September is National Preparedness Month, a time to encourage and remind individuals, business, and communities to be prepared in the event of disasters and emergencies.
Courtland Keith, Vice President of Cross Industry for StormGeo, a 24/7 weather intelligence service, offered the following thoughts on how entities can best prepare weatherwise when Mother Nature strikes.
Question: Regardless of geography, what are some general strategies businesses can put into place prior to a severe weather event?
Answer: Having a response plan in place is the most important thing. Severe weather action plans address the types of weather that threaten your location(s), as well as the appropriate steps to take before, during and after a storm. About 50% of businesses that we encounter have very generic plans that aren’t as extensive as they should be, but they’ve been lucky to not yet be impacted. If you have a lot of locations across different regions, your response plan should be more robust to address a wider variety of severe weather.
To help develop the plan, we recommend that you conduct a full circle vulnerability risk assessment for your organization’s assets well before the expected weather impact seasons. This will allow you to create a more detailed, step-by-step plan for all the identified risks associated with your asset. It also ensures that you don’t overlook potential impacts, especially if you are in charge of developing plans for multiple regions. It is better to be prepare for all possibilities at your locations than to keep things generic and allow room for unexpected failures in your plan.
The second most crucial aspect to response planning is to hold a drill on that plan every year to familiarize your personnel on procedures. Everyone should know the part they play to keep themselves safe and help continue operations if possible.
Question: What are some tools businesses and organizations can leverage to help manage before, during, and after a severe weather event?
Answer: Establish a network of resources, both public and private, that will ensure you have the best information to make decisions. Public resources include national and local government. Private resources include a professional weather service that can provide a reliable source of weather data and alerts customized to your business. Internally, you may want to establish an Incident Management Team, who will be responsible for deploying an adequate response to incidents, including severe weather. You may also need a critical alerting system for crisis communications to all employees.
Question: What advice do you give businesses and organizations on how to communicate during a natural disaster? Are there some best practices you would recommend?
Answer: It’s important to keep communications factual and succinct – describe the event, explain what employees can expect from your company, let your employees know what the company expects from them, tell them where they can get more information and when they should expect the next communication.
Make sure all employees are familiar with the set-up. Send tests at least 1-2 times a year to ensure all employees receive the notification. It’s also good to have more than one type of communication, i.e. email, automated voice message, text message, etc.
It’s also critical to define the ‘incident objective,’ or what your main goal is in this severe weather event. If the goal is to safely shut down operations and send everyone home to reduce safety risks, your actions are going to be very different than if the goal is to maintain operations during the weather event. Defining this enables all key parties to be aware of what the situation is, what the plan is, and what their role will be in ensuring that objective.
Question: What is the difference between a weather warning and a watch? Are the preparation steps businesses need to take different for each?
Answer: A WeatherWatch is similar to our Threat IDs but shorter term, meaning that the conditions are favorable for a certain type of weather. It’s good to pay attention to these types of forecasts and alerts, and you may want to familiarize yourself with your response plan. With most plans, there’s no need to take action at that point, but If you have any preparations that need to be taken care of before you are called to action, this would be the time to do so.
A Weather Warning is an alert when severe weather is in your area or imminent. This should be taken seriously. Once a warning is received, you should start taking action with your incident response team, considering the location, type of threat and the response parameters set in the plan.
Question: After a weather event is over, what are some steps businesses and organizations can take to respond and pick up the pieces?
Answer: The first step to recovering after any storm is checking on the safety of your employees and assessing your facilities. Then, ask yourself these two crucial questions:
- How will the business continue to function immediately after the storm?
- How will you communicate with staff and vendors when power and communication may be down for weeks or months after a storm?
To answer these questions, you’ll need to conduct a damage assessment of your location(s). Evaluate what your loss of functions are from any direct or indirect damage. You can then make a list of where your priorities are and create a plan of how those functions will be temporarily maintained.
If necessary, make sure your employees have a safe location off-site to continue any vital operations. If substantial damage has been done to a location, you’ll need a Phased Return to Work plan that helps outline the road to recovery, which may include finding a longer-term alternate work location.
While utility crews can often restore power to some areas a few days after a storm, it can also take weeks or longer for power to be fully restored everywhere. To continue operations, consider a diesel generator.
Question: What considerations should be made when including external resources in your response plan?
Answer: Considerations for outside resources are two-pronged:
- What resources and vendors will you need to be fully prepared for each type of weather event?
- What are contingency plans do your resources or vendors have in place to effectively support you in the event they are also conducting their own disaster response for their organization?
These questions need to be considered and fully vetted when developing your response plan, not during the event, and clearly described in your plan. The Incident Management Team is responsible for carrying out these operations, so they need to be well aware of how your external resources will act. The resources you choose to rely on during an event can make or break your response. You need to be confident they will be a source of reliable support, not an additional headache, as you are busy working through your response.
As a trained meteorologist, Courtland combines a background of interpreting the weather with the experience of counseling businesses across all industries, including manufacturing, health care, and telecommunications.