Key Considerations for Disaster Planning

Josh Ward


May 1, 2019

A February study in the journal Nature Communications revealed that hurricanes are strengthening more quickly because of climate change and other factors. This “rapid intensification” is most vividly illustrated when an average storm becomes a major hurricane seemingly overnight, as was seen with Hurricane Harvey, which flooded the Houston metro area in 2017, and Hurricane Michael, which flattened parts of the Florida panhandle in 2018. According to the study, these types of storms may be the new norm.

Larger storms mean bigger headaches for businesses and their employees. Meticulous disaster response planning has therefore never been more important. When developing a plan, it is important to involve key stakeholders and review every step that your business, your network and your vendors must take if a natural catastrophe impedes operations.

Before Disaster Strikes: How to Prepare for Natural Catastrophes
How does an organization ensure it is prepared to minimize losses and recover quickly following a natural disaster? Long before a disaster strikes and property damage occurs, the best response plans begin with careful negotiation and placement of well-defined property coverage. Read more in Before Disaster Strikes: How to Prepare for Natural Catastrophes.

A strong plan should address these key questions:

How do I know if a storm will affect my business?

If you use any predictive analytics software, configure it to give your business the knowledge you need as a storm nears. Use data to determine which locations, vendors, customers and employees may be impacted. Then, develop a plan to contact them before the storm strikes. Be proactive—do not wait for them to contact you.

How do I keep my employees safe?

This is the most important consideration for all risk managers. It is essential to give employees the time they need to prepare. Encourage them to have a personal family response plan. Give them time to board up the windows of their homes and protect their belongings. Ask them to evacuate if they are in the storm’s path. People may want to stay to protect their house, but they need to understand that they do so at the risk of their own safety. Even if their house is not ultimately affected, they may not be prepared for the long-term effects of not having power, clean water or fresh food. In the wake of a disaster, giving employees proper time to recover is not just about any storm damage they may suffer, but also the emotional toll.

How do I secure client and employee data?

While many businesses store data in the cloud today, others keep data on physical servers or paper files. Make plans to move your data to a safe location prior to a storm, potentially including moving computers or paper files off-site. The same may also be necessary for any expensive inventory, such as cars, trucks or machinery.

How will I repair damage to my facility?

Construction and restoration services are in high demand after a storm. Choose such vendors now and develop a relationship with them so they are ready to respond. Ask them to participate in any drills to ensure they are familiar with your facility and your operations.

How do I keep the supply chain moving?

Even if your business’s physical location is not impacted by a storm, its supply chain may be. Talk with your vendors and ask about their plans to keep goods moving in the event of a natural disaster. Also, consider whether you can have vital supplies moved out of harm’s way and closer to your business prior to a hurricane.

How do I communicate with my employees, vendors and insurers?

Use every communication channel available, including your company’s website and social media pages. Continually share updated contact information. Insurance brokers may even want clients to call their carrier directly after the storm. No matter your line of business, make sure you have the technology in place to transfer phone calls from an affected facility to a satellite location, whether it is another facility in another part of the country, an off-shore facility, a hotel room, a home or another temporary location.

How do I keep business running?

Consider outside resources to help maintain operations. If you use business outsourcing management partners, ask for their help as they should be able to offer services such as customer support assistance. Partnerships with outsourcing partners can help to relieve your burden and keep customers satisfied.

How do I refine the plan?

Once business is back to normal, set up an after-action committee meeting. Review your successes and failures, reflect upon the issues you did not anticipate and strengthen the plan to respond more effectively in the event of another disaster.
Josh Ward, CPCU, CLU, is the commercial lines supervisor for ReSource Pro.