Reflecting on Harvey and Planning for Irma – Steps Everyone Should Take to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

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Damages from Hurricane Matthew, October 2016

Fallen tree in Charleston, SC post-Hurricane Matthew – October 2016

Update (September 7, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. ET): Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has issued mandatory evacuation order for city of Savannah, other coastal areas, starting Saturday, September 9, 2017.

Update (September 6, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. ET): Gov. Henry McMaster Asks South Carolinians to Prepare for Hurricane Irma, Declares State of Emergency

No one wants to think after a natural disaster, “I should have done this,” or, “I should have done that.” Preparing and planning for disaster before one hits will allow focus to be shifted to implementing evacuation procedures, sheltering in place and tending to employees.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have witnessed the damage Hurricane Harvey has wreaked on Houston and the surrounding areas. We are now closely watching as Hurricane Irma poses threats to the eastern coast of the States. Florida officials have issued a state of emergency encouraging citizens and businesses to evacuate ahead of the storm. Neighboring states await to learn the path Irma will take, but that doesn’t mean preparation should be delayed. The threat of a natural disaster is not out of the scope of crises to strike an organization, regardless of physical location. Whether it be a hurricane, tornado, fire or flood, no business is immune.

Recently, we surveyed organizations and asked which crisis event was the number one concern for their organization. Nearly one in four indicated natural disaster devastation. The media frequently covers natural disasters and therefore, creates an awareness. Natural disasters disrupt businesses, close schools, block highways and destroy homes.

Visit the National Hurricane Center for the most up-to-date information regarding hurricanes.

Another concern of organizations are loss of life events (6 percent). As the death toll from Hurricane Harvey increases and we remember previous storms like Katrina, Hugo and Sandy, we are reminded that fatalities occur during disasters. The Red Cross states more than 20,000 disasters occur annually in the United States. Combining the loss of life slice to the natural disaster slice of the chart represents 30 percent of organizations polled. Thirty percent is a significant component.

Take a moment to think about the impacts natural disasters have had on organizations exactly like yours. Then, ask the more important question: Could you handle one?

During the Disaster Planning Process, What Should be the Point of Focus?

The three points of focus during the planning process include: loss of a facility, loss of people and loss of information and data. A plan must clearly address priorities and actions to take during a crisis.

Every organization must:

  • Establish a formal crisis management program structure in advance to evaluate threats and impacts;
  • Create an open-source intelligence network (includes analysis of traditional and new media) to monitor developing events;
  • Document and test a critical decision structure;
  • Develop the appropriate crisis response strategies and crisis communications for known likely events that can be leveraged in an unplanned crisis.

Firestorm has often said ‘family trumps job.’ In the case of natural disasters, how accurate is this statement?

Regardless of the disaster, we cannot forget that every crisis is a human crisis. Business executives and school administrators must understand that employees’ primary focus will be families. Having a generator at home is a great start to home preparedness because power outages are common during ice storms, snow storms, thunder showers, heavy winds, tornadoes and hurricanes. When a significant event occurs, people are going to find a way to reunite with their families. This proves difficult, especially if roadways are damaged. Highways, bridges and roads were destroyed during and after Hurricane Harvey, making travel incredibly difficult. How would you run your business if employees physically could not commute to work?

Related: Download the Brief – Natural Disasters and Preparedness

Would your organization be able to continue its core operations remotely (from home)?

If employees can work from home, are there any special requirements like working under a secure internet connection, for example. Have employees been administered company-approved devices to work from when not in the office? Have you established a secondary office location if your own is compromised by a disaster? Our friends at Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible workplaces, have opened their business lounges at hundreds of locations across the U.S., including Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, to companies and entrepreneurs displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Those affected by the storm can drop in and work from any Regus lounge during standard business hours. Business professionals can get back online with internet access and charge their devices in order to minimize business interruption and downtime. Complimentary lounge access to the Regus locations will be available for as long as needed; Monday through Friday during normal business hours. ​​Establishing a relationship with an organization like Regus will prove beneficial during times of disaster. If you are in need of office space, download the Regus app, visit, or call 1-800-633-4237 and press option 3 to access a list of locations.

What should you do to prepare for a hurricane?

FEMA Officials Survey Damage on Highway A1A near St Johns county. Photo by Eileen Lainez – Oct 10, 2016

Dr. Robert C. Chandler, Firestorm Principal and former Florida resident, provides key takeaways for hurricane preparedness.

  • Create a hurricane preparedness plan.
  • Ask the right questions and be prepared – including assessing your risks:
    • What needs to be done in advance in order to be prepared?
    • Who is responsible for doing each of these things?
    • What resources as needed to accomplish these tasks?
    • Does everyone know and understand the plan and their role/responsibilities?
  • What needs to be done when the plan is activated before, during and after a storm?
    • Where do I go?
    • What do I do? – What needs to be done? Who is responsible for doing it?
    • When does it need to be done? How?
    • How will I know our status or what new development require adjustment in our plan?
  • Have a communication plan that enables you to implement your hurricane plan and keep everyone informed and coordinated.
  • Test and Revise the plans periodically.
  • Assess your readiness and inform, educate and train all of your key people.

The most important first step is to identify your hurricane risk. Is your business located in an evacuation or flood zone? What are the dangers from storm surge flooding? Where would you go if you were forced to evacuate. How would you continue to function and sustain operations? Have you anticipated power and utilities outages? What steps can be taken to mitigate damage to facilities and equipment? When would you activate your plan? Does everyone know the plan and his or her role for implementing it? You must have a detailed communication plan to ensure that you are able to stay in touch with employees, officials, customers, vendors, suppliers, and members of the community. You should also have each employee establish a family hurricane plan and a family communication plan in case you are not together when you need to evacuate.

An appropriate hurricane preparedness/disaster safety plan should be developed to help ensure employees’, customers’ and partners’ as well as individual’s and a family’s safety. A disaster safety plan is a comprehensive plan that identifies all of the steps needed to take before, during, and after a disaster to ensure maximum safety, business operations and property protection.

There are many resources available to assist you in developing a hurricane preparedness plan for your business, home or group. For a basic general guide on creating a disaster plan please see Florida’s “Get a Plan” guide. (To learn more visit the State of Florida Get a Plan Website). Outside of Florida you may want to visit your State Emergency Management Agency websites for disaster plan templates that may be more suited to a local area. To find your local Emergency Management Office click here. Learn how to better prepare your home and business for disaster by downloading the free book: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America.

Related Articles:

Assessing the Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew – The Importance of Home and Workplace Preparedness

Hurricane Matthew – a Firestorm Team Pictorial

Preparing for Hurricane Season with the Lessons of Sandy

Hurricane Hugo: 25 Years of Recovery


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