Best Practices for Businesses after a Disaster by Daniel Hughes, CPA/CFF/CGMA, CVA
Posted on September 28, 2022
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Fiona and Ian and with Hurricane Nicole taking aim at Florida, we are reminded once again of the importance of preparing for and responding to natural disasters in order to minimize business losses and ensure long-term viability. The actions a business takes during the first few days following a loss can often determine the success of its recovery and settlement of insurance claims for property damages and lost profits.
Following are seven tasks that well-prepared businesses incorporate in their continuity plans. If such a plan does not already exist, a business should still consider adopting these best practices to make the recovery process smoother and improve their chances of a complete and satisfactory recovery.
Step 1: Assess Damages. As soon as the danger has passed, business owners should conduct the following activities:
- Identify the cause and origin of the loss
- Assess structural components of the remaining facilities
- Determine the scope of physical damage
- Reach a preliminary consensus with an insurance representative on the scope of the damages
- Conduct a count of damaged and/or destroyed physical assets and inventory (stock)
It is recommended that business owners record the damages they incurred via video as soon as possible after incurring a loss. A narrated video provides an inexpensive ounce of prevention if there are future disputes with insurers about specific damage.
Step 2: Protect and Secure the Site. Boarding up broken windows, making temporary roof repairs, covering machinery and equipment to protect against the elements and disconnecting utility services are examples of activities businesses should engage in to protect their property from further damage. In addition, consideration should be given to securing the damaged area with temporary fencing or security personnel to ensure it remains intact for subsequent investigation and calculation of losses. Retail establishments should take extra care to avoid looting. Securing the site and protecting property is typically an insurance policy requirement. Plus, it will help to expedite the business’s return to its normal operations.
Step 3: Form a Recovery Task Force. Business owners looking to get their operations up and running quickly must act fast to reestablish revenue streams from customers. The best way to accomplish this is to have a solid recovery plan carried out by a company task force made up the following key constituents:
- Employees representing the business’s damaged operations, such as an operations manager, head of manufacturing, etc.
- Personnel responsible for rebuilding, such as a facilities manager, project manager, etc.
- A representative with the construction contractor
- A risk manager or other staff member in charge of corporate insurance policies
- Key staff members who interact regularly with customers, such as sales directors or customer relations representatives
- A corporate finance or accounting liaison, who will serve as the gatekeeper to gather, track, and record the repair costs as well as distribute the necessary information to other appropriate parties
- Other consultants retained to assist in the recovery, including engineers, construction experts and outside accountants and consultants
Step 4: Be Involved in Estimations of Losses. When an insured business has a covered loss, the insurance carrier will typically send out one of its adjusters to establish a “reserve”, which is an initial estimate of the loss. Rather than leaving this initial loss estimation solely in the hands of insurance adjusters or other outside consultants, business owners should involve themselves in the process. No one knows a business better than its owner(s), who have unique knowledge about the business’s operations and facilities as well as the cost of replacement equipment, building materials or temporary locations. Moreover, a business interruption estimate prepared in cooperation with a business owner is less likely to overlook important factors that might affect the ultimate amount of covered losses, such as recently awarded contracts, new customers, new products, recently implemented or soon to be implemented cost savings or efficiencies, which may affect the ultimate amount of the loss.
Step 5: Establish a Loss Accounting System. There are many ways for businesses to account for a loss, but the best method is to use a simple system that follows their normal day-to-day activities. Examples can include creating a set of charge codes related to the loss, establishing separate costs centers for each repair expense category or creating a project work order, as if the repair was a normal project. The goals should be to separate repair costs from normal operating expenses and keep them organized and easy to access. A method to accomplish the separation is to account for repair costs as an insurance receivable on the balance sheet instead of an expense on the income statement.
Step 6: Run Expenses and Invoices through a Corporate Gatekeeper. Invoices for loss-related expenses should be routed to an individual in the business’s accounting department (e.g., controller, chief accountant, etc.), who can review them for accuracy, appropriate detail and relevance to a claimed loss. The job of the Gatekeeper is to ensure that all invoices meet an insurance company’s reimbursement requirements before a business pays an invoice. If further detail is required from the vendor, it is often much easier to get the information before the invoice is paid rather than after.
Step 7: Get Help. The recovery from a loss is a traumatic and potentially significant event. For some companies, major losses threaten their very existence, and a full recovery determines survival or extinction. Getting help from a professional accountant, lawyer and/or engineer who specialize in financial recovery from losses and keeps your best interests in mind can make the process less complicated. They will work with your company, insurance broker and the insurer’s representatives in the time-consuming task of preparing complete and fully documented claims, allowing your personnel to concentrate on the task of serving customers, repairing facilities and returning to normal operations. In addition, their fees may be covered by an insurance policy with a “professional fee” or “claim preparation cost” endorsement.
The Forensic and Advisory Services practice of Berkowitz Pollack Brant has more than three decades of experience helping Florida businesses prepare for and maximize financial recovery from insured perils.
About the Author: Daniel S. Hughes, CPA/CFF/CGMA, CVA, is a director in the Forensics and Business Valuation Services practice at Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisers + CPAs, where he works with businesses of all sizes on matters involving valuations, economic damages, lost profits and the quantification of business interruption insurance claims. He can be reached in the CPA firm’s Miami office at 305-379-7000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.