Hurricane Ian is approaching and targeting Florida as a major hurricane. Much of Central Florida including Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and Seminole counties are currently under a tropical storm warning. With the worst of the weather expected on Wednesday and Thursday, businesses in the area should be preparing for tropical storm conditions with between 12 to 16 inches of rain with some maximum totals up to 24 inches. Hurricanes such as Harvey back in 2017 caused $125 billion in damages and Sandy caused $70 billion in dames which serves as a reminder of just how critical business continuity and disaster recovery planning is.
In the FEMA video below, we meet Chantel, Abby and Adam; three survivors from Hurricane Sandy, the Moore, Oklahoma tornado and the Poinsettia Wildfire outside of San Diego, California. For these three, the day that disaster struck, it started like any other day.
Business Continuity Planning
Business continuity is proactive planning to help avoid and mitigate risks associated with a variety of business disruptions. These type of plans include detailed steps that should be taken before, during, a and after an event in order to maintain operations and financial viability of an organization.
Planning and preparing for a natural disaster can make a huge difference in not only keeping your facility and employees safe, but keeping your business open and operational afterwards. Below are some basic business continuity tips from fema.gov on to help prepare your business for a hurricane.
Hold Tabletop Exercises
Well in advance of a potential business disruption and then updated periodically, your management team should hold tabletop exercises. Tabletop exercises are facilitated discussions about what your organization would do in response to a specific situation. This type of exercise leads participants through simulated scenarios and allows time to examine existing plans, policies, procedures and for adjusting and improving these plans prior to an event. The objectives are to help an organization identify strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:
- Human Resources Policies
- Continuity of Operations
- Emergency Operations Plans
Questions for discussion when preparing for a hurricane include:
- Who in the organization is responsible for monitoring or receiving alerts from the National Hurricane Center and other authorities?
- What information are you sharing with your employees and what are the communication processes and platforms that will be used to notify them?
- What are the immediate business concerns if/when a Hurricane or Tropical Storm Watch has been issued and what business decisions must be made?
- Do you have a process in place to account for all of your employees?
- What are the needs of your employees and their families?
- What are the needs of your customers?
- Will your business continue to operate in any capacity?
- Will you move production/product/distribution efforts to other facilities?
- How long can you continue to operate without access to the impacted facility(ies)?
- Can you access copies of key business documents such as your business continuity plan, insurance papers, and financial information?
- What critical services have been impacted such as power, public transit, local law enforcement, etc.?
- What are your expectations for employees who cannot work either because your facility is not operational, they can't access the facility from their location, or because they've suffered losses and have to deal with those?
- Do you have an emergency staffing provider that can quickly respond by deploying teams from outside of the area to help with facility clean-up and/or to support your operational needs?
- Do you have a security vendor that can deploy tactical security officers to secure critical business assets if need be?
- What can be done now to recover more quickly later?
Prepare Your Facility: Protect Your Property
Here are some recommendations from hurricanesafety.org to help secure and protect your physical assets.
- Plywood can be used to protect windows and doors from wind borne-debris
- Remove any branches or trees adjacent to your building that could potentially fall and damage it
- Use sandbags in areas that may be subject to flooding
- Secure large furniture and relocate valuable or fragile possessions
- Secure all utilities and if necessary, raise items such as water heaters and gas tanks to higher locations to avoid water damage
- Turn off utilities prior to a hurricane making landfall, if possible
- Back-up documents that are not easily produced such as insurance documents, legal contracts, tax returns, and accounting statements to avoid water damage.
Prepare Your People: Have Preparedness Discussions
When the threat of a hurricane is approaching, it's time to discuss your company's business continuity plans with all of your employees. Like many areas of business, communication is key and this is especially true when it comes to preparing your business for a hurricane or any other type of natural disaster. For smaller businesses, it could be something as simple as adding the topic to your next staff meeting. Certainly, for large corporations with various business segments and locations, this becomes a bit more challenging. Regardless of size, ensure there is communication across your organization and ensure management and leadership is on board.
Video is a great way to engage your audience, so feel free to show the above "It Started Like Any Other Day" video to kick off your meeting(s). Before your discussion(s), create an outline of the topics you want to address and prepare informational handouts to share with your employees. FEMA suggests keeping the following goals in mind:
- Share the potential impact of hurricanes -- from both wind and water -- and remind employees that the majority of deaths are caused by people remaining in unsafe locations during storms
- If your facility is within a hurricane evacuation zone, make sure everyone is aware of this.
- Know the National Weather Service terms that are used to describe various changing weather conditions:
- Advisory: Highlights special weather conditions that are less serious than a warning. They are for events that may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.
- Watch: A watch is used when the risk of hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so that those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.
- Warning: A warning is issued when hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.
- Emphasize the importance of the 5 P's when it's time to evacuate -- People, Prescriptions, Papers, Personal Needs, and Priceless Items
- Outline your organization's emergency communications plans and policies
- Discuss relevant community natural disaster experiences, if applicable
- Remind employees to prepare emergency supplies -- use this Emergency Supply List handout from FEMA
As mentioned in the video above, sometimes there are only a few minutes to grab what you need and seek shelter during an emergency. Employees should consider having supplies in several locations including your workplace, their vehicle, and at home -- any place that one spends time regularly.
When an event such as a hurricane occurs, not only is there an immediate impact on local company operations, but labor, utilities, public transit systems, and key services are interrupted and stretched immediately afterward. It can take weeks until both the local infrastructure and impacted employees can get back to full operational capacity -- so keep this in mind and incorporate contingencies for this into your business continuity and disaster recovery plans.
Download FEMA's Playbook
For more detailed information on how to prepare your organization for a hurricane, you can download FEMA's Playbook here.
Nationwide Disaster Recovery & Business Resumption Services
If you need tactical security or emergency staffing help (Mechanics, Machinists, Maintenance Techs, Boiler Operators, etc.) to secure your assets and help with your business resumption efforts, contact us here.