We get it done
Hurricane Wilma showed me that in a natural disaster, I want small businesses on my side. We get it done.
By Jim Collins, FSB Magazine contributor

(FSB Magazine) -- When your business is in Florida, hurricanes are a fact of life. My company, Affinity Internet, is one of the largest providers of small-business websites and marketing services. If a hurricane caused our servers to shut down, 170,000 small-company websites would go down too. For our business - and theirs - that just can't happen.

As prepared as we were for Hurricane Wilma last October - we've had a formal, written disaster-preparedness plan in place since May 2001 - we'd never dealt with more than a glancing blow from a category 2 storm.

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Jim Collins, owner of Affinity Internet, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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A toppled houseboat at a marina in Key West, Fla. after Hurricane Wilma came across southwest Florida Monday, Oct. 24, 2005.

Wilma was a category 3 storm that hit us directly, knocking out power for two weeks as 35 volunteers on my staff worked and lived inside our building. The experience taught us something interesting: In almost every case in which we relied on a large corporation or government agency, it failed us. But small businesses always came through.

Keeping our customer-care lines up and manned is a vital part of our plan: We promise 24/7 service, and we're committed to it, no matter what the weather outside.

Telephones

When the storm hit, our toll-free long-distance provider, a mega-corporation, had a power outage in one of its facilities, and a lot of our numbers went down. Its customer support could do nothing more than confirm the situation to us.

Then we noticed that a few of our 800 numbers were still working - specifically the ones supplied by Deltacom, a much smaller carrier based in Huntsville, Ala. When we phoned Deltacom, it was able to take on all our 800 numbers and get them working within four hours. We've deepened our relationship with them since the storm.

Power

Electricity was an issue for us too: Within 90 minutes of the storm hitting our area, municipal power was gone and we were relying on our diesel generator, which has a 2,500-gallon tank. Needless to say, without diesel we're sunk.

Our fuel vendor, a big-name large corporation, not only didn't show up during those 14 days, but never showed up again and never apologized. Now we have contracts with the three smaller firms that helped us out during Wilma (and two more for good measure!).

Fuel wasn't the only power problem. Our generator is meant to run for only 96 hours without shutting down for maintenance. Our service technicians from 21-employee R.B. Grove outside Miami drove up in the wee hours of the morning to bring us spare parts and maintenance service. Their assistance helped us keep the generator running for two weeks straight. It is no exaggeration to say those guys saved our bacon.

After a week of being cooped up, we'd solved our fuel problems, but the staff hit a wall of fatigue. At times like that, simple creature comforts such as a clean T-shirt or a hot meal can be huge for morale.

Food

Big restaurants 40 and 50 miles away were closed and our regular caterer was nowhere to be found, but family-owned GG's of New York Pizza around the corner found a way to rig up a generator and feed us a hot meal of lasagna, pizza, and ziti. The owner was thrilled for the business. We saved him, and he saved us.

Throughout this crisis, big business had to operate outside norms and couldn't. Small businesses, on the other hand, solved problems. Affinity's disaster plan was invaluable, but the collective resourcefulness among entrepreneurs was a big part of what kept us running smoothly through the storm.

Owner's Manual is written by entrepreneurs about lessons they have learned.

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The long, strange resurrection of New Orleans.

New Orleans' best defense: Dissolving into the sea. Top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.