Benefit professionals brace for Hurricane Florence aftermath

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Across the eastern U.S., people are bracing for impact as Hurricane Florence rips through the Carolinas.

By the time Florence made landfall in North Carolina early Friday, the storm had left more than 400,000 homes and businesses without power in the state. The storm landed on shore as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds up to 85 miles per hour.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Suzy Johnson is working to prepare her small office for the storm.

“If anyone gets significant damage, we’ll try to do what we can to help,” says the president and owner of Employee Benefit Advisers of the Carolinas.

Johnson has been living in Charlotte for a while and this is not her first time dealing with a hurricane. A memorable one, she says, was Hurricane Hugo, which hit in 1989 on the weekend of her wedding. Luckily, her ceremony was in West Virginia. But it did take a toll on her family members, many of whom faced difficulties traveling for the big day, she says.

See also: Are employees eligible for leave during a natural disaster?

Johnson understands firsthand exactly how hard it can be for an employee and their family to deal with a major storm. In the office, she made a personal effort to help employees prepare before Florence hits. She says employees should be prepped with food, water, gas and her office will close early on Friday.

It’s also important, she says, that employees have access to alternative power sources, as some may lose power during the storm. Johnson says she’s working to find extra portable power banks in the office to make sure employees have fully charged cell phones during the storm. This way, she says, you can keep in contact and make sure everyone is safe.

“That’s what I’m doing as a leader to try to secure the safety for my employees. For our clients, we’re trying to knock out anything that’s really critical in advance,” she says.

David Contorno, founder of E Powered Benefits, says there are preparations advisers can take to help employees cope. Employers should be proactive in making sure employees will have access to food, water and medication. They should take particular precautions with pregnant women to make sure they have everything they need to ride out the weather.

“We sent out notices to pregnant women to make sure they have backup plans and water and food," he says.

A lack of access to proper medical care can be a big issue during a storm, Contorno and Johnson say. This is a time where offering a telemedicine benefit can be particularly beneficial. Some providers, including MDLive, Doctor On Demand, American Well and Teladoc are offering free telehealth sessions to victims of Florence.

“That’s what I’m doing as a leader to try to secure the safety for my employees.”

“We know first-hand the destructive power that hurricanes possess and our primary goal is to provide those currently enduring the threatening force of Hurricane Florence with proper healthcare services,” says Rich Berner, chief executive of MDLive.

Rachel Miner, founder and owner of Thrive Benefits in Charlotte says it’s important to keep in mind that telemedicine is only an option if you have Internet access or cellphone service. Although, she thinks it can be very helpful when visiting a doctor isn’t an option.

Miner also says it’s imperative to make sure brokers maintain communication with clients. Even though there’s a hurricane, things may still need to be addressed, and it’s important to let them know if you’re out of the office, she warns.

You should be “letting clients know if the office is closed, or if you’re still going to be working,” says Miner.

With a major storm like Florence, there is also a chance that employees will have to take time off from work. Johnson says that she finds it to be a best practice to pay employees for this time.

“I have discovered over the years that if you provide flexibility to your team members to deal with life’s requirements, it will come back to the company in the form of dedicated loyal workers who go the extra mile,” Johnson says.

Another thing that Johnson, Miner and Contorno agree on is that safety should always come first. Whether with clients or employees, it’s always best practice to make safety during a storm the highest priority.

Sharif Paget contributed to this report.

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