous work areas.
While owners of commercial properties often assist in photographing some of the obvious damage, it is unsafe to tread through unsecured guest floors and other areas where you don’t know what to expect. The restoration contractors will survey and document the brunt of that damage when they arrive and will come equipped with drying equipment, building materials, generators and other necessities.
There’s no sense in courting disaster. Managers and owners of hospitality properties who take precautionary measures in preparation for hurricane season will return to full strength, and full capacity, with minimum downtime…and minimum detriment to the bottom line.
Carrie Broussard serves as a national account manager specializing in hospitality restoration and reconstruction for InStar Services Group, a nationwide provider of disaster restoration, reconstruction, and technical services with 22 offices throughout the country. More information is available at email@example.com or www.instar.com