Hurricane Preparedness Plan for Businesses
Don’t wait until the storm is at your door to plan for this year’s hurricane season. Use this hurricane preparedness guide to protect your people and business.
For the first time in three years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that Pacific Ocean temperatures have started to rise, indicating a shift out of La Niña and into El Niño conditions. This marks a major change in global weather patterns and has implications for weather across the U.S., including the Atlantic hurricane season.
Colorado State University (CSU) released its 2023 hurricane forecast on April 13, predicting a “slightly below-average” hurricane season this year, with 13 named storms and six hurricanes likely. The CSU team added a new prediction metric for accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), which they also estimate will be lower than average this year due to the El Niño conditions.
While this news is encouraging for emergency preparedness teams working to protect facilities in the normal hurricane risk zones, a below-average season isn’t permission to let your guard down. After all, it takes only one bad storm to wreak havoc on your business and put your employees at risk. And with today’s dispersed workforce, many businesses are having to prioritize hurricane preparedness for the first time.
The good news is that hurricanes, unlike other natural disasters—e.g., tornadoes or earthquakes—are foreseeable events, and organizations can take necessary steps to protect their people and business long before a severe weather disaster strikes. This post will outline how to prepare and respond to the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season effectively.
“In 2022, we went from June all the way through August with really no notable storms across the U.S. or within its coastal waters. And all of this really significant activity came within a four-to-eight-week period in the forms of Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian. So, there are going to be times when Mother Nature gives us a false sense of security—like maybe we dodged a bullet with this year’s hurricane season. But all it takes is a few-weeks-long window of favorable conditions for all of that to change.”
— Jason Moreland, Senior Meteorologist at AlertMedia
1. 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 U.S. employees work from home in some capacity, 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, disaster supplies, or infrastructure needed to stay up and running during a hurricane, and IT failures and other issues like power outages 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.
“Even if your organization exists miles away from a hurricane-prone area, supply chain and travel disruptions may cause logistical issues or disrupt deliveries.”
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 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 during 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 know 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 multiple layers of redundancy. You may even want to consider relocating physical assets to a separate, more secure location in advance of an oncoming storm. Finally, review disaster and flood insurance policies and determine what, if any, requirements your insurance company has in place concerning documentation.
2. 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 business continuity plan in place will also help you understand your priorities before, during, and after a storm so 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 television 24/7, eagerly awaiting the next weather report.
Instead, implement 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—things you’re lacking during an emergency.
“Slow-moving storms tend to increase the risk of flooding as they continuously dump water in the same area for hours or days. Be especially careful about floodwaters during and after a hurricane inches past you.”
Access to threat intelligence can also help you track the storm’s severity. 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 from storm surges, and 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 and emergency evacuation 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 devices.
Assemble your emergency response team
When it comes to protecting your people, assets, and locations—it takes a village. For that reason, it’s essential 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, including:
- Safety and security teams
- Representatives from HR
- PR or internal communications personnel
- At least one C-level executive sponsor
Ensure each person understands their unique role and responsibilities, whom 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, including details like where evacuation zones are located offsite and lists of local emergency phone numbers to contact. Peter Steinfeld discussed this and other mitigation strategies on The Employee Safety Podcast.
Once you’ve assembled your team, practice your plan with emergency drills. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with their role and can remain calm during a real-life emergency. During the exercises, walk through the evacuation plan and hurricane preparedness checklist for your business, and if some pieces of your framework don’t work, update your plan to reflect new protocols.
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 closing your office, turning on backup generators, coordinating recovery efforts with local officials or Red Cross responders, or providing employees with a suggested evacuation route and/or emergency shelter location.
As a best practice, consider developing a hurricane 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, backup chargers, and propane tanks to drinking water, flashlights, extra batteries, 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 emergency alerts, including phone, text, mobile push notifications, and even social media.
3. Secure Your Facilities and 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 floodwaters 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.
“If you can, providing emergency materials to your employees and their family members is a powerful way to manage the impact of a hurricane.”
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 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.
Implement 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 employees’ loved ones as well, who may need to be notified of an emergency. Keep up-to-date hurricane notifications 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.
It’s important that anyone in the potential path of a hurricane has a well-stocked emergency supply kit. Here is a list of some items you might want to include in your kit.
- Waterproof containers
- Bottled water
- Extra batteries/chargers
- Hand sanitizer/PPE
- Important documents like insurance info
- Non-perishable food
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered radio
- Prescription medications
Sample Hurricane Preparedness Plan for Business
Now that we’ve covered the essential components of a hurricane preparedness plan, let’s examine what it looks like in practice. Below, is an example of a hypothetical company with three offices on the East Coast of the United States.
Remember, each organization’s hurricane safety strategy will vary depending on their geographic location, the kind of work that they do, and their philosophy regarding emergency preparedness. What works for an enterprise-level tech company may not be helpful for a local small business. Don’t use this plan for your business unless you take the time to tailor it to your situation!
Before the storm
- Track the storm’s progress from sources such as the National Weather Service (NWS)
- Plan evacuation routes
- Create an emergency communication plan that includes everyone in your organization and any third parties that would also need this information
- Determine a secondary location where business can resume if the main offices are unusable
- Ensure employee contact info is up to date among all three offices
- Designate safe-sheltering areas for employees
- Back up and turn off server equipment
- Inspect structures such as roofing, gutters, windows, storm shutters, etc., and repair if necessary
- Communicate with everyone so that they know the storm is approaching, as well as safe evacuation routes away from the office
- Disconnect electrical mains in all three offices to avoid an electrical fire
- Note the location of vulnerable power lines
- Double-check that all emergency supplies, backup emergency generators, and emergency kits are readily available and in good condition
While a business can’t control where a hurricane hits or how damaging it will be, early planning is essential to minimize the impact. This video will help your business protect your organization and people if a hurricane makes landfall in your area.
During the storm
- Observe the storm’s movements from a safe place using radio and the internet, if possible
- Shelter in place and stay safe
After the storm
- Continue with the hurricane watch, and pay attention to any warnings from local authorities
- Reach out to all of your people and perform a status check—find out if your people are okay, if they need help, or if they are in a position to provide help to others
- Initiate your recovery plan and restart business operations once everyone is accounted for
- Offer support to all employees. Due to our coastal location, many might be in need of support beyond immediate disaster relief
The Importance of Preparedness
Even though 2023 will likely have a below-average hurricane season, it takes only one storm to do serious damage to businesses. It’s critical to 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.
Hurricanes can be intimidating, but with proper preparation and the right tools, you can ensure your people and business are able to weather any storm safely.