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Prepare Now for Hurricane Season
 

By Roy Maurer  5/23/2014
 

With the Atlantic hurricane season officially starting June 1, 2014, now is the time to make important decisions needed to help keep your family, business and property safe.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a below-normal season, with a 70 percent likelihood of eight to 13 named storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes, and one or two of those major hurricanes.  

Take these outlooks with some skepticism: The forecast for 2013 for an extremely active year featured the fewest hurricanes since 1982, and not a single Category 3 or higher hurricane developed. Then again, all it takes is one catastrophic storm in an otherwise uneventful year to change your life or the course of your business forever. Only one hurricane made landfall in the U.S. in 1992, but Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 monster that killed 26 people and cost $26.5 billion in damages.

“Regardless of what the forecast says, everyone—every family, every business and every community—needs to be prepared for disasters and interruptions of all types,” said Bob Boyd, president and CEO of Agility Recovery, a provider of business continuity and disaster recovery solutions to small and midsized businesses. “It only takes one storm or one tornado or one fire or one ruptured pipe to cause a disaster. Since you don’t know when or where an event is going to occur, we all need to do our best to be prepared and be able to respond. It makes the world of difference in a crisis.”

Planning and preparing for a disaster is key to staying in business. Forty percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and another 25 percent fail within one year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

And property insurance provider FM Global found that 75 percent of employees do not believe that their employer is well-prepared for a disaster.

There are a number of basic measures to take to ensure you are ready as the storm season develops, Boyd said. These include:

Do a risk assessment. What are potential threats to your business because of your immediate environment? Knowing your environment is the first step in helping prioritize the essential elements of your plan.

Make a communications plan. Having a way to communicate before, during and after a disruptive event is critical. “When I say communication, I mean plan for other communications other than the ones you would normally use,” Boyd said. “Assume that after a disaster, your e-mail is not going to work. Your cellphones won’t find a signal. How do you communicate with your employees and your customers?” he asked. Agility Recovery recommends setting up a notification system, rerouting calls, establishing a hotline, posting updates on your website, setting up automated text messaging and e-mail systems, and using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to facilitate communication.

Make sure you have power. Regardless of the event, whether it’s a tornado or a hurricane, about 60 percent of interruptions will result in a business needing alternative power, said Boyd.

And businesses typically don’t know what size generator they need, he said. “They just don’t know. You can find what size generator you need in an afternoon. Call your electrician and figure that out. Do you need a 100 kilowatt generator or a two megawatt generator? Do you need permission from your landlord? Do all those things before you lose power. If you don’t know what you need, and the whole city is dark, you’re probably way down on the list of priorities for electricians.”

Data backup. We back up our data, right? But most companies haven’t tried to recover data, Boyd said. “You wouldn’t believe how many people think they’re backing up their data, but they’re really not. Sometimes data is corrupted, or doesn’t get backed up completely. That’s why you do a test.”

Practice your plan. Spend some time running through different variations of how a disaster could play out. The objective is to identify holes to find out where your business needs improvements, and familiarize employees with the plan. “I always tell companies that employees need to practice whatever plan they have in place,” said Boyd. “Run a drill at least once a year. You’re going to find things that don’t work, and you want to find that out when it doesn’t matter, not during a disaster event.” Taking the time to work out kinks during a trial run better ensures operations will run more smoothly when a disruption occurs.

The disaster preparedness plan needs to be flexible enough to address what may happen in an instant, or with a week’s notice, such as in the case of hurricanes generally.

You should also plan ahead for interruptions including curfews, law enforcement roadblocks, mass transit shutdowns, and impassable roads and bridges.

Preparation Doesn’t End at the Office

Being prepared shouldn’t stop at the business level, said Boyd. “Every company has a responsibility to have this conversation with their employees and to find ways to prepare employees’ homes for disasters,” he said.

“When our businesses can make our employees more secure, then we’re better off. My business doesn’t run without my people. If my people are dealing with a disaster at home, then my business doesn’t reopen. Being prepared is critical for communities, businesses, families and everybody,” he said.

NOAA recommends a home emergency storm kit have a three-day supply of water—one gallon per person per day—and a three-day supply of nonperishable food. The kit should also include a change of clothing and shoes for each person, flashlights with extra batteries, a battery-operated radio, a first aid kit with any required medications, blankets, sleeping bags, emergency tools, extra car keys, cash and credit cards.

Agility Recovery and the U.S. Small Business Administration have compiled a comprehensive hurricane preparedness checklist. Excellent resources on disaster preparedness, including webinars, can be found at www.preparemybusiness.org.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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