Expect the Unexpected

 

Thinking about emergency preparedness now can avoid headaches later

by Chris Koseluk

The recital was special, and a success. Nicole Drouin Amayo and her students at Karen’s Dance Studio had dedicated the May 21, 2011, performance to Amayo’s mother, who had founded the Joplin, Missouri, studio in 1971 and died just that January.

Yet Amayo, now the studio director, got an unusual feeling as she prepared to leave the recital venue with her sister. “It looked weird outside and I thought, ‘Ah, it’s fine. It’s that time of year,’ ” she remembers. “I don’t know why, but I just thought after the recital, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ So we did.”

When she got home about five minutes later, and inserted her key into the front door of her house, warning sirens started to sound. An EF-5 tornado was sweeping through town. Amayo’s house was spared, but when she returned to the studio the next day, all that was left standing were two office walls. The rest was gone.

“It is one of those situations where you are certain the water will stop rising the next minute—and it doesn’t. Then you start to pray as it inches toward the studio.” —Radenko Pavlovich

Radenko Pavlovich’s worst-case scenario came in the form of a flood. In August 2015, Pavlovich wrapped up a costly renovation (about $260,000, according to a GoFundMe post) at the studio headquarters for the Columbia [SC] Classical Ballet and Pavlovich Ballet School. The first weekend that October, the rain began falling—and didn’t stop.

“It is one of those situations where you are certain the water will stop rising the next minute—and it doesn’t. Then you start to pray as it inches toward the studio,” Pavlovich, Columbia Classical Ballet artistic director, says. “I kind of went into shock. I really couldn’t believe the whole studio was going to flood.”

It did. Eight feet of water swept through the school, which was deemed a total loss.

Fortunately, in both cases, no one was hurt. But these stories aren’t rare cases. As much as owners and directors would like to spend their days choreographing and creating new programming, attention should be paid to emergency preparation. Fire, theft, and natural disasters are all possibilities and each requires forethought to minimize the impact should something happen.

“Be prepared for the unexpected and know that disaster can strike at any time,” says Caitlyn Thompson, president of Anthony Insurance Services. “Know the potential disasters that can affect your area and have a planned response for when you are at the studio, as well as when the studio is closed.”

Based in Edwards, Colorado, Thompson offers coverage for dance studios and instructors through Dance Studio Insurance (dancestudioinsurance.com), and helps owners prepare for the unimaginable by providing risk management checklists and guides.

 

Get the facts

Studio insurance is pretty straightforward. Policies are based on size: the larger the space, the higher the premium. But as is often the case, the devil’s in the details. When you’re considering an insurance policy, Thompson recommends asking:

  • What coverage do I need for all the various situations that might occur, not only for my business and me, but for my studio clients and instructors?
  • Is workers’ comp insurance included for studio employees?
  • Does the recital venue have any specific insurance requirements?
  • What kind of coverage is offered for recitals and performances?
  • How are studio activities such as parties and camps treated?

She encourages policyholders to review the claims process when purchasing a policy. It’s also a good idea to review your policy with your agent when it’s time to renew to see if your coverage needs have changed.

Whether you lease or own makes a difference. If you own your studio space, you’ll need to insure the physical structure. For rentals, the lease agreements should include all insurance terms and conditions. “The lease will stipulate your insurance requirements for renting the space,” Thompson says.

One misconception is that everything is covered. Thompson estimates that only 30 to 40 percent of dance studios purchase a policy that insures what’s inside the building.

The rebuild of Karen’s Dance Studio in Joplin, Missouri, included a tornado shelter space—which doubles as a student lounge.
Photo courtesy Karen’s Dance Studio

“We did not know we would need as much insurance as we did,” says Pavlovich, who had some flood coverage. Columbia Classical Ballet had to rely on donations to rebuild.

Amayo also learned this lesson the hard way. “The building was insured properly,” she says. The props, mats, dance floor, music, computers, shoes, and costumes were insured as well, but not for enough to cover the cost of replacing them.

And don’t drag your feet. It may be too late to act if a disaster is looming. “For example, when hurricane Harvey was predicted, the carriers put a hold on writing new business insurance policies in the affected area until it passed,” says Thompson.

 

Lessons learned

When Amayo and Pavlovich rebuilt their studio spaces, both put safety first.

After holding classes for two years in a rented space, Karen’s Dance Studio reopened in a brand new space in 2013. One new addition was a tornado shelter. “It’s a completely concrete room with a big, heavy, steel, tornado-approved door,” says Amayo. “I didn’t want to have wasted space, so we use it as a student lounge.”

Pavlovich took the opportunity to add a special steel water-blocking door to his school, which reopened in June 2016. “It has rubber fittings that will hopefully keep the water out,” he says. “The city has also taken measures to modify bridges and dams so this won’t happen again.”

Consider what would happen if an emergency struck while classes were in session. Office staff should have easy access to vital information such as contact numbers for students, staff, law enforcement, and first responders. Draft an emergency plan and make sure all staffers know, for example, what to do if the fire alarm sounds or the power goes out. Discuss with staff how to shut off the building’s utilities and the quickest way to evacuate.

Prepare by purchasing backup lights and batteries. Store important documents in a secure, fireproof location or safe-deposit box, and be sure to include a detailed equipment inventory, including replacement costs.

Every new season, Columbia Classical Ballet explains the studio’s emergency flood procedures to students. “We tell them we will message them if the weather conditions become such that we are concerned for their safety,” explains Pavlovich. “And we will publish any modified rehearsal locations and times. Not all of the dancers come from places threatened by floodwaters, so we make sure they know to follow the guidelines we put out until the threat is past.”

Amayo constantly monitors the local news for weather warnings and programs a reminder on her phone that alerts her when it’s time to check her fire extinguishers. But she admits that she could do more. “The sirens did actually go off once and we got all the kids into the shelter,” she says. “That wasn’t a drill. It was real life, but it worked fine. We have tornado and fire safety plans. But this got me thinking that we need to do tornado and fire drills.”

 


Chris Koseluk has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Mental Floss, Make-Up Artist Magazine, and Variety. Married to a choreographer, he believes he has a leg up on dance. His wife might disagree.