It’s storm season yet again. But we begin this season with different feelings than we’ve had in the past. The nation’s Midwest and northern regions experienced one of the coldest and snowiest winters in history; the West Coast registered some of the warmest weather ever recorded (which has since sparked numerous forest fires) and earthquakes have seemed more prevalent this year along the Pacific coast and Midwest.
This calls for businesses, large and small, to take proactive steps to monitor and prepare for weather-related disasters. And after several horrendous storms and calamities in recent years, more of them are doing just that.
Past events show it pays to be prepared. In 2013, the U.S. incurred $32 billion in financial damages, of which $19 billion was insured, from severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, and winter storms, reports the Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd.
Here are several tips for becoming proactive storm watchers.
Be a weather-ready organization
Generate and/or upgrade a storm preparedness plan. You may have a disaster recovery or a business continuity plan, but a storm preparedness plan also is advised. In short: Prepare for the unexpected (because as we’ve learned in the last year, the unexpected has become the new norm).
Many companies have a hurricane preparedness plan but consider what you would do if there were a tornado, flood, blizzard, earthquake, ice storm, intense dust storm (known as a haboob) and the like. Even include plans for a fire or water pipe break that could occur in your building. For instance, this past winter, Atlantans and their employers were caught off guard by the sudden ice storm that caused damage and disrupted workplaces for hours. It would pay dividends to plan for such emergencies.
Organize a storm plan committee to develop preparations. Besides the chief information officer and/or chief technical officer, the group should include the business continuity director and any members of the business continuity management team. In addition, the chief financial officer, risk-management director, and members of any divisions that could be most affected by a severe storm should also be considered.
What should the plan include? At the outset, determine your risks and what specific severe storms should be covered by the plan. Generally, include those weather-related catastrophes that most affect your region or anywhere you have operations. Know your threats: Don’t forget ice storms or heat-related and drought-related situations as well as flooding possibilities.
Decide what action plans should be developed specifically for periods before, during and after the anticipated weather-related event. Specifically consider any elements for protecting your employees because their safety comes first. Here are other important steps to consider.
Distribute and discuss your business plan for severe storms/hurricanes/etc.
Share your plans with customers and suppliers and develop a list of vendors that offer disaster recovery and restoration services.
Review your insurance coverage.
Back up your computer data and ensure the back-up information is safe off-site. Be especially aware of the security and availability of your mission-critical applications.
Prepare checklists for the five days before the event
Consider preparing specific checklists of what to do at least five days before the anticipated event and for each day thereafter until the storm is over. Several companies and organizations have done this and find that simply preparing the lists helps them think of important elements and issues that might have bypassed the committee.
For instance, five days before an anticipated severe weather event, the business continuity manager or designee could distribute the initial communication to employees alerting them of the potential storm and reminding them to check with the company’s emergency hotline right before the storm arrives.
The communique should be accompanied by a list of tips for employees and their families to get ready at home. Other ideas for five-days out: Identify critical client and other assignments to be done over the next week to 10 days; check with the building manager on plans for protection services during and after the storm; and figure out specific procedures for shutting-down operations.
Make similar checklists for the next four days and for a period after the storm ends, including damage assessment.
Think outside the box
Consider taking actions that most companies don’t even think about.
One major action involves lining up a third-party vendor to notify you of extreme weather and leverage its tools available to monitor all weather events, their intensity and any storm surge information. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has rich weather-related tools, including information on wind speeds and the like, and it offers its tools free.
Another vendor, Riskpulse, charges a fee but it’s reasonable and cost-effective. Intellicast, which tags itself as the authority on expert weather, is another source to consider. Google Maps is a good source for providing mapping directions but not necessarily for weather events.
Train your employees in disaster preparedness and it’s recommended that such training be carried out quarterly. Ask your IT vendor, say, your cloud provider or disaster recovery vendor, to hold a mock disaster exercise with your company.
This is especially helpful for regions prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, severe dust storms and events where you have to move quickly to evacuate or take necessary response steps. For regions prone to hurricanes, such mock exercises, similar to fire drills, typically are held right before hurricane season in April and May.
Develop work-from-home plans
Create work-from-home plans and other emergency workspace plans should a severe weather event occur and affect your normal workplace. Especially keep in mind what alternatives your employees might have if there were no power or Internet access for their homes.
Consider having an emergency workspace ready for such an event; major newspapers, for instance, often have another newsroom ready should they need it. Think about job-sharing, travel arrangements for getting employees to and from emergency work spaces and IT and power services you will need.
Even prepare for emergency fuel supplies, including generators and gasoline supplies for employees’ vehicles should gas stations be affected. Be sure to move generators and other critical mechanical and other machinery and materials from basements to floors higher up in case of flooding.
In addition, make necessary health and medical preparations. Place a defibrillator in your office. Train personnel in CPR and other medical training. Make a list of handicapped personnel and what you will need to, say, move a person in a wheelchair down a staircase when elevators aren’t working. And consider scenarios where you must get employees and others to a hospital or medical-care facility and record and communicate those preparations.
How will you communicate during a severe weather event?
Don’t forget to determine how you will communicate with your employees and other essential parties during a severe weather event. Buy an emergency radio or several so officials can keep up to speed during a severe weather event. Consider compiling a list of ham radio operators in your area; they can prove invaluable in some circumstances.
Line up road trip planners through weather services during these periods. Get in touch with your community emergency response teams. They may include the local emergency management office; county law enforcement; county public safety (fire/rescue personnel); state, county and city/town governments; local hospitals and medical centers; local utilities; the local American Red Cross chapter; local TV and radio stations; and your property insurance agency.
It pays to be proactive. These tips will go a long way to helping you prepare for weather-related and other events that can disrupt your operations.
People are the lifeblood of your organization and must be at the forefront and part of your businesses plan.
Robert DiLossi is director of crisis management at Sungard Availability Services.