Life Preserver

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When it does rain in the Rio Grande Valley, sometimes, it pours.

Take the two historic rain events that occurred nearly a year to the day apart this past June and in June 2018.

“The amount of rain we got was incredible,” Alamo-based State Farm agent Monica De La Cruz remembered. “Never seen before.”

Helping her clients during these events inspired De La Cruz to take on the Instagram handle of @thefloodgirl.

“What I found was my own clients didn’t have an understanding of flood insurance and FEMA — what the difference was,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘the best way I’m going to help those in my communities is by educating.’ I created The Flood Girl on Instagram to be a resource for education and understanding of flood insurance, FEMA, and how all of the intricacies work with those programs.”

For example, most agents are licensed to sell flood insurance through the federal government, De La Cruz said. Coverages include rain, rising water, sewage backup, and other causes of flooding. FEMA, on the other hand — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — is a response to a catastrophe specifically for flood victims who weren’t covered through flood insurance.

Harlingen is another community hit hard by this year’s flooding. Based on records from the National Weather Service, the city received 6.29 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Frontage roads north of Interstate 2 — and the neighborhoods and businesses on them — were inundated, the drainage systems overwhelmed.

“One of the things that Harlingen Economic Development Corporation tries to do in a small business environment is to be a resource for small businesses here in Harlingen,” said Raudel Garza, manager and CEO the Harlingen EDC. “Many times, when people are looking for answers to questions related to what happens now after a significant flood event or a significant natural disaster, they may not know who to turn to.”

They can turn to Harlingen EDC, he said.

“We will tap into resources such as FEMA, SBA, even state agencies and some other local agencies that can help try to get people back on their feet and try to get businesses open again,” Garza said. “That’s our role when it comes to economic development and helping small businesses in a disaster area.”

The U.S. Small Business Administration — SBA — is a federal organization that helps businesses start, grow, expand, and recover.

“One of the things that folks don’t know about the SBA or may not know is we provide disaster assistance — therefore, the ‘recover’ at the end of the motto,” said Angela Burton, district director for the SBA’s Lower Rio Grande Valley district.

No one can control the weather, but there are steps to take to be better prepared in the event of a flood or other natural disaster.

“Make sure you have a list or you know all of your employees’ phone numbers and addresses,” Burton said. “Your human capital is probably your most important aspect of your business, so we want to make sure your employees and their families are safe.”

Ensuring you have the appropriate insurance coverages is also essential. If you rent your business space, it is still important to get flood insurance to cover your office equipment, inventory, and other items. There are also protections that help your company in the case of an interruption of business.

“In most cases, people are not coming in to your office, going out to eat, or going to buy products, or going to buy services,” De La Cruz said, citing street and home flooding. “What that means is a loss of income for the business, so that is another devastating relation to the flood happening within the community.”

Burton recommends that businesses examine their suppliers and logistics, identifying alternatives to turn to in case of an emergency. Businesses should also practice a continuation plan with employees well ahead of the storm.

Elizabeth Vargas, public information officer with the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance, emphasized that the SBA is available to assist business owners after a catastrophe.

“We’re going to be here in the area wherever the disaster strikes, helping them recover in not only short term, but long term,” she said. “SBA offers low interest loans for physical damage to repair or replace their inventories, real estate, supplies, and any damage that the disaster causes. Also, businesses may apply for a loan up to $2 million for economic injury. These loans are working capital loans to help businesses stay in business through a disaster.”

After a flood, help is there. Before, preparation and prevention are key — including understanding that nearly one-third of all claims are not in a flood zone, De La Cruz said.

“You can imagine how devastating it is for someone who thought, ‘well, I’m not in a flood zone. I never needed flood insurance,’ and here they are sitting with thousands of dollars of damage,” she said.

Learn more about the Harlingen EDC by visiting harlingenedc.com. Read more about the mission of the U.S. Small Business Administration at sba.gov. For more on FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program, and other flooding resources, visit floodsmart.gov.