Is Your Small Business a Target for Natural Disaster?

Here are five cities prone to economic upheaval from tornadoes, hurricanes and other forces of nature.
Chief Ideation Officer, CODA Concepts, LLC
July 16, 2012

Hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires have all made headlines in U.S. newspapers in the past year. News reports always mention the number of people killed or injured and homes destroyed, but there's almost always economic casualties, and more often than not, it's small business that suffers most. Large enterprises have an ample financial cushion in case of an unexpected loss of revenue. They also usually have multiple branches, which spreads out their geographic risk. A small company with a single location stands a lot to lose if a natural disaster rolls rips through town.

Such was the case for Trae Wieniewitz. On August 29, 2005 he watched as Hurricane Katrina demolished his Lousiana-based financial company. Just four years after opening its doors, Wieniewitz Financial was amassing annual sales of roughly $2 million. But Katrina’s devastation forced Wieniewitz to scrap all that he had built. Like thousands of others along the Gulf Coast, Wieniewitz began to question rebuilding in the path of such destructive hurricanes.

The decision to move, and uproot his entire business, didn’t come easy. But, Wieniewitz knew he needed to rebuild somewhere he felt his business was safe. "When the scale of the devastation became clear, my wife and I decided we needed to act quickly," Weiniewitz says. "Within a week, we began planning to leave all our friends, family, and clients behind and rebuild the business somewhere else."

Six weeks later, he was re-launching his financial planning business in Knoxville, Tennessee, a city he knew little about and in which he had no connections.

That scenario could happen to any small business owner, no matter where a business is based. But some cities are more prone to natural disasters than others, making them a riskier bet to launch a small business.

The New York Times and DisasterSafety.org rank the U.S. metro areas at the highest and least risk for natural disasters. Forbes.com ranks cities on disaster preparedness based on data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). Numerous other publications have compiled lists of disaster-prone cities in past years. Based on the most current information, entrepreneurs seeking to launch a small business should avoid these five cities to lessen the risk of devastating natural disasters.

1. Dallas, Texas. It might come as a surprise, but The New York Times says Dallas is the riskiest city in terms of natural disasters. That's because it's prone to a variety of adverse weather events, including flooding, tornadoes, wind and hail storms, droughts and even hurricanes.

2. Shreveport, La. Because the city (sixth on The New York Times' risk assessment) is situated along the Gulf Coast, adverse weather conditions in other locations can still contribute to damaging flooding in Shreveport. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall here, its effects were as widespread as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, forcing small business owners like Trae Wieniewitz to rebuild their dreams elsewhere. Speaking of Trae, he now calls Knoxville as his permanent home and has successfully rebuilt his business, even earning a nomination as 2011 Advisor of the Year.

3. Birmingham, Ala. You don't need an extreme hurricane to get serious damage in Birmingham, ranked number eight on The New York Times' list of the most disaster-prone U.S. cities and second on Forbes.com's list of the least-prepared cities. Not to say that a severe storm wouldn't do its damage, but Birmingham is prone to not only hurricanes, but also tornadoes. Tornadoes are arguably more dangerous than hurricanes because they're less predictable –or at least, residents and business owners get less warning when a tornado comes swirling through.

4. Miami, Fla. According to Insure.com, Miami tops the list of likely cities for hurricanes to strike, which skyrockets insurance costs. And ClimateCentral.org points out that just because Miami has been largely spared by major hurricane landfalls in the past few years doesn't mean the city is less dangerous in terms of natural disasters.

5. New York City. Sure, it's true that the New York City metro is rivaling Silicon Valley in terms of startup funding, but it's also an area prone to natural disasters –and disasters of the human-making, such as 9/11. New York City has been subject to a plethora of disasters, including flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and even earthquakes: An August 2011 earthquake that rocked Virginia demonstrated that New York City was unprepared for such emergencies, further proven by a lack of preparedness (despite early warning) of the potential damage of Hurricane Irene in August 2011.

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.

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