How Businesses Can Prepare for the 2021 Hurricane Season [+ Free Checklist]
This post provides general tips and best practices for preparing your business in advance of the 2021 hurricane season.
Once every decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) generates a new set of what it calls “climate normals.” This data outlines the expected temperature, precipitation, and other weather factors for the next 30 years. Its most recent analysis, released in May 2021, shows an overall rise in temperature, higher precipitation, and an increase in more intense weather patterns.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Colorado State University (CSU), which released its 2021 hurricane forecast at around the same time, predicts an “above average” hurricane season this year with 17 named storms and upwards of eight hurricanes. The probability that one of those hurricanes makes landfall along the U.S. coastline is a staggering 69 percent. While a slight reprieve from last year’s record-setting activity, conditions are ripe for yet another stressful Atlantic hurricane season.
For businesses, another active hurricane season could prove to be quite the headache. Already, organizations are dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and even though vaccinations are well underway, several challenges remain. Namely, remote work will continue to be the norm for millions of employees, with many choosing to work in locations much farther from corporate headquarters. For the first time in almost two centuries, California’s population growth stopped while hurricane-prone Texas and Florida added a combined 600,000 people between 2019 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not only do businesses need to keep track of their employees’ movement, but newer residents in these areas also may not know what to expect when disaster strikes.
The good news is that hurricanes are foreseeable events, and organizations can take several necessary steps to protect their people and business during these severe weather events. This post outlines how to get ready to face another enhanced hurricane season.
Conduct a Preparedness Assessment
You can’t protect what you don’t know exists. Before developing a hurricane preparedness plan, you first need to assess who and what will be impacted. This includes your people and physical locations as well as your suppliers and other assets.
Consider your people first. Before the pandemic, most organizations offered remote work as a perk. But today, nearly half of all employed adults work from home, and researchers predict many will never return to a corporate office.
For employees, remote work promises greater flexibility, better work-life balance, and lower stress levels. But for business owners, it means new communication challenges and business continuity concerns. Employees may choose to work from home or on the road. They may not even be in the same state as your organization’s headquarters anymore, and as a result, could be more significantly impacted than others. At the same time, most homes aren’t set up with the appropriate technology or infrastructure needed to stay up and running during a hurricane, and IT failures become much more frequent and harder to fix.
To avoid any confusion, make sure to keep an accurate, up-to-date employee contact list. Use an emergency communication system to send out notifications to employees every few months instructing them to respond if they receive the message. Your HR department can then follow up directly with those who don’t respond to verify whether their contact information has changed.
When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, it caused outages in all Gulf Coast refineries, reducing the gasoline refining capacity of the U.S. by more than 20 percent. That same year, Hurricane Maria caused a shortage of drugs, medical supplies, and medical devices in hospitals across the U.S. And let’s not forget Hurricane Florence and its effect on livestock and agriculture. Thousands of hogs died during the course of the storm, disrupting the food chain.
The point is that a severe storm may not just impact your business—it can affect other organizations you rely on to conduct business. Even if your organization exists miles away from a hurricane-prone area, supply chain and travel disruptions may cause logistical issues or disrupt deliveries. Therefore, your preparedness plan should address how you’ll account for business interruptions and potential delays and how you’ll communicate with suppliers in the event of an emergency.
Locations & assets
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), many businesses never fully recover after a disaster. Part of the reason involves the damage to physical locations and loss of critical data. Additionally, many companies simply cannot withstand the financial pressures caused by extended downtime. As a result, disaster recovery teams need to have a good grasp of the location of sensitive data and critical assets at each of your sites and how a hurricane may impact them. Experts recommend backing up your data on premises, at a remote site, and in the cloud to ensure nothing gets lost. You may even want to consider relocating physical assets to a separate, more secure location in advance of an oncoming storm. Finally, review insurance policies related to wind and flood damages and determine what, if any, requirements your insurance company has in place concerning documentation.
Build Your Emergency Plan
Business continuity and emergency planning are critical to an organization’s ability to withstand the impact of a hurricane. Having a plan in place will also help you understand your priorities before, during, and after a storm so that you can get your business back up and running as quickly as possible. Let’s walk through the critical components of an emergency plan.
Develop a system for detecting and monitoring threats
The first step in any effective response is the early identification of the threat itself. The more time you have to prepare, the better your plan will be. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay glued to the TV 24/7, eagerly awaiting the next weather report. Instead, utilize threat monitoring capabilities that share up-to-the-minute threat data from trusted sources around the world. When organizations rely on sites like weather.gov to track a hurricane, they must also cross-reference that data with a list of office locations and employee home addresses which takes a lot of time and resources—something there isn’t often a lot of during an emergency.
Access to threat intelligence can also help you track the severity of the storm. Before a storm officially becomes a hurricane, it starts as a tropical depression—often far from shore. But a tropical depression can quickly morph into a tropical storm that will bring heavy rains, potential flooding, or water damage. Knowing when that transformation occurs will help you brace for impact, and if the tropical storm intensifies, you’ll know you need to prepare for possible structural damage as well.
AlertMedia’s Global Threat Intelligence proactively identifies whether any of your employees may be in the path of an approaching storm and automatically sends you a hurricane warning with details about its severity and which of your people and assets may be impacted. In addition, it uses mobile location data to understand your people’s whereabouts in real time. Companies can easily see each user’s location on an interactive map, accessible via desktop and mobile device.
Assemble your emergency response team
When it comes to protecting your people, assets, and locations—it takes a village. That’s why you will need to form an emergency response team to help manage all the moving parts of your plan. Your team should involve people from various departments across your organization: your safety and security team, your HR team, your PR or internal communications team, and finally, a member of your C suite.
Ensure each person understands their unique roles and responsibilities, who they report to, and what resources and technologies they need to do their job effectively. Supply them with a copy of your emergency response plan and schedule a training session to run everyone through it with the opportunity to ask questions. You may also want to consider supplying each member with a disaster preparedness toolkit, which would include details like where evacuation zones are located offsite, and lists of local emergency phone numbers should you need to contact law enforcement.
Once you’ve assembled your team, practice your plan with mock drills. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with their role and can remain calm during a real-life emergency. During the exercise, walk through your evacuation plan and preparedness checklist, and if some pieces of your framework don’t work, update your plan to reflect new protocols that you put in place instead.
Outline your response
Your final step in building your emergency response plan requires creating a specific response for all potential safety hazards. Some responses might include deciding to close your office, turning on backup generators, or providing employees with a suggested evacuation route.
As a best practice, consider developing a checklist of things you need to do before, during, and after a storm. Your checklist should include tasks such as inspecting the office and your equipment—everything from your data centers to bottled water to roofs and gutters—to identify which items you still need to obtain in advance.
Once response plans are in place, train all employees on how to take action. Practice various hurricane scenarios and remind employees about the importance of being able to communicate with them in real time. During a disaster, people will be slow to respond to email, so make sure you have multiple channels available for communication, including phone, text, and mobile push notifications.
Secure Your Facilities & Your People
Businesses closer to the coastline typically will experience more significant property damage than those situated further inland. However, the risk of high winds and flooding can still affect organizations even hundreds of miles away from the center of a storm. Therefore, your emergency response plan should address how to secure your facilities, both indoors and out.
Protection for your external buildings includes boarding up windows and doors, placing sandbags outside any openings to your office, and ensuring you have a backup power system to keep all critical security assets working, including cameras, fire, and burglar alarms.
For the interior of your building, consider moving all important documents, furniture and IT equipment away from windows or even relocating them to a safer facility. If employees will be working in at-risk areas, make sure you know where your first aid kit is located, and instruct staff to take home any personal belongings. You may also want to consider stocking up on non-perishable food items and water bottles in addition to turning off gas and water. Remember, the number of assets and facilities you need to secure depends on your business and industry, so work with your emergency response team to identify all potential risks.
Beyond your physical facilities, you also have a duty of care—a moral and legal obligation to protect your people from unnecessary risk of harm. Hurricanes aren’t quick incidents, and forecasts can change rapidly which, as a result, may impact your response plan. To keep your business running and your people safe, you have to stay in constant communication with employees as hurricanes unfold.
You’ll want to utilize an emergency communication system that offers multi-channel, two-way communication capabilities to ensure all employees receive the information they need, when they need it. Email alone won’t suffice, especially if an employee finds themself in the danger zone. You need an option to warm them in real-time while providing them with relevant information that will help keep them safe. Knowing most employees have cell phones, send messages via text message, phone call, push notification, and email. For more hurricane-savvy companies, they will often also keep a list of both employees and their loved ones who may need to be notified of an emergency. Keep this communication going before and during the storm so employees know what’s coming, what to expect, and that your company has eyes on them to keep them safe throughout.
Communication doesn’t end when the storm does. Keeping people informed immediately following a hurricane is just as important. Check in on employees’ well-being by sending out daily wellness check surveys. Consider also creating a resource or event page where employees can go for updates on when the office will reopen, any alternate working plans, and how operations may be impacted.
With an above-average hurricane season on the horizon, it’s critical that you stay proactive, develop a holistic communication plan, and have the right technology in place to support it. AlertMedia is a modern solution that combines next-level threat monitoring with industry-leading emergency communication that promises to take your organizational resilience to the next level while keeping your people and assets safe.
Recovering from any emergency scenario is never easy let alone a natural disaster such as a hurricane. But with the right preparation and an emergency communication system
equipped with the right functionality, you’ll get back to normal both quickly and safely.