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Time to Prepare for Hurricane Season
 

By Roy Maurer  6/1/2013
 

With hurricane season officially starting June 1, 2013, now is the time to make important decisions to help keep your family, business and property safe.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic hurricane season outlook, there is a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms, seven to 11 of which could become hurricanes and three to six potential major hurricanes. This forecast exceeds the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Last year was the third busiest on record, with 19 named storms, including tropical cyclone Sandy that smashed into New Jersey and New York, killing 147 people and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Planning Critical to Recovery

The hurricane forecast for 2013 is a clear indicator that business owners need to heed this warning and prepare their businesses now, said Bob Boyd, president and CEO of Agility Recovery, a business-continuity and disaster-recovery-solutions provider for small and midsize businesses.

Preparing for a disaster is key to staying in business, as 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and another 25 percent fail within a year of one, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But property insurance provider FM Global found that 75 percent of employees do not believe that their company is well-prepared for a disaster.

There are several basic precautions business owners can take to get ready as the storm season develops, Boyd said, including:

Conducting a risk assessment. What are the potential threats to your business because of the environment? Knowing the immediate environment is the first step in prioritizing a plan’s essential elements.

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 clarified. “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?”

Agility recommends:

  • Setting up a notification system.
  • Rerouting calls.
  • Establishing a hotline.
  • Posting updates on the corporate 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.

Businesses typically aren’t aware of what size generator they need, he noted. “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 the landlord to use it? [Address] all those things before losing 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. I think we’re really exposed on the data side of things, much more than people realize.”

Practice the plan. Spend time running through variations of how a disaster could play out. The objectives are to identify holes in the practice phase—to find out where your business needs to improve—and to 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 helps to ensure operations will run more smoothly when a real disruption occurs.

The disaster-preparedness plan should be flexible enough to address what may happen in an instant, or with a week’s notice, such as is typical with hurricanes.

Also, plan ahead for community interruptions, including curfews, law enforcement roadblocks, mass transit shutdowns, and impassable roads and bridges.

Preparation Doesn’t End at the Office

Getting ready for a disaster should go beyond the business level, said Boyd. “Every company has a responsibility to have this conversation with their employees, and [they] have to find ways to prepare employees’ homes for disasters.

“When our businesses can make our employees more secure, then we’re better off,” he observed. “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.”

NOAA recommends that 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 also should include a change of clothing and shoes for each person, flashlights with extra batteries, a battery-operated radio, and a first-aid kit with any required medications, blankets, sleeping bags, emergency tools, extra car keys, cash and credit cards.

Agility and the 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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