The Relationship Between the Community Rating System Program and Business Disaster Recovery

Publication Date: 2018


Scholars argue that businesses benefit from community adoption of mitigation measures. However, there is little information on the extent to which community-level mitigation activities impact business disaster recovery efforts. Using data gathered from 25 semi-structured interviews with businesses and local government staff, this study addresses this research gap by examining business disaster recovery efforts for Hurricane Irma in relation to whether the business is located in a county that participates in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Rating System (CRS) program. The CRS is a federal, voluntary program created in 1990 to incentivize communities to implement floodplain management activities that exceed National Flood Insurance Program minimum requirements. Preliminary findings suggest that businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings recovered faster and sustained less impact than businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings. Findings also indicate that dependence (both on other businesses and customers), stress and emotional reactions, financial considerations, personnel issues, working with contractors and insurance companies, and supply chain issues affected the ability of businesses to recover quickly.


Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10, 2017, as a Category 4 storm. Unlike other major hurricanes in recent years, Hurricane Irma lingered in the Atlantic Ocean for several days, allowing individuals and communities additional time to prepare for the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic Ocean (Klotzbach 20171). Hurricane Irma posed a unique challenge to the entire state of Florida, as initial forecasts suggested that the storm would primarily be an East Coast storm. However, as the storm moved closer to Florida, it continued to move westward, with the eye of the hurricane traveling north along Florida’s west coast. Despite its westward trajectory, Hurricane Irma affected nearly every county in Florida. In fact, initial reports suggest that the costs associated with Hurricane Irma amount to approximately $50 billion (NOAA 20182).

Natural disasters like Hurricane Irma can have devastating effects on communities and, especially, on businesses (Tierney 20073). For example, when businesses are affected by natural disasters, they may be unable to continue their operations for long periods of time, or they may close indefinitely. Hence, when disasters strike, the primary goals for businesses are to survive and to quickly recover (Sadiq and Weible 20104). Despite the important role businesses play in society, no study to the author’s knowledge has considered the extent to which community-level mitigation activities influence business disaster recovery. This is surprising given that scholars (e.g., Tierney 2007) argue that businesses benefit from community adoption of mitigation measures, such as the construction of dams and levees and the regulation of land use. The scientific problem is thus a limited understanding of how community-level mitigation activities influence recovery efforts and how businesses recover from natural disasters.

The present study addresses these research gaps by examining business disaster recovery after Hurricane Irma in relation to whether a particular business is located in a county that participates in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) program. This study also examines business disaster recovery among communities that participate in the CRS program at varying levels. The CRS is a federal, voluntary program created in 1990 to incentivize communities to implement floodplain management activities that surpass the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. Communities that participate in the CRS can accumulate credit points by implementing floodplain management activities, and in return, enjoy flood premium reductions commensurate with their credit points (FEMA 20175). FEMA organizes participating communities into one of 10 classes. Class 1 consists of communities with the highest number of credit points, while Class 10 consists of communities that do not choose to participate or have not met the minimum requirements for participation (FEMA 2017). The CRS class designations serve as good indicators of the degree of hazard adjustments and flood mitigation efforts initiated by local communities (Brody et al. 20176; Posey 20097; Sadiq and Noonan 20158).

Research Objectives

The purpose of this exploratory research is to gain a better understanding of the business disaster recovery process among communities that do and do not participate in the CRS program. More specifically, the study seeks to answer the following research questions in the context of Hurricane Irma and four counties in Florida: (1) What are the differences between communities that participate in CRS and those that do not with regard to business disaster recovery? (2) How and to what extent were businesses in Florida able to continue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma? (3) Why were some businesses able to recover more quickly from Hurricane Irma than other businesses?


Figure 1 depicts the conceptual model underpinning this research. This model suggests that businesses located in communities that participate in the CRS, or that participate in the CRS at higher levels, will incur less direct (e.g., physical damage) and indirect (e.g., supply chain issues and loss of customers) impacts, and as a result, will recover faster than businesses located in communities with little or no CRS participation. The rationale for this argument is that communities that participate in the CRS program experience reduced disaster losses because they engage in more structural (e.g., the construction of levees and floodwalls) and non-structural (e.g., stricter building codes and insurance programs) mitigation activities (Highfield, Brody, and Blessing 20149; Highfield and Brody 201710). Furthermore, studies (e.g., Highfield and Brody 2017) have empirically determined that communities with better CRS ratings experience fewer disaster losses.

Pic Description Figure 1. Conceptual model of business disaster recovery and the CRS program

Based on this conceptual model, this study tests the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: Businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will experience approximately the same amount of damage and disruption from Hurricane Irma as businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings.

Hypothesis 1b: Businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will experience less damage and disruption from Hurricane Irma than businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings.

Hypothesis 2a: Businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will recover at approximately the same rate as businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings.

Hypothesis 2b: Businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will recover faster than businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings.

Data and Methods

Research Design

A qualitative research design was employed to examine business disaster recovery from Hurricane Irma in communities that do and do not participate in the FEMA CRS program. Specifically, the author conducted semi-structured interviews with business owners or the individual in the company who was most knowledgeable about the business’ risk management practices (e.g., the risk manager) in two coastal southern Florida counties—Charlotte County and Martin County—and two inland Florida counties—Hendry County and DeSoto County—affected by Hurricane Irma. These counties were purposely selected through a matching procedure based on hurricane impact (measured as whether a county received individual assistance on or prior to September 13, 2017), as well as FEMA CRS program class, population size, and number of businesses in the county as of 2017 (see Table 1).

Pic Description Table 1. Counties Selected for Sample


To identify businesses to interview, the author established a sampling frame using ReferenceUSA, which provides a comprehensive list of businesses in the United States. Using this database, the author randomly selected 25 businesses from the two inland counties and 50 businesses from the two coastal counties. An additional 25 businesses were randomly selected for the two coastal counties because no interviews had been scheduled after the first 25 businesses were contacted. In total, the author attempted to make contact with 150 businesses (25 in both DeSoto and Hendry counties and 50 in both Charlotte and Martin counties). To ensure the samples were representative of both small and large businesses, proportional stratified random sampling techniques (O’Sullivan et al. 201611) were employed. For example, Charlotte County has 6,542 total businesses, and 5,283 (approximately 81 percent) are considered “small businesses” with fewer than 10 employees (Chang 201012). Thus, the author attempted to contact 20 small businesses and five large businesses in Charlotte County.

Following a modified version of Dillman’s (201113) tailored design method, the author attempted to contact the 150 businesses three times over a four-week period, from October 24 to November 28, 2017. Of the businesses sampled, 19 businesses completed the interview process (10 in person and 9 over the phone), resulting in a response rate of approximately 13 percent. The average length of the interviews was just over 18 minutes, with a maximum time of 28 minutes and a minimum time of 12 minutes. The semi-structured interviews included both open- and closed-ended questions and gathered information on business characteristics (e.g., size, type, and prior disaster experience), how businesses prepared for Hurricane Irma, and the challenges associated with recovering from Hurricane Irma, among other topics. The author recorded and transcribed verbatim 18 of the 19 interviews. One interview was not recorded due to a technical issue.

In addition to interviews with businesses, the author interviewed emergency management directors in the four counties and, when available, the CRS coordinator. There were six interviews in total; four were conducted in-person, and two were conducted over the phone. These interviews were used to gain additional insights into the effects Hurricane Irma had on each county, why each county does or does not participate in the CRS program, and the resources available to businesses as they prepare and recover from natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma, among other topics. The average length of time for these local government staff interviews was approximately 38 minutes, with a maximum time of 53 minutes and a minimum time of 17 minutes. These six interviews were also recorded and transcribed verbatim.

After transcription, the author used the qualitative data management software NVivo 11 to support the examination of data and the organization of themes. To analyze the data, the author first coded the data according to preliminary themes and then went back and searched for additional themes located within the initial codes.


Table 2 shows the demographic and business-related characteristics of the 19 businesses included in this study—six were located in Charlotte County, four each were located in Martin and Hendry Counties, and five were located in DeSoto County, respectively. Six of the businesses were wholesale or retail businesses, and three were health-oriented (for a list of other sector classifications, see Table 2). Eleven businesses operated out of a single-location (versus eight businesses with multiple locations), and nine businesses were operator-owned (versus ten businesses that rented or leased their spaces). Thirteen businesses reported that they were in good financial condition, and the same number were classified as small businesses. Only five businesses reported that they had purchased flood insurance.

Pic Description Table 2. Demographic Characteristics of Businesses

Tables 3 shows the responses to the following question: “Why was your business unable to continue its operations?” This question was only asked of the 16 business interviewees that responded “yes” to the question, “Was your business closed at any point in time as a result of Hurricane Irma?” Only three businesses reported not closing before, during, or in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Businesses that did close remained closed for an average of 5.5 days. Only one business was still closed at the time of the interview. The majority of respondents cited a lack of power and/or internet as the main reason for interrupted operations. However, some businesses discontinued their operations in order to provide employees with additional time to prepare their homes for the hurricane, or as a result of evacuations, physical damage, or limited work available in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Theme Responses to Why Buisnesses were Unable to Continue Operations
No Power or Internet
  • “Because Comcast is a [expletive] cable provider…We didn’t lose electricity or anything, but we lost internet service for a week. We rely on that to access our scheduling system and other things on the internet” (Interview A13).
  • “We were shut down for about 10 days due to, at least the office was closed, we had guys out working but 10 days due to power outage and pretty much everyone in our area was shut down” (Interview A18).
  • “Safety of employees initially and a lack of power…there was no power here for four days” (Interview A14).
  • “Because we didn’t have lights…and if we did have lights our internet was still down” (Interview A10).
  • “We had no electricity” (Interview A17).
Employee Preparations
  • “Well we closed down prior to its arrival to give our employees an opportunity to get their house and their family prepared for the potential onslaught of Hurricane Irma.” (Interview A15).
Limited Business Activities
  • “All of our suppliers were damaged and down” (Interview A8).
  • “We were closed, doors closed and nobody answering the phone for probably 4 days. 4-5 days. That’s not because we had to. If you’re here you’re just looking at the walls waiting for the phone to ring. I would say we probably, again, for two weeks we were maybe shortened hours, limited staff, and then probably a month of getting back to normal” (Interview A12).
  • “Well, one was the storm obviously. No sense of being opened when a storm is coming through, and the second thing was just people getting back into town” (Interview A16).
Physical Damage
  • “Biggest thing is that we had a lot of molding and some of our inventory is damaged and we have to clean the place and all of the ceiling was down and there’s water all over the place…I have to pay out of my pocket” (Interview A6).
  • “Yes, we were closed the Friday because we got evacuated and didn’t re-open until Tuesday” (Interview A9).
  • “Many of my clients were in the same position [voluntarily evacuated], and they were not able to come in and get counseling. At least, that was the response from most of my clients. And then there were a lot of other clients that had evacuated and hadn’t made it back yet” (Interview A1).

Table 3. Reasons Why Businesses were Unable to Continue Operations

Table 4 presents data on how Hurricane Irma impacted businesses. Specifically, the author read the following statement to respondents: “I am going to read a series of potential impacts businesses in the state of Florida experienced during and after Hurricane Irma. Please indicate whether your business experienced this impact during or after Hurricane Irma. If the item does not apply, simply say ‘does not apply.’” The author then read the following six impacts:

  • damage to the business’s physical infrastructure
  • disruption in supplies and deliveries
  • loss of power or internet
  • loss of customers
  • loss of commercial goods
  • loss of sales

The author added the number of affirmative responses for these six items and then created a hurricane impact rating, ranging from 0 to 6. The results show that, on average, businesses experienced 3.4 of the six hurricane impacts. The most common impacts included loss of power (N=16), loss of customers (N=12), loss of sales (N=12), and disruption in supplies and deliveries (N=12). Charlotte County reported the lowest mean hurricane impact rating (3.0), followed by DeSoto County (3.2), Martin County (3.5), and Hendry County (3.8).

Pic Description Table 4. Hurricane Impact Ratings Organized by County (N = 19)

Table 5 illustrates the number of businesses that have and have not fully recovered in the four selected counties. Business recovery was measured by asking respondents the following two questions:

  • To what extent has your business recovered from Hurricane Irma?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 represents “has not recovered at all” and 5 represents “has completely recovered,” to what extent has your business recovered from Hurricane Irma?

    These similar versions of the same question allowed the author to capture both contextual and quantifiable data. The data show that businesses located in Charlotte County have the highest mean recovery rating (4.7), followed by businesses located in Martin County (4.3). As mentioned previously, both Charlotte and Martin are coastal counties that participate in the CRS program at Class 5 and Class 7 levels, respectively. The two inland counties reported lower mean recovery ratings. Hendry County, which participates in the CRS program as a Class 8 community, reported a mean recovery rating of 3.3, while DeSoto County, which does not participate in the CRS program reported a slightly higher mean recovery rating of 3.8.

County N Recovered Not Recovered Mean Recovery Rate Relevant Quotes
Charlotte County 6 4 2 4.7
  • “As far as getting back to standard operating stuff, it was just a matter of basic necessities getting back on” (Interview A17).
  • “As far as being operational, we’re 100%. But the repairs, due to the amount of damage throughout the area, will take quite some time. We are being told the earliest we might see some contractors is two months” (Interview A3).
  • “Right now, we’re back to pre-hurricane play and what we normally see during the month of November. Obviously, we had the 6 days that we will never really be able to make that up, plus the three weeks play was down, so you’re looking at almost a month of reduced revenues from what we normally do. Thank goodness, we’re a pretty successful club, and we are able to absorb that, move forward without too much of an issue” (Interview A15).
Martin County 4 3 1 4.3
  • “Well, we’re in our season right now. So, we’re back on track pretty much. This is our season, and these are our busiest months” (Interview A11).
  • “I would say we’re 100% back” (Interview A12).
Hendry County 4 0 4 3.3
  • “We haven’t really recovered. It’s gotten worse” (Interview A2)
  • “Just trying to get the store back in order and get everything back organized, but it’s going well” (Interview A9).
DeSoto County 5 2 3 3.8
  • “We’re working on it…Our livelihood basically depends on other companies being okay…The companies that we deal with not having, not being able to stay in business or them losing out even if it’s just for a season, especially when it’s agricultural like this, we talk about a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars that are in the mix of it” (Interview A10)
  • “I would say that it [the business] is running and functioning at its normal capacity” (Interview A7).
Total 19 9 10 4.0

Table 5. Number of Businesses Recovered and Not Recovered from Hurricane Irma by County (N=19)

Table 6 compares business hurricane impact ratings, preparedness ratings, and recovery ratings. The preparedness rating was developed by asking respondents the following question: “On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 represents ‘has not prepared at all’ and 5 represents ‘very prepared,’ to what extent was your business prepared for Hurricane Irma?” The results from this comparison provide some interesting findings. First, the average preparedness rating, 4.5, was quite high. Second, the data show that businesses with higher preparedness ratings typically had lower hurricane impact ratings. However, these ratings did not always result in higher recovery ratings. For example, despite having experienced similar hurricane impacts, three out of the four businesses that had a recovery rating of 1–3 also rated the business as being very prepared (5). This suggests that additional factors may influence business disaster recovery.

Pic Description
Table 6. Comparison of Hurricane Impact Ratings, Preparedness Ratings, and Recovery Ratings Organized by County (N=19)

To identify additional factors that might influence business disaster recovery efforts, the author reviewed the transcripts a second time. This review revealed six additional influential factors: dependence (both on other businesses and customers), stress and emotional reactions, financial considerations, personnel issues, working with contractors and insurance companies, and supply chain issues. Table 7 shows related quotes from respondents.

  • “Our business is completely dependent on other businesses. If other businesses aren’t doing well, we aren’t doing well. We don’t have contracts with every type of business. It would be a little different if we were not as dependent, especially on the agricultural business. So, for the most part, it’s just been trying to get new businesses, new clients, and other ways to sustain our business for the next few months, well actually the next year. Hopefully, by next year, they [the agricultural companies] have recovered enough and will actually be able to run…because, again, if they don’t run next year, that’s another year that we can’t run either” (Interview A10).
  • “I would say the challenge was to get back to normalcy, meaning that people were coming back to their homes and getting back to work and then, if they needed counseling services, being able to get in to counseling services again” (Interview A17).
  • “We have our emergency plan system in place that we have to file with the state, and that’s it. We can’t make any changes because we are dependent on people and other situations, such as shelters” (Interview A13).
  • “The indecisiveness of some tenets…of them not necessarily having their plan and that impacted our schedule. We knew what we were going to do and what we wanted to do, we had a plan to get that done. Other people’s decision-making process might not have been as in sync with ours” (Interview A3).
Stress and Emotional Reactions
  • “I would say the stress of it was really the hardest thing on all of our employees. It was hard…you know you have a lot of people that have kids and have a lot of responsibilities and they’re worried about their families…There was about 4½ to 5 days of being worried that it was going to come and do destruction here. There’s a lot of stress in that, and that was the biggest thing…Everyone wants to see damage, they want to see all of the things that are wrong and have been destroyed by a hurricane, but what they don’t understand and what they can’t kind of comprehend is how stress really affects them and their job, and it affects everybody. People deal with stress differently. So, for some people, you don’t see much on the surface. Others are really affected they are stressed out and are short-tempered. Others see the long-term effects of it, but it’s definitely something we don’t talk about” (Interview A15).
  • “The only other real challenge was managing through the shock of having gone through the storm...People were just depending on their personal situation if they didn’t have power at home they were sleeping in a 95-plus-degree house, they had personal impacts, personal clean ups. So, everyone’s stress levels were extremely high, and that carried over into the work environment. And there’s financial considerations for all of those employees who lost all of their food. I mean, I lost two full refrigerators, and it took 12 days to get back into my house” (Interview A3).
  • “I think probably the biggest challenge is how everybody reacts differently…I remember one day in particular where it was several days before the storm, and my support staff, which is 3–4 of them, and all of them were talking oh my gosh it’s coming this way it’s going that way. Everybody is all consumed with what the storm may or may not do, and that kind of paralyzes everybody” (Interview A12).
  • “Normally, with natural disasters, tensions, personalities, personal things just come to a head. So, there was an out-of-balance in regular life. We’ve had a few of those issues, but they’ve been dealt with pretty well, and everything is functioning pretty great now. It’s just that normal stuff of those that aren’t well equipped for uncertainty that comes with potential disaster get a little worked up and we kind of came down from that. So, we’ve had a few of those cases, but nothing outside of the interpersonal realm” (Interview A7).
  • “They [the employees] were very stressed out trying to meet customer demands. They kind of didn’t want to come to work because everything was chaotic” (Interview A9).
Financial Considerations
  • “We’ve ended up recouping and getting back to where we were, but it was financially hard...If you have no clients, then you don’t get paid that day. So, there were 10 business, working days without air. So, there was no revenue for those 10 days” (Interview A17).
  • “Well, I’m trying to clean up and fix everything, but I don’t have the money” (Interview A2).
Personnel Issues
  • “I would say manpower issues. We did see an increase in phone calls and an increase in a lot of the quotes we’ve had to do for insurance companies and those kinds of things. One of the challenges is just managing the increase in communication with customers” (Interview A14).
  • “I would say our biggest challenge was getting everyone like okay, it’s time to go, it’s time to get back to work now. Because, we deal with independent contractors. So, it’s not like everyone is here at 9 o’clock and works till 5. Everybody is on their own schedule and they work whatever hours they want to work. So, just getting everybody back on track and working with buyers and sellers. That was probably the biggest challenge” (Interview A12).
  • “I have a lot of young staff. So, it was hard to communicate between them and their parents. That was the hardest thing because they were not sure when their parents would leave or not leave. They would say I’m staying and then no my mom changed her mind and we’re leaving…Just trying to find employees to work. It was hard when they were out of town and when we didn’t know where they were at and if they were okay. That was the biggest the challenge—making sure we had enough staff to cover and having product and merchandise” (Interview A9).
Contractors and Insurance Companies
  • “The biggest hassle in this whole situation in my line of business is the insurance companies…Delays in money releasing, all that kind of stuff. They kind of just expect us to carry the note till they decide they want to pay” (Interview A18).
  • “Contractor responsiveness…The best way to say is if I hadn’t been friends with this contractor for 30 years, I’d probably still be looking for a contractor” (Interview A3).
  • “Yes, there is a problem to find the people to work and do the roof. You know we start with the roof and then go to the inside. But yes, it has been a big problem trying to find people to work on our roof” (Interview A6).
Supply Chain Issues
  • “The only thing was we tried to get extra fuel, and we couldn’t because of Harvey; it wasn’t Irma. All of our fuel comes from Texas, and because of Harvey, we couldn’t get the fuel. That was the biggest problem after we got power back. We had a generator, we had a big commercial generator, and we’re a station for this county that the state mandated we have to have a generator to operate. So, after a day and a half, we had a generator, but we couldn’t pump fuel because we didn’t have any” (Interview A5).
  • “All of our suppliers were damaged and down” (Interview A8).

Table 7. Challenges Business Faced during and in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irma Organized by Theme

It is important to note that while the majority of the business contacts interviewed reported that Hurricane Irma negatively affected their business operations, a few reported that Hurricane Irma was, to some extent, advantageous for their business. For example, some businesses saw a temporary increase in sales or customers both prior to and after the hurricane. These businesses were primarily in industries that sold supplies to help homes and businesses prepare and recover from potential storm damage. Another interviewee reported that the hurricane was advantageous because it helped spread out the business’s workload.

Tables 8 and 9 present responses from the county emergency managers and CRS coordinators about how each county helps businesses prepare and recover from natural disasters like Hurricane Irma. Specifically, Table 8 shows the responses to the following question: “To what extent does your county and/or organization work with businesses to help them prepare for natural disasters?” All of the respondents stated that they help businesses prepare for natural disasters through a variety of community outreach initiatives. For example, respondents for two counties each reported that they attend an annual business expo where they disseminate disaster preparedness information. In addition, the majority of respondents reported that they engage their chamber of commerce to provide talks to local businesses on how to prepare for natural disasters. Charlotte County reported the most direct contact with businesses, noting that the emergency management department meets with individual businesses, such as local supermarkets, annually to discuss the importance of disaster preparedness. Table 9 shows the responses to the following question: “To what extent does your county and/or organization work with businesses to help them recover from natural disasters?” In general, respondents reported that their main function is to ensure that FEMA and Small Business Administration resources are available to businesses. It is important to note that the respondent from Hendry County expressed difficulty in providing resources to businesses due to a lack of staff and funding, as well as the absence of a functional economic development council.

County Resources to Help Businesses Prepare for Natural Disasters
Charlotte County
  • “We do a lot of outreach. We also have things like a business expo. We have a guide that goes out in terms of preparedness, all hazards preparedness. Our emergency management department works very closely with our business community, especially those that are running critical facilities like hospitals, assisted facilities to make sure they have their plans in place and that they are well aware of what they need to do. Another thing we do within our comprehensive plan, we have a requirement that any residential development that is going into our coastal high hazard area has/takes evacuation and shelter into consideration when they’re actually going through the development phase. So, we will ask them to work with emergency management to come up with a plan on how they are going to evacuate people and what they’re going to do if they need to shelter in place if that makes more sense and possibly contribute to a project in our local mitigation strategy because we have a local mitigation strategy, and we have a lot of stakeholders involved in preparing that” (Interview B1).
  • “We meet with the Chambers of Commerce and individual businesses at least yearly so that we know that that system works and anything we can do…We work with them a lot about not only things they can do to strengthen their business and taking care of their employees. I know I got to all the Walmarts in the spring to talk to their employees about just keeping in touch with your employer and your employer keeping in touch with you so if they know where you are they can open as soon as they can” (Interview B3).
Martin County
  • “We, as emergency management, will commonly go out to them [businesses] and talk to them in the blue skies portions about trying to have a better response plan. What is your response plan not only for hurricanes, even though we are coastal community everyone thinks of that, but what about wildfires, pandemics, what if 60 percent of your workforce wasn’t able to come to work that day because they’re sick? How do you stay in business? What is your back up plans? What happens if you have a fire and suddenly lost your computer and all of your data? What are your back up methods? So, we really, when given the opportunity, go out and speak at our chamber of commerce meetings. The business development board had just asked us that they are starting to put on a monthly community outreach program, asking if we would go to them periodically to talk about those things” (Interview B5).
Hendry County
  • “We partner with members of the chamber of commerce. We do go out and do speaking engagements and educational opportunities at different fairs and events…As far as direct involvement and participation in terms of going out and doing business continuity plans, we don’t do any of that right now. I just don’t have the staffing…The county will provide sand and sandbags if they want to bag up the front of their stores or whatever…So, we kind of assist with that mitigation effort there I guess. A lot of the other things were doing is basically what we do anytime, like debris removal or what not. That’s really about it. The education and a little bit of mitigation, very little mitigation, mostly education. Again, just because we really don’t have the resources” (Interview B2).
DeSoto County
  • “We usually use social media to get people prepared, and we work with businesses…Every year we have our hurricane seminar and expo where we invite businesses to attend and if they have any emergency preparedness items they want to display, we have them come to that one day expo…Basically, between that event and trying to contact people, well outreach with social media, and we have DeSoto Alerts where we send out messages on approaching storms and preparedness statements. We have our all-hazards guides on preparedness items that we distribute throughout the county. I think that’s about it. We also do talks to different groups when asked to. It’s mostly civic groups or mobile home parks ask us to come in prior to hurricane season and to give talks on preparedness” (Interview B6).

Table 8. Resources Available to Help Businesses Prepare for Natural Disasters

County Resources to Help Businesses Recover from Natural Disasters
Charlotte County
  • “It’s really just making sure that FEMA resources are available to them. So, we’ll set up disaster recovery centers for them with FEMA. Even things like the blue roofs projects, we’ll facilitate a lot of those programs…to make sure that those people and resources are on site and available, and that people know that they’re there and what they can do. So, again, it comes down to outreach, press releases, we send things out through Charlotte County Alert. We also have a Charlotte Cares, a text alert that goes out that tells people that a disaster recovery center has opened and things like that. It’s really information. We can’t, we’re not the ones that are going to fund their recovery, but we can get them to the people that can help them fund their recovery” (Interview B1).
  • “With Irma, all we had to do was get the power turned back on, which relieved the pressure on the generators. Making sure they have fuel, things like that. We work with them to that extent and do whatever we can so we don’t have to get truckloads of supplies in here and set up Points of Distribution” (Interview B3).
Martin County
  • “Number one is getting declared as an individual assistance, we think, is a big part because public assistance to the government to get reimbursed or partially reimbursed for the costs of responding and recovering from this are fairly easy, but getting individual assistance is not. With the individual assistance opens up SBA, obviously if we don’t get declared, we still may get economic loss through SBA. If we get individual assistance declaration directly, well then that also gives them the ability to apply for damages, and no it’s not a direct grant program, but what it does is it provides them with low cost, low interest loans through the federal government to get their doors opened back up…The best thing we can do is get them what programs are available to get that assistance” (Interview B5).
Hendry County
  • “I have not seen a huge SBA outpouring. Some, you know, a couple hundred applications, but nothing huge. We do a lot business tax credits for businesses trying to stimulate business [growth] in the county. Currently, our county is number one in unemployment in the state. So, a lot of our businesses, you know we have a few large industry businesses that employ a lot of people. A lot of that newer business stuff, because we’re very behind in infrastructure and technology, kind of stays away from us or leaves to go other places. We have a few homegrown businesses. We’ve had quite a few with our tax breaks, you know businesses came in and got the tax break, and we kind of ended up with egg in our face over it, so we’re not doing great as far as business goes. Actually, right now we don’t even have an economic development council in place. Our Economic Development Council (EDC), they laid off their admin person, and then the director resigned right before the storm actually or just prior to the storm, and he already had other things lined up. So, we don’t have a functioning EDC at this point” (Interview B2).
DeSoto County
  • “We don’t single out the businesses, it’s just the community. We work with FEMA and the SBA, and you know our community partners to work towards recovery, and if there’s anything low-cost loans that the SBA can give out to homeowners or businesses, we set up an area in our county library and advertise it so people that have experienced some loss and can make claims with FEMA and fill out applications with the SBA” (Interview B6).

Table 9. Resources Available to Help Businesses Recover from Natural Disasters

Discussion and Conclusions

This study sought to answer the following three research questions: (1) What are the differences between communities that participate in CRS and those that do not with regard to business disaster recovery? (2) How and to what extent were businesses in Florida able to continue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma? (3) Why were some businesses able to recover more quickly from Hurricane Irma than other businesses? In terms of the first research question, the results from the 19 business interviews provide partial support for Hypothesis 2b, which states that businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will recover faster than businesses located in communities with lower CRS ratings. For example, as hypothesized, Charlotte County—the county with the highest CRS rating—had the highest mean recovery rating, followed by Martin County—the county with the second highest CRS rating. However, DeSoto County—the county that does not participate in the CRS program—reported a higher mean recovery rating than Hendry County, despite the fact that Hendry County participates in the CRS program as a Class 8. A possible explanation for why Hendry County reported slower recovery times compared to DeSoto County could be that businesses in Hendry County reported slightly higher hurricane impact ratings and greater struggles in providing resources to help businesses recover. Another explanation could be that communities that participate in the CRS must cross a certain threshold to experience fewer disaster losses (Highfield and Brody 2017). In other words, participation in the CRS program as a Class 8 community may not be sufficiently robust to produce fewer disaster losses for businesses in Hendry County. With regard to hurricane impacts, the results do not fully align with the conceptual model, as they provide support for Hypothesis 1a, which states that businesses located in communities with higher CRS ratings will have experienced approximately the same amount of damage and disruption from Hurricane Irma as business located in communities with lower CRS ratings. For example, there is only a 0.8 difference in impact between the most impacted county—Hendry County—and the least impacted county—Charlotte County. Nonetheless, when observing the three communities that participate in the CRS, results showed that Charlotte County (the Class 5 community) reported the lowest mean hurricane impact rating, followed by Martin County (the Class 7 community) and Hendry County (the Class 8 community).

In terms of the second research question, the results show that the majority (N=16) of respondents did not continue their operations just prior to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Respondents reported that a lack of power and/or internet was the primary reason why their businesses were unable to continue operations. Additional respondents reported that they discontinued their operations in order to provide employees with additional time to prepare their homes for the hurricane, or as a result of evacuations, physical damage, or limited work available in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The businesses that did continue operations during Hurricane Irma did so for the following reasons: inability to physically secure the building, sufficient access to electricity throughout the storm, availability of shelter space for employees, or because the business was housing the pets of individuals who evacuated.

Finally, with regard to the third research question, results indicate that, in addition to hurricane impacts, preparedness levels, and community-level flood mitigation activities, dependence (both on other businesses and customers), stress and emotional reactions, financial considerations, personnel issues, working with contractors and insurance companies, and supply chain issues affect businesses’ abilities to recover quickly.

A number of study limitations are worth mentioning. First, this study relies on a relatively small sample size. As a result, the findings are not generalizable among the four counties selected to participate in this study or to other counties that were impacted by Hurricane Irma. Second, there is potential for response bias (Sadiq and Graham 201614). For example, representatives of businesses that have recovered may have been more likely to volunteer to be interviewed compared to representatives of businesses that have not recovered. On the other hand, businesses that have experienced damage and difficulty in recovering from Hurricane Irma may have been more likely to volunteer to be interviewed because they viewed the author as an individual to whom they could voice their frustrations regarding the recovery process; in fact, two respondents were initially under the impression that the author was conducting this research with FEMA. Third, the interviews were conducted over a four-week period. Therefore, it is possible that recovery ratings are skewed. For example, businesses interviewed in October might have lower recovery ratings compared to businesses interviewed in late November. Fourth, inter-coder reliability was not maintained because the author individually coded all of the interview transcripts. Finally, the proposed study cannot isolate the effects of the CRS program on business disaster recovery, nor can it rule out the possibility of confounding factors. Indeed, it is possible that there are other factors that explain why some businesses fare better than others following natural disasters. Thus, future work on this topic would greatly benefit from a quantitative study with a large sample size that includes a variety of control variables, such as financial wellbeing, business age, and level of disaster preparedness. Despite these limitations, the proposed investigation was an ideal opportunity to collect perishable data on Hurricane Irma and represents a first step to improve our understanding of the disaster recovery process in communities that do and do not participate in FEMA’s CRS program.

Acknowledgement: The author is grateful to Abdul-Akeem Sadiq at the University of Central Florida for his support and assistance throughout this project.


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