Learning Curve: Hard Lessons for Businesses in Hurricanes

Harvey, Irma and Maria have taught small business owners that disaster planning is more than just evacuating and trying to mitigate physical damage -- it's also about the "what ifs."

Many realized they hadn't done the right kind of preparation, including buying flood insurance. Some say they want to have their own generators. But even those with carefully made plans ran into situations their plans didn't account for.

Michael Mohl, owner of a Senior Helpers home care business in Palm Beach, Florida, thought he had a thorough strategy in place before Hurricane Irma hit. It included plans to meet the specific care needs of each client, a list of hurricane shelters and alternate routes for staffers, reminders to fill their gas tanks, and Mohl having supplies and extra cash on hand.

"But we didn't plan on cellphone towers going down," Mohl says. Without them, he couldn't communicate with employees. He now plans to buy two-way radios like the ones emergency responders use.

Here's what some other owners learned:

OWNER: Lexi Montgomery, Darling Web Design, Miami Beach, Florida

HER STORY: Irma was the first hurricane that Montgomery, who is originally from Missouri, experienced. She and her husband drove out of Miami Beach with their two dogs as the storm approached Florida and headed to Tampa, where she expected to run her business from a hotel. Several staffers were staying in Tampa as well. When the storm changed course and it appeared Tampa would take a direct hit, Montgomery and her husband fled to Atlanta, a drive that took 14 hours instead of the normal six to seven because the roads were packed.

Atlanta isn't usually a hurricane target but turned out to be in Irma's path. Montgomery's hotel was left without power and Wi-Fi. She struggled to stay in touch with U.S. and overseas clients using the internet...

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