Hurricane Irma is now a one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. A storm this powerful bears careful watch and planning now for its impacts. With the ongoing uncertainty of the path and impact area in the United States, it is important for organizations along the Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina coastlines to start implementing their hurricane plans immediately. Following are ten tips to consider in your preparations:
- Make hotel reservations now. Hotels are already booked with reservations for this weekend and next week, as residents and businesses from several states are planning for a potential evacuation. Know your destination, your route, and your accommodation reservations. Don’t wait any longer; make your reservations now and encourage your staff to do the same.
- Identify your evacuation zone and route. Evacuation orders could be issued several days before potential impacts from the hurricane. Use the following information to identify your evacuation zone and route. Once the evacuation order is given, you may no longer have a choice of your evacuation route, so evacuate early if you want to be sure that you can travel the route of your choice.
- Develop a Communications Plan. Talk to your staff about their plans now and make sure you know where they plan to go and how you can stay in touch with them. Develop a regular daily schedule for briefings or updates to your staff, customers, and other stakeholders. Identify conference call lines, email distribution lists, alternate methods of communication if needed.
- Identify critical items for evacuation. Make sure each staff member develops a short list of critical items that are essential to performing their job. Then develop a packing list so everyone knows what they are taking with them during an evacuation to perform their job remotely.
- Follow local emergency information. In South Carolina, our state and county emergency management use Operating Conditions, or OPCONs, to identify the current status of their emergency operations. OPCON 5 is normal (good), and OPCON 1 is full operations (bad). For a hurricane in South Carolina, OPCON 1 generally means that an evacuation order has been issued by our Governor. You can follow OPCON and other emergency announcements on Twitter from these agencies (also sign up for emergency alerts at website listed in parentheses where available):
- Confirm re-entry process. Once an evacuation order is issued, a separate process known as re-entry is implemented in phases to return residents, workers, etc. back into the evacuated area. This process varies by jurisdiction, so check with your local government on their exact process for credentials and procedures. Following are some local links:
- Ensure technology availability. Make sure your IT systems, including computers, software, data, communications, internet, etc. are all prepared for an extended evacuation. Verify that your staff knows how to access these systems and use them productively while remote for an extended time. Work with your IT partners and vendors to make sure these systems are resilient and ready with a back-up plan if needed.
- Confirm insurance claim process. Make sure you know the process to follow if an insurance claim is required. Get all the proper documentation in order now so it is ready when needed, including policy information, contact numbers, video and photographic documentation, asset lists and values, financial information, etc.
- Prepare your home and family. Don’t forget that all disasters are personal, and you need to personally prepare yourself, your home, and your family. This includes boarding up windows and protecting garage doors, gathering important insurance documents, taking video of your home and contents, filling prescriptions, making hotel reservations for family members and pets, getting emergency supplies ready, etc.
- Prepare for the worst. This isn’t hype or fear mongering, but emergency and disaster plans need to be based on the worst case scenario so that you aren’t caught by surprise when things head south quickly. So prepare for the worst in this storm, including a direct landfall near your location, extended and prolonged evacuation, utility disruptions, personal impacts to your home and family, etc.
Overwhelmed, stressed, or confused? We’re here to help. Contact us for assistance before or after the storm. We will all get through this together.
Start Planning Now for a Better Recovery
Hurricane Season is upon us, and the predictions and forecasts are generating many of the same questions in recent years:
Will we see El Niño this year, which may inhibit hurricane activity in the Atlantic?
How warm will the tropics be this year, and what will that mean for hurricane intensity?
These and many other hurricane questions are often difficult to answer accurately and confidently, even by the experts. However there is one question with a simple and certain answer.
When should you start planning for Hurricane Season? Now.
Hurricane Season begins June 1 and runs through November 30.
Although most of the powerful hurricanes generally occur between August and October, we have seen tropical systems appear earlier and sometimes even before the official June 1 start of the season. The reality is that we never know when and where these systems will form, so best practice is to have your organization’s plan ready to go by June 1.
When you consider the difficultly in completing this type of planning during the summer months with vacation schedules and other competing priorities, the best time for most organizations to complete their hurricane planning is in May or June.
We have reviewed many hurricane plans from a variety of organizations, businesses, and municipalities over the years, and have seen first-hand where most of these plans fall short. Following are three of the most common issues we see in hurricane plans that could lead to a poor or lengthy recovery from the next storm.
Does your Hurricane Plan suffer from any of the following issues?
1) Detailed preparation but vague recovery
Most hurricane plans we review fall into this trap. The plan may have 20 pages of detail covering the actions to be performed leading up to the hurricane, but only one or two pages of actions after the hurricane. The preparatory steps are important, but the recovery steps are even more important. The purpose of your plan should be a quick and effective recovery, so don’t skimp on this section of your plan.
2) Assumption of immediate return
Many hurricane plans assume that everyone will be able to return to their office, business, and homes very soon after the hurricane passes. Unfortunately, the failure to plan for lengthy evacuations can lead to disastrous results, and these stories have been told repeatedly after Katrina and Sandy. Make sure your plan anticipates the need to establish temporary office and housing inland for extended periods of time.
3) Limited or no alternate communications
Most of the plans we review do not have adequate redundancy for communication systems. After life safety, communications is the top priority for any organization following a hurricane or any other disaster. It is an all too common, but faulty assumption that standard landline, cellular, or internet access will be available following a significant regional disaster like a hurricane. Plans must account for the need for alternate communications to your employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders.
We will cover additional hurricane planning tips in future articles. Please share your questions about your hurricane plan so we can address those as well.
Now is the time to start, review, or update your Hurricane Plan. Start by taking our Readiness Assessment to benchmark your organizational readiness for hurricanes and other disasters. Then contact us for a complementary review or your Hurricane Plan by one of our certified experts.
We are now in the peak activity period, which runs from mid-August to mid-October, for this year’s hurricane season. Well-prepared organizations at this point should have all of their annual preparation tasks completed, while making the switch from planning and preparedness to readiness for any storms that may develop through the season’s end on November 30. What remaining challenges do you still face with your hurricane plan? Following is a short list of challenges we have seen recently, and how to overcome them.
Time and again the most common problem we see in hurricane plans is the lack of a detailed recovery section. Our recent workshops in Georgetown and Summerville confirmed that many organizations do a decent job of planning for all the tasks to be performed before the hurricane, but have few details in the recovery section after the hurricane passes. Remember this important concept: the reason for developing a plan is to minimize downtime and chaos and maximize your chances for a quick and effective recovery. Therefore the recovery section of your hurricane plan needs to be the focus of your efforts, and should include as much, if not more, detail as your tasks leading up to the hurricane. Focus on all the issues surrounding damage assessment, clean-up and repairs, and long-term recovery while keeping your critical functions up and running.
Another challenge that we see almost nearly as often is the lack of planning for a lengthy evacuation. Many hurricane plans do not account for the possibility of not returning to your main location for weeks or longer. Consider the impact on your employees, vendors, customers, communications, operations, facilities, etc. if you could not return to your main location for several weeks or longer. Then focus on the actions that you can take in each of these areas to accommodate that reality.
Finally, the question of when to evacuate is often a stumbling block for many organizations. While your plan should allow for some flexibility on evacuation timing given the unique circumstances of each storm, we generally do not recommend waiting for a declared evacuation order from the Governor. Most organizations will lose valuable time and the ability to maintain operational continuity if they wait for a declared evacuation order. The best practice is to evacuate key personnel or an advance team early, as many as 3 – 4 days before the expected arrival of the storm. This allows for a group of people to establish remote operations and communications before the declared evacuation, when most other people will be caught in last minute preparations and traffic.
Consider these three areas in your hurricane plan, and ask the following questions when reviewing your plan:
Does our plan have more detail for response (before landfall) than recovery (after landfall)?
Do we have a sufficient plan to address all of the issues we expect to face if we can’t return for several weeks or longer after an evacuation?
Who can we send on an early evacuation trip to establish remote communications and operations to minimize our operational downtime when a declared evacuation is ordered?
The answers to these questions should help improve your hurricane plan and position your organization for hurricane readiness and not just preparedness. If you need help in any of your planning efforts, please contact us. We look forward to the challenge of moving organizations from preparedness to readiness.
Tropical Storm Arthur formed off Florida’s coast last night and provides an early season test for Hurricane Plans in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Hurricane planning requires advanced preparedness in many different areas and should begin before the season starts on June 1 to ensure that an organization is ready for these storms whenever they occur. Following are some actions that every organization should be implementing now in response to Arthur:
1) Update emergency contact information. Make sure you have current emergency contact information for all employees, critical vendors and suppliers, and customers or other stakeholders.
2) Test back-up systems. Test any back-up systems such as generators, communications. IT systems, etc.
3) Verify alternate locations. If you must evacuate, or if the storm damages your primary location, make sure you know where you will go and what you will bring to recover operations from an alternate location. Consider locations that are nearby and distant so you have options depending on the extent of local vs. regional damage.
4) Talk to key people. Discuss your plans with key employees, vendors, customers, and other stakeholders to ensure that their plans support or agree with your organizational plan.
5) Review financial plan. Check your insurance policies, documentation required for a claim, bank information, lines of credit, and other financial documentation to support your organization if the storm damages your assets or impacts your operations.
Remember that hurricanes are a unique threat because they offer plenty of warning before landfall. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity that hurricanes offer to start implementing these preparedness actions today while the winds are calm. Our Readiness Assessment will help you benchmark your organization’s plan against our best practices, while providing valuable recommendations for improving your planning efforts. Please contact us for more information if you need any help preparing your organization today.