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.
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.
On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall in Charleston County, South Carolina as a Category 4 storm that forever changed the landscape and history of the Lowcountry. As we recall the details and timeline of Hugo 25 years later, it is instructive to look back and take stock of what we as a community, state, and nation have learned about preparing for these destructive storms. What exactly have we learned in the 25 years since Hugo made landfall the night of September 21, 1989?
First, we have learned the importance of heeding evacuation orders. Government officials are burdened with the responsibility of balancing the significant cost of ordering an evacuation against the risk of death and injury for a large population. When an evacuation order is declared by the Governor it is done so after carefully weighing these and other considerations. While the last evacuation declared in South Carolina was a debacle for Hurricane Floyd in 1999, state officials have completely revised the evacuation procedures for the Lowcountry over the last few years. Organizations and their employees must know the current evacuation zones, procedures, routes, and timeline to develop their hurricane plans correctly. Further, re-entry guidelines following an evacuation require planning ahead to develop and register the appropriate credentials with each County.
Second, we have learned that hurricane planning is not just a coastal issue. Hugo was a fast moving storm, blowing through the Charleston region in the middle of the night before charging inland towards Columbia and then up to Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, Hugo was still a Category 1 storm when it hit Charlotte just hours after passing through Charleston. These inland regions were caught off-guard by the strength of Hugo’s winds, and were faced with the reality of quickly reacting to a fast-moving and damaging storm without the benefit of comprehensive advanced planning for such an event. Many organizations and communities within a three hour drive of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic coastline need to include hurricane planning in their larger business continuity, emergency, and disaster plans.
Third, and most importantly, we have learned that hurricanes are long-term events. Storms like Hugo, Andrew, Katrina, and Sandy have demonstrated the lengthy recovery timeline associated with major hurricanes, as well as the false assumptions that so many organizations and residents have about returning and recovering quickly. Recovery plans are the most important component of any hurricane or emergency plan, and often times the recovery process is a mere outline or a few narrative paragraphs in these plans. After Hugo, Charleston, Columbia, Charlotte, and many other areas were without power for weeks. Now as we add to the recovery process the complexity of cellular networks, internet infrastructure, and increased populations, the recovery process is even more tenuous and complex today. Recovery needs to be a comprehensive planning process to ensure that organizations have enough detail, flexibility, and strategies to deal with these complex variables while allowing for a quick resumption of critical operations and infrastructure.
Let us pause to remember the tragedy, struggles, and stories that accompanied Hugo 25 years ago, so we can resolve to honor those who worked hard to rebuild and restore our great community by planning more effectively for the next one. Start by telling your Hugo or other disaster story in our Storm Stories contest. We are archiving a collection of these stories to develop other lessons learned and best practices. What will be your story after the next storm?
Resolve Today. Consider the three lessons learned above and review your hurricane plan with these questions in mind:
1) How closely does your plan follow the current state evacuation plan? Are you prepared to deal with an evacuation that may come as many as three days before the storm’s projected arrival? Do you have the proper credentials registered with your County to re-enter shortly after the storm passes?
2) Have you considered the inland impacts that major hurricane could have on your organization or your evacuation routes and locations?
3) Have you spent enough time developing a comprehensive recovery plan that contemplates a long-term out-of-area recovery while clean-up and rebuilding could take weeks or months?
Please contact us with any questions you may have about implementing these best practices in your organization’s plans or for a complementary review of your hurricane plan.
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.
Assessing your Hurricane Plan is a timely way to begin the 2013 Hurricane Season.
Local business owners can quickly determine if they are prepared for a hurricane by taking a short assessment developed by Atlantic’s Scott Cave.
The online assessment asks a series of simple questions covering communications, technology, operations and insurance; it then generates a preparedness score.
Participants also receive a report of the results, which can be used as a starting point for developing or improving a business continuity plan. A complimentary review of the results with a certified professional will provide specific actions that a business can take to improve their readiness for Hurricane Season.
According to FEMA, 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a disaster, which is why it is critical to ensure a plan is in place before something goes wrong.
“The beginning of the 2013 Hurricane Season is a great time to take this 5-minute assessment,” says Cave. “The results will empower a business owner with an understanding of their current preparedness status and the areas that need improvement.”
The Hurricane Preparedness Self-Assessment can be found at www.AtlanticPrep.com/223-2.