Every year, the U.S. witnesses a few catastrophic hurricanes that cause significant loss of life and property. This year’s hurricane season is no different, with a couple of cataclysmic ones expected. In 2019, AccuWeather predicts between five and seven named storms, two to four of which may develop into category 3-5 hurricanes. In addition to damaged property, injuries and casualties, these natural disasters can disrupt various businesses, large and small.
As a business executive, it is your responsibility to safeguard employees and other assets in the event of a hurricane. You should use your foresight and plan in advance to ensure minimal operational disruption when a hurricane strikes. Moreover, you need to develop an effective recovery plan to quickly turn plans into action in the aftermath.
Why You Need a Hurricane Preparedness Plan
Hurricanes don’t discriminate; they cause equal destruction to any and every entity that comes in their way. It is crucial for business owners to realize that a hurricane can affect their revenue even when it strikes elsewhere. Let’s say you run a small company that operates remotely from different parts of the country. If there is a hurricane alert in any of the locations where your employees are stationed, it can disrupt your business.
You don’t have the liberty to stay calm and build an emergency plan when a hurricane is lurking around the corner. Additionally, you have no control over how and when it strikes or the extent of damage it causes. The only way to deal with such a catastrophic force is to take the necessary steps in advance, irrespective of a hurricane alert. It is crucial to learn from experience and brace yourself for the upcoming hurricane season.
Here are a few hurricane preparedness tips to safeguard your business:
1. Perform a Thorough Risk Assessment
Here is the thing - no business, however large or small, is immune to the damaging effects of a hurricane. This is true even when you are not located in a hurricane-prone area. If you have vendors, clients, or employees based out of coastal regions, your business may face the repercussions of a hurricane.
Therefore, it is crucial to perform a comprehensive risk analysis and identify the assets that are most valuable to your business. In most cases, this would include your workforce, equipment, data, supplies, location, etc. These are the assets that require maximum protection. It is equally important to evaluate which of these assets are most at risk.
Know Your Employees
You should start by gathering extensive information about your employees including their current phone numbers and residential addresses, without infringing on data privacy. You should also collect additional data such as their chosen route for commuting to and from work. It also helps if you have a clear idea of their travel calendar, including any upcoming business trips and client meetings. Make sure you include employees who operate remotely and on a contractual basis.
Secure Your Locations
If your business facility isn’t equipped to withstand strong winds and flooding, your evacuation plans will be of no avail. Thus, it is crucial to perform a thorough review of all your business locations, including storage facilities, manufacturing plants, and corporate offices. Make sure each facility is structurally fortified to deal with potential damage.
Prepare a list of all the addresses and the employees stationed at each facility. Identify the most vulnerable ones and take extra caution to protect them. It is equally necessary to ensure that each location has its own set of evacuation maps and checklists.
Research Other Assets
Assets such as network, equipment, products, etc. are critical for smooth business operations. Therefore, it is crucial to identify where each asset is located and what measures have been taken for its protection. You should find out if these assets are owned or leased and what your liabilities are for each. It is also essential to get all your assets insured to cover the cost of any significant environmental damage, specifically hurricanes.
2. Develop a Strategy to Protect Your Employees
The most important step is to build an emergency evacuation plan that is flexible enough to accommodate any unforeseen circumstances.
Evacuation Maps and Checklists
Consult the facility manager to outline detailed evacuation maps for each floor. This helps guide employees to their nearest exists. In addition, you should create comprehensive checklists of all the tasks to be performed when a hurricane strikes.
It is recommended to print physical copies of these maps and checklists and hand them over to your employees. This helps keep them focused and calm in the event of a power outage or a disruption in communications.
Delegation and Training
Not all employees can retain their composure when faced with a crisis. Executing an evacuation plan in the face of a disaster requires people to take charge of the situation. Therefore, you should create an emergency response team and assign key roles to each team member. Make sure they have a clear understanding of their duties and responsibilities and receive hands-on training.
An evacuation plan that exists solely on paper is of no use. It is crucial to test its effectivity by conducting impromptu drills and role-play exercises. This helps impart practical training to your emergency response team. It also allows you to identify any loopholes in the plan and take suitable measures to correct them.
Emergency Communication System
Uninterrupted communication helps prevent panic and chaos among your workforce when they face a crisis. It helps them stay connected with your employees and keep track of each other’s whereabouts. In addition, it facilitates coordination among different members of the emergency response team.
Therefore, you should develop an emergency communication system that can operate without electricity or the internet. It must operate irrespective of an employee’s location or device. You can also use a mass notification system to send regular alerts and updates to your employees.
It is important to prepare emergency kits comprising radio, batteries, first-aid supplies, dry food, etc. They can come in handy if employees get stranded inside or are required to stay back to continue operations. Make sure the kits are stored at a safe and accessible location, and employees are made aware of it.
It is also recommended that you provide employees with home emergency kits containing business letterhead, stationery, cash, etc. This will enable them to continue working from home, even in the aftermath of the hurricane.
3. Secure Your Data
Irrespective of the size and nature of your organization, your business operation relies on accurate data. From payroll management to CRM systems - data plays an important role in every facet of your business. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to safeguard all crucial business data. Yet, it is often one of the most ignored aspects of a hurricane preparedness plan.
Simply backing up your data on multiple hard drives isn’t enough. You should ensure that it is backed up at a safe offsite location. The best practice is to carry out periodic offsite data backups. This allows you to focus on other, more important tasks, such as ensuring employees’ safety when a hurricane alert is issued.
It is also recommended that you use a cloud-based system for crucial data and key business operations. It facilitates remote access to inventory, payroll, CRM, etc. This, in turn, enables employees to quickly resume working from their homes, once the hurricane subsides. This can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted operation, thereby minimizing financial losses.
4. Secure Critical Documents
The aftermath of a hurricane is not the time when you want to deal with legal complications. Thus, it is crucial to periodically review legal documents related to employees, vendors, equipment, etc. while identifying your exact liabilities to prevent potential lawsuits. It is equally important to ensure that your key assets are covered under a suitable insurance plan.
Much like with securing data, you should store physical copies of important documents such as contracts and insurance policies at a secure offsite location. Make sure you upload soft copies on the cloud as well to make them readily accessible.
As a business owner, you have no control over how and when a hurricane strikes. However, you can take preventive measures to minimize the effect it has on your assets, operations, and revenue. The key is to pre-empt such events well in advance and develop a robust emergency plan. It will safeguard your employees and other crucial assets and enable you to resume operations soon after the climacteric occurrence.
What steps are you taking to protect your business against hurricanes? Share your views in the comments section below.