Hurricane season is less than two months away and according to the annual hurricane forecast from meteorologists at the University College of London (UCL), 2013 will see more than the average number of storms.
Typically, the Atlantic and Caribbean basin gives rise to eleven (11) named storms, six (6) of which escalate to hurricane status. The UCL 2013 forecast calls for fifteen (15) named storms, of which eight (8) will become hurricanes. Before these storms threaten, take steps to prepare your business.
On this site you will find a wealth of information on how to mitigate and manage a range of business risks, including hurricanes. If you haven’t completed the 1-2-3 assessment, do so. Then gather your team and review the confidential report it generates. Ask for suggestions on how to deal with areas that need strengthening and use the discussion as an opportunity to educate everyone about these dangerous storms. On the same website you will find the Emergency Resource Planner. This free tool will step you through creation of an actual business continuity plan that can be used for hurricanes and other threats to your business. Finally, urge all staff with a smart phone to download the Red Cross hurricane app which will help keep them informed during the year.
A Five Step Framework
Having assessed your general readiness and developed a response plan now turn your attention to specific health, life, and safety threats. Suggest that employees use the same Red Cross resources to create a family response plan. Point out the need to address any eldercare, childcare, or petcare issues that might develop when a hurricane strikes. Reviewing the hurricane checklist will help your staff accumulate the supplies they should keep on-hand including several days of food, water, and medicine.
This done, ask who would be available to work extended hours if needed. Discuss any transportation or other issues that would prevent staff from getting to work if municipal services such as bus routes and trains were interrupted. Decide how to use the different storm warning levels as trigger points for specific actions such as filling the gas tanks in personal and business vehicles. In the hurricane’s aftermath, a car or truck may be the only local source of electricity and air conditioning.
Cash flow is of concern to everyone. Discuss how payroll will be handled if the business is forced to shut down for several days.
Is your business at risk because of its location? The four greatest property damage dangers posed by a hurricane are: 1) high winds, 2) flooding, 3) flying debris, and 4) storm surge. How susceptible is your worksite to these dangers and what can be done to reduce this risk?
If your business is situated in a low-lying area or one prone to floods you may want to relocate equipment and other important items to upper floors, or remove them from the area completely. If you are unsure whether your neighborhood is in a dangerous location, visit FEMA’s national flood maps Map Service Center and then plan accordingly.
It Starts With Communications
After addressing the health, life, and safety issues the next challenge is deciding how to maintain communications with staff, vendors, and customers during and after a storm. Take time now to collect email address, out-of-state telephone numbers, and create social media links that will allow you to maintain good communications with all your stakeholders, even if the worst happens.
Prepare a message that explains how customers can check status of their orders. Perhaps you have an online system that provides this information. If not, will someone be monitoring a specific email account so that clients can check on their orders if the office is closed? Some companies use a company website or Facebook to provide this type of information as well as updates on when the business will reopen.
Assess Your Assets
A hurricane or severe storm is likely to disrupt shipments, interrupt services, and impact your cash-flow. If you have non-perishable items, decide how to protect them from the storm. Perishable items may require different strategies.
If you have a line of credit, decide if and when you would exercise it. If you don’t have one, consider submitting an application now while your business is healthy and credit worthy. In an emergency, having access to capital can mean the difference between reopening your business and permanently closing. Review your insurance policy and be sure to understand what type of damage is covered. If you don’t have flood insurance, investigate it now so that you can make an informed decision about whether to purchase or renew a policy.
In the aftermath of a storm one of your first actions should be to inspect your worksite and determine if there is damage to the facility, your equipment, or inventory. Be prepared to document any problems you encounter and have a contingency plan in place to deal with any damaged or destroyed items that are critical to your operation.
Now that you understand your assets, turn your attention to your infrastructure including computers, production equipments, workspace, and shipping capabilities. Quickly determine the status of your telephones (including cell phones), and the reliability of any internet connections. The answer to these questions will determine if you can rely on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media to keep in touch with clients and vendors.
Has your worksite suffered utility interruptions in the past? If so, your business may be susceptible to power outages when storms hit. Is installing a standalone generator a worthwhile option?
Street lights, billboards, and large signs can cause damage during periods of high wind so be mindful where you park vehicles and store supplies. Have a way to secure windows and doors against winds-blown debris, one of the four major hazards that accompany a hurricane. Discuss how the shut-down of other services such as water or waste removal might impact your business.
Everyone relies on records and files. If possible, gather the originals and package them for transport in case you are forced to leave on short notice. Perhaps you can scan and put copies of this material online making them accessible via the internet. Many people use free or low cost online storage services and email accounts as a place for the safe storing of files and other material. National services like these can be accessed from anywhere and are likely to be online when you need them.
Begin to devise work-arounds if your normal worksite is partially damaged or closed. Is there another site to which you can send critical or overflow work? Can you get your computer network back into operation?
Some businesses require specialized tools or equipment to operate. If needed, could you find replacement equipment quickly?
Sometimes competitors can be business partners (a relationship sometimes called coopetition). Consider setting up an outsourcing or mutual aid agreement with one or more competitors located in different parts of the country; far enough away so as not to be impacted by the storm. Such an arrangement will allow you to continue to fulfill orders and meet deadlines even if your actual facility is out of operation. Your insurance agent can help you understand the cost of purchasing coverage that can pay expenses associated with these types of arrangements.
Re-open and Stay Open
Resume operations as soon as you can, and do all you can to stay open. Multiple studies convincingly demonstrate that businesses which don’t resume operations within five working days have a very high failure rate over the course of the subsequent twelve months. Don’t be a victim. Aggressively move to re-open your business and communicate this fact to your customers and clients. The sooner you resume operations the better for everyone and your community.
Be Ready Rating™ Ready
Each storm is unique and requires different responses. The five priorities shown above: 1) Health, Life and Safety; 2) Effective Communications; 3) Asset and Resource Management; 4) Infrastructure Recovery, and 5) Business Resumption provide an excellent framework for developing a plan of action.
If you haven’t already taken the Ready Rating 1-2-3 Assessment, invest a few minutes now to privately discover how prepared your business is for a crisis. Then visit the Ready Rating Resource Center for more information on how to manage areas needing attention.
Having a hurricane plan in place and reviewing it prior to hurricane season can help your business minimize injuries, reduce property damage, and get you back into operation.