Semper paratus

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“We got some major water problems here with all the flooding going on …. I love it! Keep it coming, Mother Nature! Keep it coming!” Adam Skelos told his father, according to the complaint. Both laughed, and then Dean Skelos replied, “It will.”

— Excerpt from transcript in complaint against state senate majority leader Dean Skelos as recorded for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara

Disaster’s a growth industry these days. Think of all the worst things that could happen to you, your family, your community, your business. Dystopian visions abound. You can’t be prepared enough.

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Everybody’s getting in on what can — and therefore will — go wrong. SUNY New Paltz’s Institute of Disaster Mental Health offers academic insights. Last year’s UlsterCorps summit provided an overview of current local emergency response and recovery volunteer workforce capacity. The Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Corporation will be offering a free seminar on disaster readiness and recovery for Ulster County businesses on Thursday, June 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Business Resource Center on Ulster Avenue in Kingston.

I ignore the daily warnings from unsolicited emails about the dire consequences of being without a particular security protection. But you can be damned sure that a copy of our company’s financial records stored off-site are frequently updated.

Not to say that there’s no need for that focus on preparation for potential disaster. The events of September 11, now 14 years ago, shocked the region as it did the nation, and the long list of local fatalities brought the disaster home to the Hudson Valley in the most compelling way possible. Years later, unpredicted tropical storms that devastated the area, as referred to so elegantly above, provided not just a premonition of further tragedy to come but a rich source of business opportunity.

One should recognize that hyper-protectiveness can become a paranoid parody of itself. Read Franz Kafka’s wonderful unfinished short story, “The Burrow.”

For survival, businesses need a balance between preparing for opportunity and preparing for problems. Sam Kandel and Arnaldo Sehwerert of the Kingston-based Mid-Hudson SBDC provide a practical, common-sense start toward that balance. “The best way to deal with a potential problem is to prepare for it,” they say. To register for their June 11 seminar on disaster preparedness for businesses, visit https://business.ulsterchamber.org/events/index. “Is your business ready for the next disaster?” they ask.

Here’s what they have written, as lightly edited by me: “Most of us go through life thinking that bad things only happen to somebody else — until it happens to us. That’s okay. Most of us could not lead normal lives without that defense mechanism. The problem, though, is that reality demands we prepare for contingencies. That’s why we buy insurance, have yearly checkups, and carry a spare tire in our cars. But what about preparing for what can kill your business?

“We are sure you have a box somewhere with insurance policies, client records, receipts, tax returns etc., or maybe you have all those crucial business records in a computer in a safe location, right? You do have a business continuity strategy, right?

“Probably not. Most of us talk a good game of preparedness but never seem to actually get it together. We think that the next storm, fire or disaster will hit our neighbors but not us. Many business owners thought the same in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley before Sandy hit. They then had a tough time getting their businesses back on their feet. Many were unprepared to meet that catastrophe. Others were unable to provide tangible proof of loses or even being in business or could not access assistance in order to rebuild. Don’t let that happen to you.

“Prepare for the unexpected. The following are some basic items that should always be kept in a safe place in the event they are needed to apply for assistance or secure business continuity: DBA certificate of incorporation or articles of organization (LLC), copies of business and personal tax returns, current tax filings for employees, deed for real estate owned (or lease if a rental), mortgage, tax bills, copies of insurance policies, utility bills, and photos and receipts of assets at risk.

“After a disaster hits, you’ll need proof of loss (i.e. insurance inspection reports), photos of damaged assets, documentation of insurance reimbursement or assistance received or denied, invoices, purchase orders, receipts for emergency services and repairs, written estimates for work to be completed, or items to be replaced, and proof of payment with cancelled checks, credit-card statements, or cash receipts.

“We urge everyone to develop a disaster response strategy, update it and discuss with their staffs. Above all, convince yourself that it is not a matter of if but when the next disaster will hit, and that this time it will hit you and your business. Take a good look at the business and try to imagine it in ruins. Think of the consequences to you, your family, your staff and your community. If that does not drive the point home, then perhaps this may be a good time to sell the business, look for a job, and let someone else worry about your business survival and continuity.”

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