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May 12, 2014

Each year, hurricanes pose a great threat to businesses and people along coastal regions. The apprehension begins as weather channels discuss the name of tropical storms that form at sea. At the start, radar shows the storms far out to sea and posing no threat. However, will one of these tropical storms turn into the next hurricane to come ashore? This is a question that is constantly on the minds of individuals and businesses located in the potential storm’s path. Quickly the scene changes and radar shows a large cloud mass rotating out from the feared eye of the storm. The hurricane is projected to make ground fall the following day and the projected winds are over 100 mph. Your company, with hundreds of employees, is located right in the midst of it. What do you do?


Prepare Ahead

The best response to an approaching hurricane is advanced preparations. Like any emergency situation, waiting until the last minute can be detrimental. History shows we make some of our worst decisions in the midst of a crisis. The National Weather Service published it's "Tropical Cyclones Preparedness Guide, " which lists many things businesses and people can do to prepare for a hurricane. While that is a good start, we recommend a crisis management plan, which includes the very important emergency response plan, as a critical document that leads a business through an emergency situation from beginning to end.


Crisis Management Plan

A crisis management plan outlines all the necessary measures, and who is responsible for them, in the event of an emergency. It is a document that must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. From communication methods to per-established checklists and reporting criteria, the document will lay out how responses should unfold in a state of emergency. Different individuals within the company will have different degrees of responsibilities, and subsequently, knowledge of the plan. However, everyone at a company should have a basic understanding of the protocol in place in an emergency situation. Furthermore, as previously discussed, practicing for disasters is also essential using drills and tabletop exercises. Nevertheless, for businesses located within an area of hurricane threat, a weather service and alerting process will be the first measure in a line of defense against approaching danger. This will help a business to make the decision on when to activate its crisis management and emergency response plans.


A Best-in-Class Weather Service

A weather service that provides customized alerts, such as the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Center, will give you one thing that is desperately needed during a hurricane: time to prepare. Through notification methods of your choosing, such as faxes, emails, or even text message alerts, a weather service will notify and keep you up to data on storm projections and warnings while maintaining updates during a storm. For example, a business may consider being alerted any time a storm passes within a certain distance of the business location. Being aware of weather patterns and threats will leave you ready to initiate other steps within the crisis management plan as it becomes needed. Any company concerned about hurricanes and other frequent natural disasters can be alerted by Pinkerton’s Intelligence Alerting service. In addition to weather threat warnings, the service lets companies know about travel, health, crime and other warnings related to weather incidents.


Coordinate with Local Jurisdiction and Other Businesses

During a disaster, national, state and local law enforcement and fire officials will be part of a regional Emergency Response Coordinating Team (ERCT) that will respond during a high risk hurricane. It is important that you know these organizations and even more essential to identify emergency contacts within them. Having someone who knows your business and can communicate critical information to you is important. Additionally, know their plans. For example, is there a school or hospital near you and does it get precedence in evacuation procedures? If so, response time to your location may be delayed. Find out what other organizations and businesses will be helped before yours so that you can determine your course of action until help arrives. It is wise to pre-establish mutual assistance plans with other businesses and also pre-establish relationships with vendors who can supply recovery related services.  You want to have an agreement that makes you contractually a top priority. Pre-Plan Storm Mitigation Measures It is wise to have, as a part of your Crisis Management Plan, steps that you initiate before a storm strikes.  This includes checking supplies and stocks that might be needed to ensure you are prepared.  It includes moving supplies and equipment to lessen the threats if high winds might blow items around the area and cause more damage or threats to employees.  It might include moving materials, equipment and files out of basements or ground floor sites if flooding were a possibility.  It might also include boarding up or placing hurricane shutters on doors and windows.


Have Resources in Order

There are a number of supplies and resources that should be on hand ahead of time for an emergency situation. It is important for your company, and also your employees, to be prepared. We recommend having the following pre-planned and available both for a business and all its employees: Businesses:

  • Emergency Communication Plan (use a telephone tree [cellular and landline], social media methods and email, text messages and have key addresses so if all electronic communications methods are down you can still contact employees and key elements by motor vehicle, bicycle or on foot if necessary)
  • Evacuation Plan
  • Transportation arrangements
  •  or de-humidifying
  • Refuge/Shelter locations
  • Sanitation capability
  • Back-up electric power source/generators
  • First aid materials
  • Battery powered light sources
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Drinking water
  • Plastic sheets, nails, hammers, tape, plywood
  • Sandbags if flooding is a potential issue

Employees:

  • Non-perishable foods
  • Drinking water supply
  • Appropriate clothing
  • Batteries and battery powered lights
  • Evacuation plan for family
  • Sanitation facilities

If evacuation is necessary, know the location of a well-configured and stocked emergency response center and know authorized emergency evacuation routes. Additionally, have an alternate emergency response center in mind with similar configurations and stock in case the first choice is unreachable or non-functioning.


Business Resumption and Contingent Security Plan

Once the hurricane has passed and a level of calm is restored to the area, a business resumption and contingent security plan will lead the way towards communicating priorities, assessing damage, coordinating necessary repairs, and, if necessary, finding an alternative work location. Depending on the level of damage, recovering from a hurricane and other natural disasters can be a time and resource heavy process. If there are valuable resources in the business that could be looted, it is important to plan, in advance, on enhanced security support.  There is no way to definitely predict the severity of the storm and the damage it will cause. Be prepared for the worst and feel secure knowing you have in place all the necessary measures to keep your business and its employees safe and secure. 

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