Researchers predict we’re in store for another rough hurricane season. If previous years have taught us anything, it’s that these storms can quickly evolve in ways we can’t anticipate. You may not be able to control when or where a storm hits, but you can ensure your business is ready when it happens.
We put together a quick guide to help you prepare your business for hurricane season, particularly if you work along coastal areas. Effective hurricane preparation keeps your people safe, your business running, and limits the danger to and losses for your entire organization.
1. Assess What Matters Most
The best place to start when preparing your business for hurricane season is to look closely at what keeps your company running: your people, assets, and locations. How will you take action to protect these key elements of your business when a hurricane hits? Hopefully, you’ll have things in place before it hits, making the actual landfall a little less scary.
Protect Your People
We don’t have to tell you that your people are your most important asset. They may be looking to you to keep them safe, connected, and informed before, during, and after a hurricane. With today’s highly-mobile workforce, safeguarding your employees isn’t as easy as it used to be. In order to protect your people, you need to understand several certain aspects:
- Where is every employee located – not just in a directory but in real time?
- Which employees travel and what is their real-time schedule?
- Do we have remote or lone workers and if so, where are they at any given time of their shift?
- Is each employee being tracked by HR, travel, and/or building badging systems so they can be reached immediately?
Think About Your Assets
Your assets are everything else you need to consider to keep your business running, or at least get back up to speed quickly after a hurricane. Systems, 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 surges and outages. Determine the following now to save headaches later:
- Where are our 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?
- Which assets are leased and what is our responsibility if they are damaged?
Fortify Your Locations
By nature, weather-related events are highly specific to location. Whether it’s flooding concerns on the bottom floor of a single building or all of your facilities along the coast, you have to consider how you will prepare your locations specific to the threat. Even if you have inland facilities, keep in mind hurricanes travel. Wind, heavy rain, floods, and even tornadoes can cause damage hundreds of miles from landfall. Ask yourself:
- What is the address of every location under our company umbrella, including storage facilities and transportation lots?
- What are the evacuation considerations for each facility? for example, entrances/exits; stairs, elevators and escalators; parking lots; and access to the closest hurricane evacuation route?
- Which people work at each location?
- What are the biggest risks for each facility and how fortified are they to withstand the dangers?
- If the hurricane damages a facility, what types of materials are necessary to get the facility up and running again?
2. Build Your Emergency Plan
Now that you have the details down, the next step to prepare your business for a hurricane is to build the actual emergency plan. Your plan should be fluid and flexible to account for the inevitable changes in people, assets, and locations, but should have the basics that can be counted on no matter how your company evolves.
Back Up Your Data
How is your data backed up? Is the backed up data onsite? If so, that’s a problem. If the facility is damaged or destroyed, your backup date will go down with it. Make sure your data is backed up regularly offsite and that the facility is completely outside of the danger area. It’s a good idea to implement a redundant backup system so if one server goes down, the other (often located in a third site) can come to the rescue.
Set Up Cloud Systems
Disaster recovery is one of the best features of a cloud-based system. 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.
In the event of an emergency, you may not be as clear-headed as you are right now. Go ahead and develop a checklist of things that you and others must do before, during, and after a hurricane or related event. Of course, file this away on a cloud application for easy access, but also physically post this list where you can quickly locate it, even if the power and internet access goes down. Be sure to communicate this list to others who may have to take action, particularly if you are away.
The aftermath of a major weather event isn’t the time to figure out what your contractual obligations are when it comes to your assets and locations. Review your contracts with vendors, insurance providers, and landlords. There should be specific callouts for weather-related events, damages, and complete loss. If not, contact the contract owners directly to find out what their clauses are in the event of a hurricane or related weather catastrophes. It’s also a good idea to make a note of the contact information for each.
Map Evacuation Routes
In a panic, people will want to run out the first exit they see. Help them find the safest way out of their facility and where to go afterward by mapping it for them. You will want to review each location and work with the facility manager to determine which stairwells and doors should be used, each parking lot exit and what surrounding streets should be used. Beyond communicating evacuation routes to every employee at each location, post physical maps of evacuation routes on each floor.
Implement a Two-Way Communication System
One of the most important elements of an effective emergency plan is communication. Ensure you and your company’s employees have a way to communicate during a hurricane with leadership and each other – even if the power or internet go down.
A two-way communication system will enable leadership to relay up-to-the-minute information to employees across multiple channels and devices at one time, including whether they should come to work or work remotely. You can also use the system to check in with employees to make sure they are safe and provide evacuation details if needed. No matter where employees are located and what devices they are using, they will get the alert and updates on what to do next.
In order to optimize your two-way communication system, it’s important to regularly update your company directory with accurate contact information for each employee. Pre-defined templates are also helpful to 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 and is more apt to contain all appropriate information that may be forgotten in an emergency. Templates for hurricanes may include email, voicemail scripts, SMS texts, and push notifications.
3. Create Emergency Response Teams and Roles
It takes a village to protect people, assets, and locations, so be sure everyone is on the same page. Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to delegate and practice. The most important thing to remember is that a plan is only as good as the people behind it. Everyone must know what to do in each situation so no time is wasted in an emergency.
Define Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Every aspect of the hurricane preparedness plan involves different people. Be sure to designate people who are willing to step in. Communicate specific responsibilities with each stakeholder and make sure they have the resources and technology they may need to effectively execute their task. It’s a good idea to let all employees know who is on the team and who they can look to for information.
You have to do more than simply tell people their responsibilities; you must also train them regularly. Get the team together to review the protocol. As the company evolves, so too should the plan. Be sure to modify the plan with every new location, expansion, or changes to a facility.
Practice your plan with mock drills. Role-playing various scenarios may seem silly in the moment, but in the event of a hurricane, team members will be more likely to remember the drill much better than the written word. You can choose whether to give the team notice or conduct impromptu drills to mimic a real-life emergency.
Hurricanes will happen. You now have a solid framework for preparing your business for a hurricane. Even though we can see the hurricanes coming days in advance, there’s no reason to wait until then to get your business ready. Following the guidelines above, now, and help your business “weather the storm.”
Looking for help on crafting hurricane communications for your business? We’ve created a set of templates that will help you craft messaging for all phases of a hurricane. Click this button to download now!