Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and even drought can wreak havoc on a community. Services from the Red Cross, National Guard and other responders are thankfully there to help with the initial trauma from natural disasters.
Then comes the clean-up effort. How should your business assist?
Some businesses may offer free services to their community in order to rebuild after a disaster. Plumbing, electrical, communications, construction, waste removal and other field service companies may decide to offer some level of community assistance at no charge. The challenge is drawing the line on how much should be donated and when should normal business resume.
The emotions that come with a natural disaster are many. Some are lost and distraught, while others are angry and vindictive. Loyal customers may expect extensive work from your business, but you may not be able to afford to give the services away. You do not want to take advantage of anyone during the disaster, but you also need to feed your family and take care of your employees and expenses.
To add to the madness are the less legitimate competitors that seem to converge on disasters and gauge your community while taking away your business. These nomad raiders do nothing but corrupt your good reputation while causing more hurt and pain at the worst possible time.
The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) offers some reimbursement options for businesses that provide assistance during a disaster. Note that the disaster must be declared on a federal or state level, and you should keep meticulous records in order to apply for reimbursement. These records should include:
Dates and times when you performed each task
The name and location of the disaster - for example "Hurricane Isaac, Biloxi Mississippi"
Equipment that was used
Travel time to and from the service location
Your normal rates and fees
Primary contact information
Note that the reimbursement process can take a substantial amount of time, and it can vary depending on the type of disaster and whether federal or state authorities are involved. When in doubt it is best to fill out reimbursement requests at both the state and federal levels, and be sure to keep copies for your records of ALL DOCUMENTS. Often requests and documents can be misplaced or lost, so it is important that you take extra care to retain all of your information.
FEMA may also elect to conduct an audit that would include a site visit to inspect your work. Again this can take time so be prepared and patient while also following up on your requests. Typically if you have not received any response in 30 days, contact the agency again.
Your neighbors and your community needs your field service business during a disaster. It is the right thing to do, and it builds camaraderie and support for your business. There could be a time in the future when your business is struck by some form of disaster - the community will remember your good deeds and with almost certainty they will be there to help you in your time of need.