Hurricane Preparedness: Prepare Your Business in the Event of a Hurricane

When your area is issued a hurricane watch or warning, as a business leader, you often only have a very small amount of time in which to act quickly to protect your employees and your business. Because you do not have long to evacuate your personnel or to protect your company, having and executing a hurricane preparedness plan is imperative to safely recovering from this type of crisis. However, there are numerous aspects to keep in mind when creating, implementing and executing an emergency notification plan in the event of a hurricane - all of which must be considered in order to improve safety levels and communication.

Emergency Notification Plan: When to Act - Watches and Warnings

A hurricane watch is issued 48 hours ahead of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds to alert the affected areas to begin following their emergency procedures. A watch is typically issued when the conditions are favorable for a hurricane; therefore, you will want to move quickly to execute your hurricane preparedness plan, as the winds will begin to gather strength within 48 hours, and it will be harder to perform activities (e.g. covering windows, reinforcing structures) if the environment becomes hazardous.

A hurricane warning is issued 36 hours ahead of the expected onset of tropical storm force winds. Unlike a watch, a warning is issued because a hurricane has already been spotted and will affect the relevant areas. During this time, extreme caution must be taken, and it is imperative to act immediately, whether this means evacuating personnel, initiating emergency notifications, or following your hurricane preparedness plan. Even if you are only in the surrounding areas of the storm, you should still be prepared to execute your emergency notification plan, as you may face strong winds, potential flooding (which can occur ahead of or during the storm) and isolated tornadoes.

Why Do I Need a Hurricane Preparedness Plan?

As a business leader, you have a responsibility to protect your employees and your company from disaster. Your employees look to you for direction and need to know how to act in a crisis; having an extensive emergency notification plan in place will help employees learn who to contact, where to go and what to do in the event of a disaster.

Additionally, hurricane preparedness plans will help you plan for contingencies that you otherwise may not be able to cope with, including helping employees evacuate the area safely, even in the event of flooding of roads or of the building itself; loss of utilities and water for protracted periods of time; loss of communication in the event that cell phone towers go down due to strong winds; and loss of transportation routes. Your business will also be impacted by this disaster, including loss of inventory; loss of customers, as they may have migrated away from your company for extended periods of time during the crisis; loss of communication with suppliers, as they may not be able to get through due to flooding or they may be suffering damages of their own; loss of data; loss of equipment; a damaged facility and more.

The financial damages caused by hurricanes can be extensive. In 2011, the estimated cost of damages caused by Hurricane Irene was $7 billion to $10 billion. Unfortunately, insurance covered approximately less than 40 percent of the losses due to extensive flooding, as flood insurance is not generally covered under regular insurance plans.

Without a strong hurricane preparedness plan in place, in the worst case scenarios, your business could suffer irreparably and/or your employees could suffer serious injuries or death. As a business leader, you are responsible for creating an emergency notification plan to give your business a structure to follow in the event of a crisis.

Creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan for Your Business

Your hurricane preparedness plan should be created based on the size of your company - if you have a large company, then you have the human resources already in place (e.g. facilities management or otherwise) to handle the task of creating this plan; however, if you have a smaller company, then you need to designate the appropriate personnel for your crisis team to begin crafting your plans.

Your business requires a clear, concise, written emergency notification plan that employees can follow in the event of a hurricane - preferably before hurricane season begins. Remember to include all contingencies that must be accounted for, such as unexpected loss of communication, flooding, or data loss. If you are a large company with small subsidiaries in other areas, create a local hurricane preparedness plan for that specific subsidiary, as each business will need to be treated uniquely. For instance, a smaller division of your company may be located in a coastal town, and they will need to act more quickly to evacuate the town due to a high risk of flooding.

Practice Your Emergency Plans

You may have extensive hurricane preparedness plans in place; however, they mean nothing without practice. Create your emergency notification plan and then practice it - not once, but several times, so that it becomes second nature for employees to learn how to respond and use a notification system, and it becomes easier to evacuate the building or to take the steps necessary to secure data. In the event of a hurricane, you may have several days of warning before the disaster strikes, so it's up to you, as a business leader, to take immediate action.

Testing your hurricane preparedness plans can be challenging logistically, but there are many ways to practice your strategies. You can perform a tabletop drill (there are companies, including Preparis, that provide strategic crisis management drills) of your emergency notification plan with your crisis team, which will allow members to perform virtual exercises of decisions you may have to make during a hurricane. This will allow you to see if your plans and protocols need improvement, and will enable you to practice the procedures that are imperative to company safety.

Additionally, it is very important to have access to your hurricane preparedness plans at any time. Many companies create these plans and leave them in binders at the office, which are ultimately useless during the event of an evacuation or when personnel are located elsewhere. Try to put your emergency notification plan online or anywhere that can be accessed through a document management system, or, more importantly, a mobile device, as you may have to evacuate from home and you'll need to follow the steps of the plan without a computer nearby. Being able to access your hurricane contingency plans, data and emergency contact lists is very important.

Employee Notification Systems

Every business should have an emergency notification system with which to alert employees in the event of a disaster, through multiple channels if necessary, such as email, voice, text and more. You should always test this emergency notification system at least twice a year, with every branch of your office. It's also important to ensure that employees can not only receive notifications, but that they can respond to them, because when a hurricane is spotted, employers do not have time to deal with a malfunctioning, overly-complicated messaging system.

Act Quickly - Before Hurricane Season

Now is the time to create hurricane preparedness plans to prepare for financial and physical losses, flooding, damages due to wind and more. In addition to an emergency notification plan, it is also important to implement a recovery plan, because it will take time to recover from losses due to damaged/lost inventory, employees or consumers who have migrated to safer places and who may not be able to return quickly, or suppliers who are unable to fill your requests. However, market studies have shown that in the second year after a hurricane occurs, you may be able to sell more of your commodity, as consumers who are rebuilding or replacing stock are now able to do so; therefore, this type of disaster may sometimes increase sales. No matter what happens, you should have a recovery plan for your business, as you will need to make plans for potential repairs, utilities, data loss or labor supply. With this plan in place, you will begin to see an increase in your markets over time and you will begin to recover.

Act quickly and create a hurricane preparedness plan for your business before a disaster occurs - you cannot prevent a hurricane, but you can ensure that your employees and your business are as safe as possible in the event of a crisis.

About the Author

As the Marketing and Sales Operations Director at Preparis, Inc., Nate Kristy oversees marketing efforts for the industry's first comprehensive emergency preparedness platform, designed to help companies build a capable crisis team and improve communication in the event of a crisis. Prior to working with Preparis, Inc., Kristy was with Cox Media Group and Orkin Pest Control. A graduate of Emory University and Georgia State University, Kristy has over fifteen years of experience in strategic B2B and B2C marketing. For more information on Preparis, Inc., please call (877) 544-5845 or visit www.preparis.com.