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Volume 30, Issue 3

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Four hurricanes within six weeks have wreaked havoc on businesses across the state of Florida. From the panhandle to the southern tip, the state has been battered by four violent storms – leaving thousands of businesses damaged and owners scrambling to recover.
Hurricane Charley hit on Aug. 13 on the western coast; Hurricane Frances came ashore on the eastern side Sept. 5; Ivan hit the panhandle on Sept. 16; and Jeanne smashed the already battered eastern coast on Sept. 26.

Insurance experts are predicting more than $20 billion in losses from the four hurricanes, making this storm season one of the most costly ever. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) is expected to distribute more than $8 billion in federal assistance, the largest the organization has ever spent for a natural disaster.

Across the state, the rebuilding process is underway as numerous businesses recover from high winds, flooding, tornadoes and torrential rainfall.

While damage assessments from Ivan and Jeanne are still being tallied, those businesses that were hit by Charley and Frances have had a few weeks to begin the recovery process. Their progress has been slow, but the lessons learned can provide an insight into the ordeal many Florida business owners are experiencing during this record-breaking hurricane season.

 

America’s disaster recovery and insurance industries have a unique and vital role to play in the wake of major natural disasters. A catastrophe the magnitude of Hurricane Charley taxes the government and private sector’s ability to respond, especially when the storm intensifies rapidly and doesn’t strike where authorities initially anticipated. This article is focused on multi-location companies and institutions that may require outside resources to assist their people and infrastructure in the recovery process.

When a hurricane approaches the coast, disaster recovery executives ask, “How do we correctly ‘size’ our response?” “How do we get extra people where they are most needed?” There are proactive strategies that can help determine the magnitude of the response and the optimal allocation and dispatch of resources.

Be Prepared

To be proactive, you have to know where the storm will strike and pre-position people and resources near the path of the storm – yet safely out of harm’s way. That requires an accurate forecast of the storm’s path.
There has been criticism in the media about the government’s forecasts of the path of Hurricane Charley. NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) is in a difficult position for two reasons: mushrooming coastal development and political pressure.

 

Since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, many customers are now proposing a program of carrier diversity for their telecommunications services, especially their long distance services. This diversity program essentially splits their network between two or more carriers. The premise of this program is an assumption that their mission critical circuits, or their entire network, cannot fail simultaneously because of a network event in one carrier’s network. However, the customer is now burdened with the coordination between multiple telecommunications providers, which consumes assets, resources, and time.

In some instances the customers are indicating the program is being mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for certain mission critical circuits such as the banking and financial industries. Route diversity is achieved by selecting two separate facility routes that have no common spans between the originating central office and the terminating central office.

There are several levels of route diversity; there is the inter-office channel (IOC), the access channel, and the entrance facility into the customer premise. Each telecommunications carrier offers route diversity at these levels. Customers are now going for carrier diversity to further ensure that diversity is achieved. Carrier diversity is achieved by splitting your entire network or just the mission critical components between two or more telecommunications carriers.

 

In August of this year, Hurricane Charley’s 145 mph winds ripped through Florida, killing several people, forcing 1.5 million to evacuate and causing an estimated $14 billion in damages. Charley was only one of an anticipated 10 tropical storms that develop annually over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). Since 1990 alone, these storms have taken thousands of lives and caused more than $50 billion in damages.

Not only are hurricanes highly destructive, they are also unpredictable – a cataclysmic combination that can wreak havoc on even the best laid of emergency response plans. Yet there are many ways to minimize disaster, and the most effective ones involve heightened communication with first responders and communities at risk. Specifically, many in the emergency management field are turning to emergency notification technology as a front-line ally in the battle against the deadly and capricious nature of all forms of severe weather.

Today’s most advanced systems allow emergency management offices, or OEMs, to automatically relay vital information or instruction in a matter of seconds to decision makers, other public safety organizations, local hospitals, shelters, first responders, and local residents. Emergency notification technology enables these OEMs to send pre-recorded or real-time voice and text messages to thousands of individuals with the click of a mouse. The system works like an instantaneous phone tree, notifying hundreds, or even thousands of people, with speed and precision.

In the case of Charley, state-of-the-art weather tracking systems could not completely predict the path of destruction, causing many residents to believe they were out of harm’s way. However, Florida-based public safety organizations already equipped with emergency notification technology, like Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, were not caught flat-footed.

The emergency evacuation drill is something familiar to everyone. It has been embedded in our routines since grade school when we followed the teacher outside and lined up on the playground. In the adult world, most organizations conduct at least one emergency evacuation drill per year, but in today’s environment it is no longer considered child’s play.

Traditionally, business continuity planners build a plan, and then test it. These tests usually include an emergency evacuation drill. But by turning the tables and testing first, then building or updating the plan later, planners can gain valuable insight into plan information and the awareness of business continuity planning (BCP) in their organization.

The emergency evacuation drill offers this unique opportunity. By testing evacuee reaction to the event and capturing their innate knowledge of “what to do next,” continuity planners can affirm their current plan as well as build awareness.

For new continuity programs, this approach can kick start the awareness process as well as reveal vital plan components such as: business subject matter experts, mission critical plan elements, candidates for crisis management, the real chain of command, and how business disaster assessments are made. In mature BCP organizations, an evacuation drill is a real-time way to judge the assessment, activation, and command-and-control portions of the plans. Evacuation drills can show the business continuity planner how employees react to a serious disruption in basic, gut-level terms.