By Bill Prosch
The number of disaster restoration companies that are unprepared to deal with large influxes in business is astounding.
In an industry that deals with disasters and emergencies daily, we know that surges in business will occur; 2017 was an outstanding example. Numerous hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, frozen pipes, and more affected most of the country in one way or another. If you were in one of the affected areas, you undoubtedly received lots of calls for help. What’s baffling is how surprised some appeared to be when the calls started coming in.
Professional, seasoned restorers and mitigation experts know that surges happen, and they have plans in place for dealing with these massive spikes in business. Granted, even the most-experienced companies are frequently at or beyond capacity on the first day of a large event. But they know what to do to handle the volume. If you started receiving 80 to 100 calls per day, would you know what to do?
In their book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, former Navy SEAL task unit leaders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin teach the principle of “Prioritize and Execute.” The authors contend that even the greatest battlefield leaders are unable to handle an array of challenges simultaneously without having a system in place. In our situation, with large numbers of smoke or water-damaged houses, institutions, and businesses, we obviously can’t get to each loss immediately. We must have a system to “Prioritize and Execute” the losses that come in, along with a plan for getting the prioritized work done.
Rest assured, there is no single industry standard for creating a system of prioritization. Each savvy, successful restoration company has created its own. Some restorers prioritize losses based on the customer’s immediate needs. For example, they might place an elderly customer with no heat in the home, regardless of their ability to pay, above a working-age family whose insurance carrier has committed to covering the loss. Others might put the customer’s ability to pay above all else.
Regardless of how you do it, you must have a plan, or you’ll end up with complete chaos. On a side note, while the restorer who chooses compassion over payment may seem like the better person, remember that cash is the lifeblood of a business, and bleeding to death while trying to help everyone eventually helps no one. Perhaps a system that allows for a reasonable amount of compassion while keeping the money flowing into your organization helps solve this dilemma.
Other restorers have created Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) that give select clients top priority when disasters occur. These agreements, including response times and pre-determined pricing, are typically put in place with businesses, institutions, and municipalities ahead of time.
What must go along with developing a method for prioritizing incoming work is planning for the additional labor and equipment that will be needed. Do you have agreements with temporary labor suppliers, or have you considered where your additional labor will come from? Where will you get additional equipment when you need it? Do you have agreements with equipment rental companies, or are you a member of a trade association whose members support each other with labor and equipment during surges?
Once the mechanics of labor and equipment are determined, we must then circle back to the issue of money. Payment can come slowly during surges. Is your company financially prepared to handle this? Do you have an adequate credit line established?
The above items are not intended to be all-inclusive of disaster planning; they’re meant to be a starting point as you consider how prepared you are to handle the next big disaster. Hopefully, they will also serve as a call to action for you to create your own plan now. After all, what kind of disaster restoration company isn’t prepared for a disaster?
Bill Prosch, CR, is a Business Development Adviser for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Prosch is a leading expert in operations and a Certified Restorer. He has a deep understanding of entrepreneurial challenges having owned and operated a successful restoration company for more than 30 years. Through Violand, he works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit violand.com or call (800)360-3513.