What is a business recovery center?
A business recovery center is a one-stop shop set up to provide local, state and federal resources and services for businesses after a catastrophic event. Because their services are tailored to address business needs, they typically are established separately from the FEMA disaster recovery centers to avoid confusion with individuals needing social services.
A local economic development organization (EDO) often takes responsibility for establishing the center, in cooperation with local, state and federal partners, so that representation includes the local small business development center (SBDC) and SBA representation. Other representation may include local bank officers, specialized technical assistance counselors, SCORE, chamber of commerce, workforce development entities, and other local organizations that provide financial or technical assistance to small businesses. Ideally, a community will have conducted some pre-disaster preparation activities and talked about the process and lead agency for establishing a business recovery center.
The following steps are helpful to consider when establishing a business recovery center:
Step 1: Establish a business recovery center (BRC) as quickly as possible
Most disaster-impacted communities have found it very effective to have the BRC up and running within one to two weeks after a major disaster.
Step 2: Select an appropriate location for the business recovery center
Communities typically establish them in a central location in the most impacted area to provide close access to affected businesses. Examples include conference space of a local business, the local chamber office, a vacant retail space in a mall, a FEMA trailer, etc.
Step 3: Reach out to local, regional and federal partners
Reach out to local, regional and federal partners so the center has representation from a multitude of private, non-profit, and government service providers. Counselors should be prepared to educate businesses on the various financial and technical assistance services available (bridge/gap financing, SBA low-interest loans, etc.), as well as to provide guidance in the application process for federal loans.
Step 4: Develop a marketing and promotion campaign to advertise the center’s location and services
Communication with businesses will be a major issue if telecommunication lines are down. Consider alternative promotion methods, such as canvassing flyers directly to impacted businesses; using the local media, particularly radio advertising; advertising on billboards with a hotline number; etc.
Coordinate the various EDOs within the affected area to advertise to their own networks of businesses. For example, chambers of commerce are likely to have the largest network of small businesses. One community in Florida worked with a technology company to provide a mobile alert system to communicate with businesses through text messaging (text messaging gets prioritized in a major disaster/incident). Make sure the local government is advertising the BRC on its website for emergency information as well as posters/flyers at city hall and the disaster recovery center.
Step 5: Establish a hotline number that business owners can call to get information about the center and its services
Establish a hotline number that business owners can call to get information about the center and its business assistance services. Make sure to advertise the hotline number such as on a centrally located billboard and in all promotional efforts, including your website.
Step 6: Provide business recovery materials and loan/grant applications in relevant languages to assist major demographic groups in your community
In a Florida community, the BRC provided documents in Spanish and French to reach the community’s large Latino and Haitian populations.
Step 7: Gather intelligence on how the local businesses have been impacted economically by the disaster
Disseminate an outreach survey at the BRC for local business owners to complete to gather intelligence on how the local businesses have been impacted economically by the disaster, and determine what programs or information they need in the short and long term. Page 33 of Polk County’s Disaster Recovery Plan has an example of an outreach survey. A group from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee also conducted a local business impact assessment survey in the Milwaukee metro area to better understand impact and recovery needs after flooding in 2008.
Step 8: Be prepared to keep the Business Recovery Center open anywhere from a few months up to a year
For unprecedented disasters like Hurricane Katrina, consider applying for Department of Labor’s National Emergency Grant (NEG) to fund temporary workers at the BRC.
- Ready Business was created to educate and empower individuals, small businesses and interested parties to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) assist small business owners by offering technical assistance to individuals and small businesses both before and after a disaster.
- Small Business Administration: SBA features various useful pages including: A guide to available loans, a detailed article on applying for small business loans, and a SBA loan application checklist.
- Business Disaster Planning Guidebook is a comprehensive disaster planning resource that provides specific technical assistance on business preparedness and continuity planning, hazards analysis and response, recovery and mitigation, and other resources.
- NJ Business Portal provides a checklist for business recovery alongside additional disaster resources.
- Agility Recovery Solutions provides business continuity and recovery strategies, consulting services and testing options to businesses across the United States and Canada.
- An example business resource guide was published by Seedco Financial after the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and provides a great example of who and what to include in a resource guide.
- A Business Recovery Center Model report was completed by Hancock County as a model for areas in the Mississippi Gulf Coast to deal with the Gulf Coast Oil Spill.
EDOs and chambers of commerce should seek to provide relevant, timely information on response and recovery efforts through their business networks. The establishment of a local hotline or an online portal (as discussed above in the Communication section) is an effective use of technology to disseminate information. Make sure to advertise the hotline number such as on a centrally located billboard and in all promotional efforts.