Getting Ready for Hurricane Season – Practice makes Prepared
As the 2016 Hurricane Season opens, another year has passed since most organizations have experienced one of these devastating storms. Many years or even decades have passed since communities or organizations in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and many other states have experienced the full impact of a major hurricane. While most are thankful and rejoice in this reprieve, the reality is that the more removed we are from experiencing a hurricane the less prepared we are for the next one… unless we practice.
Over more than ten years of working with organizations to prepare annually for each hurricane season, we have found that the best indicator of an organization’s hurricane readiness is the extent to which it actively tests, or exercises, its hurricane plan. We have reviewed all types of hurricane plans of varying complexity, detail, and length, and even the most impressive looking plans can be rendered ineffective if they haven’t been exercised, especially within the current year.
The main problem with most plans is the people responsible for implementing them. People are often the weakest link in any hurricane plan because people require regular training and practice to become proficient at most tasks, especially during the stress of a crisis or disaster. If we expect people to perform their crisis responsibilities effectively during one of the most stressful events of their lives, then we must give them the opportunity to practice these tasks, at the very least annually.
Hurricane exercises also identify plan gaps, issues, and false assumptions that refine and improve the plan and the organization’s overall readiness. Exercises improve the plan in a unique way by placing the organization, people, and plan through the many expected and unexpected impacts in a simulated and relatively stress-free environment. The improvement plan that results from these exercises allows an organization to put lessons learned into action, yielding a much higher degree of preparedness and overall readiness.
Fortunately, more organizations are making exercises an active and integral element of their overall continuity or preparedness program. Over the first half of 2016 Atlantic facilitated (or as of this writing was scheduled to facilitate) at least a dozen exercises. Following are some best practices that we have learned through this recent and prior exercise experience:
1. Just do it. Plan and schedule your exercise now before other projects or priorities get in the way. Put it on your calendar at least 6 weeks from now and start planning for it.
2. Dust off that plan. Make sure your plan is ready to be tested. Spend some time reviewing, discussing, and updating the plan in preparation for the exercise.
3. Train first. Don’t throw your people into an exercise “cold” without some training on the plan they are supposed to test. Warm them up with a thorough review of the plan, their roles and responsibilities.
4. Crawl, Walk, Run. While it may be tempting to use that worst-case scenario Category 5 hurricane for your first exercise, it probably won’t accomplish much. Set realistic objectives for each exercise and design the scenario to reasonably achieve them without excessive complexity. Exercises should begin with a relatively simple scenario and build in complexity and difficulty over time through successive exercises.
Make sure your organization is ready for this hurricane season. Schedule your hurricane exercise today using the tips listed above. If you’d like an experienced facilitator to help with your exercise, please contact us so we can partner with you in this critical best practice and leading indicator for hurricane readiness.
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