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Getting back to work after Sandy

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After Hurricane Sandy, businesses across Fairfield County experienced significant work interruptions and productivity losses, based on the results of an informal survey of employees of about 50 firms conducted by the Business Journal.

Nearly 75 percent of those who responded said they missed more than two days of work because of the storm, while another 60 percent said it would take a few days to a week to catch up on work.

Carol Wilder-Tamme, president of the Darien Chamber of Commerce, said her office lost power late in the day Monday, Oct. 29, and that electricity wasn’t restored for another five days.

Like many other employees in the area, she worked from home.

“Without my generator at home and my smartphone being a mobile hot spot, I would have not been able to do the work required to support our business members,” Wilder-Tamme said.

Using her cell phone to write emails and post to Twitter and Facebook, Wilder-Tamme said she spent the days following the storm regularly sending updates about the progress of electrical repairs in Dairen’s business district to state representatives and the chamber’s membership.

“Without the Internet, those communications could not have happened except in person,” she said. “Cell reception, for many, was dodgy at best.”

Not having electricity in the office was the number one reason survey respondents said they didn’t go to work, followed by closed roads and because their office was closed for precautionary measures. About 15 percent of respondents said they never missed work.

If revenue is lost because of an order from a civil authority, such as a mandatory evacuation or closed public transportation, some businesses may be insured for the losses, said Finley T. Harckham, a partner attorney at Anderson Kill & Olick P.C.

Business interruption or contingent business interruption policies cover losses from unavoidable interruptions in a company’s daily operations due to physical damage either at the property, in the area or because a major supplier or customer base suffered damage. Interruptions from a civil authority order are also included.

“Too many businesses do not think about insurance unless their premises are damaged,” Harckham said in an email. “Or if they do, they fail to calculate the full range of loss.”

Most survey respondents said their offices were not physically damaged and had not contacted their insurance providers.

Wilder-Tamme estimated the chamber loss about $2,000 because of the storm, but for other businesses, the losses are estimated to be much greater.

For businesses that lost power for several days, survey respondents reported $15,000 to $90,000 in losses.

As businesses scramble to access damage and file their insurance claims, Jim Gustin, a senior property specialist at Travelers Insurance, said businesses should be looking to create a contingency plan to avoid the severity of future interruptions.

In Travelers’ five-step process, businesses should first conduct a threat assessment; second, identify vital business functions; third, conduct an impact analysis of vital functions if they were interrupted; fourth, create a prevention strategy; and lastly, implement and maintain the plan.

“We want customs to identify important business functions,” Gustin said. “They need to think about what they can do to control or minimize damage.”

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