The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has taught us many lessons, and among them is the realization of just how vulnerable your business is. There are obviously many variables in your business that you have control over on a daily basis such as the number of employees and the number of service calls you have on the board.

However, as we've seen, there are many variables that are beyond your control.

How do you deal with them? How do you get back on your feet when a tragedy like Katrina hits your business?

As president of Success Group International, an organization of more than 1,200 contractors, I've been assisting many of our members in those affected areas deal with getting back on their feet.

And for answers on how to do it, I turned to a great mentor who has been in that situation before, Jim Abrams. He's one of the most influential leaders in the HVAC industry, and had a business that was flooded in St. Louis several years ago. That business was under nine feet of water for more than six months.

Knowing he had that experience, I asked Jim what he would do to get a business back on its feet in the case of a disaster. This is what he recommends for all of those business owners currently dealing with disaster management.

  • Contact your insurer.

  • Attend FEMA "Fast Track" meetings.

  • Contact your employees and give them hope.

  • Make sure that your computer backup files are in a secure place. This is an important measure for any business owner to take whether you're in a disaster area or not.

  • If your building is gone or will be unavailable for some months, find an alternative space. It doesn't have to be great, just functional. "When my business was underwater, I used the back of a wholesale warehouse, with foldout tables and chairs and a telephone wired from the ceiling," Abrams said.

  • If your business is totally shut down, contact any creditors - banks, truck leases, landlords, mortgage holders, others and ask for payment abeyance. Explain the circumstances and promise to keep them informed of your situation.

  • If your business and community were severely damaged and you conclude that it will be impossible to have the business survive, bring all costs to a halt today.

  • Take possession of any trucks that survived and get them to higher ground.

  • If you have flood insurance, ask for "advance payment." Many times they will advance the money and settle up later if they overadvanced you.

    Those are nine quick tips that Abrams suggests of any business owner dealing with disaster management. Remember, if you aren't dealing with disaster management at the moment, you could be in the future. That's one of the variables we don't have control over as business owners. But with those tips, you'll be able to manage your way through it if the time ever comes.

    Terry Nicholson is president of AirTime 500. For more information on AirTime 500, call 800-505-8885. Nicholson can be reached by e-mail at

    Publication date: 10/10/2005