Non-coastal businesses may not feel they are at significant risk during hurricane season; but, as recent history demonstrates, the effect of coastal hurricanes can impact inland businesses. Therefore, it is recommended all businesses develop a hurricane emergency preparedness plan for the consequences of any hurricane.
In October last year, Forbes published an article focusing on the impact Hurricane Michael had on inland businesses in Georgia. Primarily discussing the devastation to the state´s agriculture industry, the author noted that, while slow moving hurricanes produce intense rainfall, the damage caused by faster-moving hurricanes such as Hurricane Michael is primarily attributable to high winds.
Non-agricultural businesses in Georgia also experienced notable devastation. With wind speeds in Albany, GA, - 150 miles from where Hurricane Michael made landfall - reaching 74 miles per hour, power outages affected almost 25,000 customers and more than 100 roads were blocked by fallen trees and debris. Throughout the state, more than 400,000 customers were left without power
As the hurricane moved North East, the devastation continued. Hurricane Michael wiped out power supplies to half a million customers in North Carolina, closed 1,200 roads in Virginia, and - as it slowed in speed - produced severe flooding in Maryland. However, it was not only the direct consequences of the hurricane that were devastating, but also the indirect consequences.
The Indirect Consequences of Hurricanes
The indirect consequences of hurricanes affect practically every business in the country. While businesses in the midst of a storm suffer from power outages, structural damage, and flooding (which can also impact employees' ability to report for work), those outside its reach can also experience travel, transportation, and supply chain issues. Product and fuel shortages can also result in higher prices.
In these circumstances, businesses that are better prepared for the direct and indirect consequences of hurricanes will not experience such significant disruptions due to port closures, flight cancellations, or road closures. Furthermore, with many employees having the capability to work remotely, prepared businesses are better able to coordinate workflows and maintain operations.
Ready.gov advocates businesses prepare an all-hazards emergency plan based on a risk-assessment and - on its risk assessment web page - includes resources business can use to determine the likelihood of natural hazards such as hurricanes. However, these resources do not account for the indirect consequences of a hurricane - so businesses need to take these into account as well.
What Should a Hurricane Emergency Plan Consist Of?
Different businesses in different locations will have different levels of exposure to the direct and indirect consequences of a hurricane, but there are several considerations that should be included in every hurricane emergency preparedness plan.
Disaster Recover for Data and IT Systems
This consideration will be of greater importance for businesses in the direct line of a hurricane; but as hurricanes are getting stronger and reaching further inland than before, businesses outside of historical risk zones should also consider how data and IT systems would be impacted in the event of a hurricane.
Businesses should liaise with local emergency management officials when developing emergency evacuation plans to avoid gridlocking community evacuation routes and routes used by emergency services. The plan should also take into consideration employees´ special needs.
Emergency Business Supplies
In the event of it not being possible to evacuate the workplace before a hurricane strikes, businesses should stock up on water, non-perishable food, and medical equipment. It is also recommended to invest in an electricity generator and enough fuel to provide power for at least three days.
Whereas some emergency planning authorities recommend reviewing insurance policies, insurance cannot restore market share, brand equity, or shareholder value in the event the business is unable to operate for a period of time. Investigate remote working as a way to keep the business running.
A Good Communications System is Essential
With the likelihood of power outages affecting cell phone services, it is essential a good communications system is implemented that works across multiple channels to keep in touch with employees, emergency management officials, customers, and vendors.
Further Advice on Hurricane Emergency Preparedness
This year, an above-average number of hurricanes is forecast with above-average levels of intensity. Although none are expected to be as devastating as Hurricane Michael, it is impossible to be 100% certain. To mitigate the direct and indirect consequences of a major hurricane - or any adverse weather event - businesses should conduct a risk assessment with focus on disaster recovery, business continuity, and communication plans to see if it could cope with an event on the scale of Hurricane Michael.
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