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Is Your Business Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

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With natural calamities now regularly impacting nearly every state, there's little escape from the destruction. For construction business owners of all stripes, these weather events pose a double challenge—recovering the business and recovering the projects.

You're in the minority if you don't have any plans for recovering from severe weather events, but it's a big minority. In fact, over a third of small businesses say they don't have any plans for dealing with the fallout of a natural disaster, according to a joint study by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife.

From 2013 through 2014, 60 percent of businesses had to activate backup plans to keep running in the wake of severe weather. 

Flooding, in particular, is occurring increasingly more often. A new study found that 41 million people live and work in flood zones. That's three times the number previously estimated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It's not just storm or tidal surges that deliver damaging effects—accompanying waves beat structures into the ground. 

Even if your business is a long way from the coast, there's literally nowhere safe from severe weather. River flooding, tornadoes, lightning, severe heat, freezing temperatures, power outages, solar flares, high winds, and drought are all things for which you can prepare beforehand. Here's how.

List the Threats

Start by considering the natural disaster events your business might face. For many companies, this means involving people from across the business to assess the threats they see affecting their work. Remember, according to the Global Business Continuity Management Program Benchmarking study by KPMG, severe weather is the new normal. From 2013 through 2014, 60 percent of businesses had to activate backup plans to keep running in the wake of severe weather. What were they responding to?

  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Earthquake
  • Power Outage
  • Hurricane
  • Tornado
  • High Winds
  • Cold Weather
  • Hot Weather

Cause and Effect

Next, you need to brainstorm all the effects each weather event might have on all aspects of the business. For construction companies, you additionally need to assess the impact on projects that are underway. Even if the severe weather hits your home office but spares your project, the disruption to your core processes is still likely to affect the project. Here are consequences you might face.

  • Lost or unavailable resources and assets
  • Resources and assets not working
  • Financial compromise from unavailable information systems
  • Operational compromise from loss of control
  • Legal compromise from disputes and delays
  • Negative effects on customers
  • Threats to your reputation

Pay particular attention to threats that will snowball, spilling into other areas of the business. For example, severe cold can cause freeze ups in water lines, but it also increases potential equipment downtime. It's very important to make a deep assessment of each threat.

Create a Recovery Strategy

Now that you know the threats and consequences, you should be able to assign priorities to your recovery efforts. Top of the list will always be the physical security of people followed by business asset security. If heavy winds rip apart a new roof on a project, you'll want to move quickly to minimize further structural damage once everyone is safe. These are the kinds of plans that really pay off when chaos reigns—people tend to respond faster when their responses are based on scenarios for which they've prepared.

An integral part of your recovery strategy involves keeping people safe. Make sure people understand how to shelter-in-place, the procedures to follow when evacuating, and how to respond to medical emergencies.

Establish a Notification System

An emergency mass notification system will help you quickly get in touch and stay in touch with your people and stakeholders during an emergency. These systems streamline your record keeping for human resources by constantly validating contact information. They also serve as a communication venue during inclement weather. They make it possible for you to selectively notify people based on the threat and its location. 

During severe weather, you might need to notify utility companies, FEMA, the Red Cross and first responders to help coordinate larger recovery efforts. Don’t forget to include them in your notification system as well.

Test and Train

You'll have people assigned to specific roles for recovery. Some should focus on aspects of active projects; others should concentrate on overall employee and business asset safety and security. Once assigned, it's a good idea to train everyone and practice threat scenarios regularly. The more often people practice, the better their responses. Testing your plan will also quickly show you the areas where it is not functioning as it should.

Testing your plan will also quickly show you the areas where it is not functioning as it should. 

Try to set regular training events, Don't forget to train alternate people for each recovery role. Building redundancy into your plans is important as emergencies have a way of upsetting your best-laid plans.

Business resilience also requires you to assess and plan for many other types of business disruption events that may come out of the blue. Cyber attacks, active shooter, civil unrest, data loss, privacy hacks, attacks on your reputation and terrorist attacks are all parts of the threat landscape you face. 

You always hope you’ll never need to activate your recovery plans, so what's the payoff then? Besides securing your people and your business, a good plan also becomes a critical point of differentiation that owners are increasingly demanding.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars that you may enjoy:

Stay Ahead of Risk

The Power of Safe Choices: Building a Safety Culture

What to Do When Projects Go Bad


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