Monday, July 22, 2013

South Jersey companies add disaster plans after year of bad weather

Photo Credit/Courtesy:  Dave Griffin 
Big Sky Aviation co-owner Beth Smithson, of Cape May, shows an electric-powered hangar door that’s a challenge to open during power failures at the Millville Airport (KMIV) in Millville, New Jersey.

More businesses in South Jersey are taking steps to prepare for disasters after contending in the past year with wind storms, heat-related power outages and a hurricane. 

Masters Legacy Planning Inc., a financial-planning firm in Linwood, has looked into getting a backup power supply, said property manager Denise Burnett, of Ocean City.

“It was that storm we had last summer, the derecho. We didn’t have power for five days,” she said of the phenomenon of straight-line winds called a “derecho” on June 30, 2012, that knocked down trees and power lines across South Jersey.

“The weather has been crazy. It seems like the power has been going out a lot lately. We can’t function at all without it. The computers, the phones — we’re inoperable,” she said.

Reliable Power Plus, based in Cumberland County’s Lawrence Township, sells backup generators and co-generation equipment for home or business use.

Owner Kenny Sharretts, of Lawrence Township, said he is finding the biggest market in small companies that are looking to wrest back some measure of control from Mother Nature.

“When we had the derecho and then Hurricane Sandy, people were out of power for days — not hours — and they really started to take a hard look at how much money they were losing in their business,” he said.

Reliable Power Plus is a dealer of Yanmar co-generation units that supply heat and electricity. Sharretts also sells portable generators for home or business use.

Many restaurants that lose power stand to lose $10,000 or more in perishable inventory, he said.

Likewise, flooding can put sensitive computer data at risk, he said.

“That could be catastrophic to a company if they’re not on top of it,” he said. “I think that’s opening people’s minds that they have to plan. How much will it cost me to keep my business open?”

The Small Business Administration recently held a web seminar on disaster planning, so businesses could minimize their sales losses after a storm, flood or fire.

Losing profits and clients was the biggest hurdle to recovery from a disaster, according to a survey this year by the National Federation of Independent Business. The group surveyed 7,500 small and medium-sized businesses and found 62 percent were concerned about getting their customers back after a disaster.

Water Today, a well-drilling company in Egg Harbor Township, invested in a combined heat and power plant this year to serve as a backup source of power in a disaster.

“We’ve lost power more frequently over the last several years,” Project Manager Chris Ritson, of Mullica Township, said.

Ritson said the source of an outage does not have to be a major calamity. It can be simply a car accident that knocks down a utility line.

But he said he thinks more businesses are taking steps to plan for disasters.

“Absolutely. With what we’ve encountered with the derecho and Hurricane Sandy, they are. I know I am personally. I have a home generator now,” he said.

Big Sky Aviation operates well away from the coast, at the Millville Airport. But it was not spared its own disaster when it lost power for three days during last year’s derecho, owner Beth Smithson said.

Her business leases hangar space at the airport. Without electricity, her tenants had trouble opening the heavy hangar doors.

“They have time-critical operations. For example, there’s an air-ambulance company on the field. When the weather improves, they need to get out,” she said. “And some of our hangar doors are electric-powered.”

The airport terminal her company operates was without lights or air conditioning for customers who were waiting for a plane. Then there was the fuel.

“The airport does a lot of disaster-planning,” she said. “Our fuel storage is powered by electric. In a lot of disaster situations, emergency personnel need access.”

Smithson said she decided to invest in emergency generators.

“Generators have become more affordable recently, so for us it was a good option,” she said.

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