Most of us in Ankeny have a derecho story.  If you were displaced from your house or have significant damage, my heart goes out to you. Some of you came through the high winds “without a scratch,” and should be thankful.  From what I can tell, we fell somewhere in the middle.

When the sirens went off Monday morning, I had just returned from being on vacation for a week and working though the priorities left over from the week before.  The sirens have gone off while I have been at the bank before, and like a true Iowan, instead of heading to the basement, I have always stepped outside to see why the sirens were going off.  Monday was different.  The skies turned midnight black and the wind curiously strong.  The people who typically go outside and look at the weather with me were instead heading to the basement.  Working in a mostly glass building, they made the right choice.

Tom Friedman

Not very long after we locked the doors and went to the basement, we lost power.  The storm passed and it looked like the power wasn’t going to be a quick return, so I sent the staff home with a promise that they would stay by their phones and return if the power came back on.  I thought about working from home, but with the power and internet out there too, it didn’t make sense.  So I stayed at the bank, in the semi-dark and the very quiet.

Going home Monday night we had ½ of a tree down in the front yard and a portion of my fence blown away.  Since I don’t own a chain saw, I attacked the downed tree with my hand saw.  Four hours later I had a nice pile of branches ready for pick up.  Since I didn’t take time to eat, and there was no way to heat any food, I tried to go to SE Delaware, where they have a variety of eating options, and I heard they had electricity.  When I got close to the area, it was apparent that most of Ankeny had the same idea and was there looking for food.  My daughter Katie had electricity, a generator and warm food, so I made my way to her house.

Tuesday morning brought a quick, cool shower and shaving by candlelight.  Still no power at the bank, so once again I agreed to stay there with the hope that electricity and computers would restart soon.  At times I was very productive cleaning parts of my office that had not been cleaned in a long time.  Other times I felt like the Maytag Repairman.  There was an occasional customer at the door that I tried to help, but mostly it was just me in the semi-dark and the very quiet.

As small business owners and managers we need to think ahead and plan for situations where there is a pandemic, we lose key people, key systems or electricity and internet for several days. 

At the bank, we have a group of managers from multiple areas that talk about potential situations and what we would do to keep our operation running smoothly.  In the years I have been involved we haven’t talked about a year like 2020 where we have multiple things hit us in the same year, and some things at the same time.

In our group we make contingency plans, trying to anticipate things that we hope will never happen.  The goal is that if we have a plan, we can react purposefully, thoughtfully and not by the seats of our collective pants.  Does your business go through the same exercise?  At the time it might seem like just another meeting, but when a pandemic or derecho hits, it is nice to have a plan in place.

We were lucky because the power came back on at home Wednesday night.  I was outside when it returned and heard many cheers in the neighborhood.  Power was restored at the bank later that night and Thursday was somewhat normal.  Thank you to all the people who helped someone else out, by clearing downed trees, making room in your freezer or providing a warm shower or meal.  Let’s hope that we don’t have to sit in the semi-dark and very quiet.

Small Business Today is a bi-weekly feature written by Tom Friedman, market president of First National Bank, Ankeny.

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