The 2019 hurricane season is quickly approaching. Early preparation is the smartest way to ensure business continuity and protect employees.
While the full hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, building an early plan of action helps businesses craft emergency hurricane communications ahead of time, map out their evacuation routes, and brace for impact. Developing a plan well before a storm arrives also gives employers and their people much-needed peace of mind.
What will the 2019 season look like?
It’s anticipated that the coming hurricane season will see a number of named storms. AccuWeather, which provides global forecasting services, is predicting a slightly above-normal season with 12-14 storms likely to form.
Five to seven of those systems could develop into named hurricanes, with two to four strengthening into major hurricanes (a major storm is category 3–5, unleashing devastating to catastrophic damage). While a business can’t control where a storm hits or how damaging it will be, early planning is essential to minimizing the impact.
The following guide is designed to help every business protect their organization and people if a hurricane makes landfall in their area.
1. ASSESS WHAT MATTERS MOST
Where does a company even begin when facing potentially profound damage to business continuity? It’s a daunting task to take on in the face of organizational disruptions that could result in danger to your staff and considerable financial loss.
The best place to start: look closely at what keeps your business up and running and what factors are relevant in dealing with a hurricane. Chances are it’s your people, your assets, and your location.
Take action early to protect these key elements, maintain order, and rebound quickly after a storm passes through.
Protect Your People
A company is only as strong as the people it employees. And just as you look to your workforce to handle specific business functions, they look to you for leadership and guidance.
This need is never more pronounced than when your business is facing a potential crisis. Your employees often turn to management to help keep them safe, connected, and informed in the event of a disaster.
With today’s highly mobile workforce, safeguarding your employees is no easy task. In order to protect your people, you need to take several factors into consideration:
- Where is each employee located—not just in a directory, but in real time?
- Which employees travel and what is their current schedule?
- Do you have remote or lone workers? If so, where are they at any given moment?
- Do you have a mass notification system in place to quickly and easily notify your people?
- Is each employee being tracked by HR, travel, and/or building badge systems so they can be reached immediately?
Inventory Your Assets
Networks, data, equipment, technology, supplies, products, and facilities are just a few of the assets at risk during a hurricane. Threats include not only flooding and high winds, but gas shortages and power outages.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends a Continuity Resource Toolkit, which can help businesses “prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and recover rapidly from operational disruptions.”
Identify the following assets now to prevent stress and headaches later:
- Where are your assets located?
- What kind of physical protection is available for each asset?
- Which assets are critical to running the business?
- Are these assets owned or insured?
- What assets are leased and what is your responsibility if they are damaged?
Fortify Your Locations
Weather-related events are often at the mercy of their specific geographic location. Flooding can occur at a single building or at all of an organization’s facilities along the coast. You’ll need to consider how you’re going to reinforce each location.
Even facilities located far inland are still vulnerable to major damage. A hurricane might weaken to a tropical storm, but a slow-moving system can stall over a heavily populated area and cause catastrophic flooding.
Questions to ask:
- What is the address of every location under your company umbrella including storage facilities and transportation lots?
- What is the evacuation plan for each facility? For example: entrances/exits; stairs, elevators and escalators; parking lots; and access to the closest hurricane evacuation route.
- Which people/teams work at each location?
- What are the biggest risks for each facility and how fortified are they to withstand potential damage?
- What types of materials are in place necessary to get a facility up and running again?
2. BUILD YOUR EMERGENCY PLAN
In the panic of an approaching storm, it’s human nature to lose focus. Having an explicit emergency plan in place is crucial to minimizing the confusion surrounding a hurricane.
Your plan should be flexible to account for inevitable changes in people, assets, and locations. It should incorporate basic infrastructure elements that are unlikely to change even as your business evolves over time.
Back Up Your Data
It might feel like a no-brainer, but it’s an easily overlooked practice. Ensure your data is backed up offsite to safeguard against on-premises damage (flooding or fires can destroy on-site servers).
Regular data backups with a redundant system will safeguard your business against loss. If one server goes down, the backup will come to the rescue.
Set Up Cloud Systems
Disaster recovery is why cloud-based systems are the preferred choice for IT professionals. If you have to work from a different location, you want to be certain you can access key business systems and data from mobile devices. This may include payroll, CRM, and HR systems. If you haven’t converted such systems to the cloud, now is the time.
Build a checklist of tasks to perform throughout the entire duration of a hurricane. Store the list on a cloud application for easy access, but also physically post it where your people can easily reference it if there’s a power outage. Be sure to communicate this list to key stakeholders if you’ll be away or unavailable.
The aftermath of a major storm isn’t the time to figure out what your contractual obligations are. Proactively review your contracts with vendors, insurance providers, and landlords. There should be specific callouts for weather-related events, damages, and complete loss. If not, notify contract owners directly to find out what their weather-related clauses are.
Map Evacuation Routes
Help your people find the safest way out of their facility to minimize chaos and ensure everyone’s safety. You’ll want to work with facility managers to determine which stairwells and doors should be used, identify parking lot exits, and what surrounding streets should be taken. Post physical maps on each floor to familiarize your people with approved evacuation routes.
Implement a Two-Way Communication System
A potentially life-saving addition to your emergency plan: communication. Ensure every employee is safe and able to communicate during a hurricane both with leadership and with each other. Even if the internet is down due to a power outage, you should still be able to relay vital information to your people.
Emergency communication software enables leadership to deliver real-time information to employees across multiple channels and devices at one time. You can also use the system to check in with employees for status updates and to provide evacuation details. No matter where employees are located and what devices they’re using, you can help them stay safe and informed.
In order to optimize your emergency notification system, you should regularly update your company directory with accurate contact information for each employee. Pre-set templates help administrators prepare in advance and relay information quickly with only a few clicks. This saves precious time from having to create a new message from scratch. Templates should include email, voicemail scripts, SMS texts, and push notifications. Click here to access our free hurricane templates.
3. CREATE EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAMS
When it comes to protecting your people, assets, and locations—it takes a village.
Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to delegate and practice. Don’t forget: an emergency plan is only as good as the people following it. Everyone must have a thorough understanding of what to do in any given scenario if it’s going to work.
Define Clear Roles and Responsibilities
A hurricane preparedness plan will contain several moving parts involving multiple people. Be sure to designate roles to employees who are up to the challenge. Communicate specific responsibilities with each stakeholder and make sure they have the resources and technology they need. Let everyone know who is on each team and who they can look to for specific information.
You have to do more than simply tell people their responsibilities—you must also thoroughly train them. Get the team together to review protocol and answer any questions they may have. As the company evolves, so too should the plan. Be sure to modify it with every new location, expansion, or change to a facility.
Practice your plan with mock drills. Role-playing various scenarios may seem silly. But when facing a dangerous, deadly hurricane, team members will be more likely to remember a drill than a bunch of text. You can choose whether to give the team notice or conduct impromptu drills to mimic a real-life emergency.
Hurricanes will happen. The good news: You now have a solid framework in place to prepare your business for a violent storm. Weather experts can forecast hurricanes days in advance, and businesses should use that insight to their benefit. Follow the guidelines above and help your business weather the storm.
Keep Your People Aware
AlertMedia is the leader in emergency communication software. Thanks to two-way messaging, an intuitive user interface, and 24/7 customer support, you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared if a storm is heading your way.
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