The first hurricane of the season is scheduled to hit Florida, and many businesses in that state are readying their contingency planning.  Hurricanes aren’t uncommon for most areas of Florida; any business that’s been around for a few years has been through this process before.

Data Backups Alone Can’t Save You from a Hurricane
Tropical Storm Harvey – Houston Texas, 2007

North Carolina gets its share of hurricanes, but for most inland cities, direct hits are pretty rare.  But  they’re not so rare that you don’t need a plan for what to do if the eye goes right over your company’s building.

Many businesses offer data backup solutions, and they have large marketing budgets.  No doubt, you’ve gotten the scary emails.  “A huge percentage of businesses fail after natural disasters!”  “Many businesses would fail if they lost their most important data!”  It’s true; data backups are important.

Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly as much money to be made from helping businesses with other absolutely critical contingency planning.  Your data backups aren’t going to save you if you find yourself asking these questions after a natural disaster.

How will we operate if our building is unusable?

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on Texas.  Unless your building is on a mountain, it’s probably not going to be in great shape after five feet of rain.  If you’ve got a first-class data backup solution, your provider will be able to virtualize a server with your data that you can access as soon as your Internet Service Provider figures out how to get their wires working again.  But what are you to do with that data if your office has turned into a swimming pool?

This is a complex question.  Every employee should think about the resources they need to perform their job, and what they would need if they didn’t have access to the office.  They should provide this list to a supervisor, who should review it and add their own items before forwarding it to the company’s leadership team for incorporation into a contingency plan.

Losing access to the building impacts businesses in ways large and small.  Ideally, your contingency plan should address all of them.  If you communicate with vendors or customers frequently via phone, you’ll need a pre-planned method of letting them know how to reach the relevant company employees without your phone system in place.  If customers visit your building, you’ll want a plan to acquire temporary space and communicate that to all customers as quickly as possible.  If you use a metering system to send mail, you’ll need stamps.  Even if you get the big items addressed, small annoyances can turn into major threats, as your margins face death by a thousand cuts.

Who will get together to move the business forward if communications go down?  Where will we meet?

If you operate a business that requires high operational uptime, you might not be able to weather a week of extreme uncertainty.  But if the phone lines and internet go down and your building is non-operational, extreme uncertainty is what you’ll face unless you have a pre-planned meeting location and time.

The phone lines may not even need to go down for communication to become a problem.  Many employees lack a landline entirely, relying instead on cell phones for communication.  If the power stays out for more than a day, their phones will die and those employees will become unreachable.  Make sure that team leaders have a plan to navigate through these first few days.

How will we attend to our employees’ needs?

In emergencies, the most important tasks are those that prevent loss of life.  After that, people need to attend to their family’s’ basic needs – food, clothing and shelter.  It’s only after these things are addressed that people can focus on the needs of their employer.

Your employees won’t all do a great job of preparing for a natural disaster, and you’ll be in a position to help them through a tough time if you’ve thought about these things beforehand.  If you’re able to help them meet the basic needs of themselves and their family, it will also allow them to dedicate time to shepherding the business through a critical time.

A plan to provide food (and to cook it if necessary) is one of the most basic needs you’ll need to satisfy for your employees.  Your building may be usable after the storm, but many employees may have flooded homes – if you can provide a temporary place for them to sleep, with sheets and pillows, it may prevent them from having to rely on a crowded shelter.  Finally, encourage employees who are safe and can access your building to bring dry clothes in the first hours after the storm for those who weren’t as lucky. 

To learn more about business contingency planning in the event of a natural disaster, visit ready.gov. Their hurricane toolkit can be found here.

To learn how WingSwept can help your organization make better use of technology to achieve its business goals, call us at 919-460-7011 or email us at Team_WingSwept@WingSwept.com.