Guide - November 20, 2018

Planning For Recovery After a Hurricane

Chris Herbert

Chris Hebert

TropicsWatch Manager, Houston

Telecom workers

With the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season coming to an end, one hard lesson many businesses have learned is the essentiality of a disaster management plan. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40 percent of small businesses never recover after a disaster.

Whether you run a large corporation or a small business, preparing a recovery plan ahead of the 2019 season will enable you to activate your response plan/team as soon as the storm is over. (To learn more about creating a preparedness plan for before a storm hits, read here.)

Start by asking yourself two crucial questions:
  1. How will the business continue to function immediately after a storm?

  2. How will you communicate with staff and vendors when power and communication may be down for weeks or months after a hurricane?

To answer these, you’ll want to factor in all potential hazards when creating your emergency response plan. The first step is to conduct a risk assessment of your businesses location. Think through and evaluate what your potential loss of functions would be in the case of direct or indirect damage. Because hurricanes are so vast, and the damage ripples out far from the eye of the storm, hurricane preparation is not just necessary for coastal businesses. After determining what functions of business you could lose, you can make a list of where your priorities lie and create a plan of how those functions will be temporarily maintained.

Know Your Vendors’ Response Plans

Even if your own business is not damaged by a hurricane, your operations could be affected if a partner or vendor you depend on is impacted. Connect with each company you work with to ensure they have a backup plan for continuing production in case of a storm, and if not, find an alternative that you can immediately turn to.

Knowing which contractors or restoration companies to call is also an important part of a recovery plan. The demand for emergency services spikes after a hurricane, and the best options may be unavailable if you wait too long to call.

Managing Operations & Employee Communication

Firstly, having a backup location that your employees can work from during the recovery phase is wise, but make sure that location is far enough inland and/or far enough away from your main office that it’s not impacted by the same storm.

Secondly, knowing how to reach your employees after a storm is a vital part of helping your business quickly recover after a disaster. Staff may have evacuated to distant cities, or even lost their homes. Power and telephone lines may be down over a large area. To keep communication open, businesses can set up a national toll-free number for employees to call for information about getting back to work, like where the temporary work location is. This number must be set up prior to hurricane season and given out to all employees.

Businesses can also create a hurricane website that’s based in another state, far away from the home base. Employees with Internet access can check in and report their status and contact information.

If you create an alternate means of connecting with your staff (including text message service or social media page), be sure to test it out in a non-critical situation. Employee contact information is a vital part of any business operation, and it is even more important during or after an emergency.

Protecting Your Equipment and Its Data

Don’t just assume your backup technology is working. Regularly recover information from the backup system to be sure it works and that you know how to access critical information. In situations where a hurricane obliterates an entire business, local backups are useless because the equipment they’re stored on will be destroyed. Cloud backups keep data safe in geographically disparate regions so there’s no risk a hurricane will wipe out every copy. Many cloud solutions also allow businesses to continue operating from the cloud using virtualized versions of backups.

Furthermore, equipment stored on the ground is at risk of being destroyed by the flooding that often comes with a hurricane. Server racks, desktop computers, power generators, and other equipment will be useless if floodwater reaches their circuits. Keep equipment on shelves or desks and consider storing them on the second floor, if possible.

Consider Options for Alternative Power

Although utility crews can often restore power to some areas a few days after a hurricane, it can also take weeks or longer for power to be fully restored everywhere. To continue operations, consider options such as diesel generators so you’re not forced to wait for local power officials to remedy the situation.

Finally, as you consider how to handle a hurricane’s impact on your business, include regular drills to test how everything works together and determine gaps. In the best case scenario, work with a loyal customer and vendor as test subjects during the drills. Document what went well and what didn’t, and continually refine your plan until you know you can meet all your recovery objectives. A good plan is useless if no one knows how to use it when disaster hits, so communicate with employees and vendors regularly to ensure things will run smoothly.

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