Summer is Coming – Ready or Not

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I am already dreading the approach of summer.  For me it means hot, sticky, bad hair days and my umbrella is never where I need it.  The other bad news about summer is it marks the beginning of hurricane season.  As Hurricane Andrew survivors, my husband and I spend June preparing for a stormy August and September.  Now is the time to review your hurricane and disaster plans for your office.  There are four key components for an effective disaster plan:  1) planning  2) communication before, during and after the storm 3) supplies and 4) business continuity and contingency alternatives .

Planning

A written plan provides a “go to” resource for your employees, vendors and clients.  To prepare a workable plan, you need to know what will happen to your office building in the event of a storm.   The majority of office buildings close up once a hurricane warning is posted.  This means the building management shuts down your air-conditioning and parks the elevator on the second or third floor.  They do this to protect the building’s infrastructure.  Check with your building for their procedures and plans including security before, during and after the storm.  Consider emptying the office refrigerator prior to closing the office.  Also, CLOSE all office doors.  This simple act can actually help limit damage if a window breaks.  Unplug your equipment to avoid power surges during the storm. Create a checklist now.  Distribute your hurricane plan at the beginning of the season and again once a storm is headed our way.

Communication

This is also the time to make sure you have up-to-date information for all of your employees.  Cell phone and landline numbers are a must.  I believe that social media will be a huge asset should we get hit by a storm.  Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn could become valuable tools for connecting with clients, vendors and employees.  You can post updates through these platforms.  Change your office message on your main line to explain the situation and alternative ways to reach key personnel.    My company has a toll free number that serves as a clearing house of information in case of emergency and it distributes laminated wallet-size cards with key contact information to all employees.

Supplies

During June, collect your office hurricane supplies.  Some helpful items are:

  • heavy-duty plastic bags to cover computers, copiers, phone equipment and desks
  • bottled water and some easy packaged foods for a quick snack or lunch so employees don’t have to use personal supplies
  • fans (perhaps some that are battery-operated with batteries) just in case your air-conditioning is damaged
  • extra fully charged cell phone batteries for key personnel
  • NOTE:  do NOT store things in empty trash cans – I had a tenant who did and the janitorial crew thought it was garbage and tossed it….

Business Continuity

On the business continuity side, what is your plan if your building is severely damaged?  During the 2005 season, several buildings were closed for days and even weeks due to damage.  One resource for you is me.  I can help you locate temporary or new office space if your office is severely damaged.  Your landlord may be too busy to deal with your individual situation, but I can help you locate a new location so you can get back to business as quickly as possible.  After Hurricane Andrew, Burger King had to relocate about 100,000 sf  from south Dade to downtown Miami – it was a commercial real estate broker who had the market knowledge and contacts to get Burger King back to work quickly.  My company has a variety of resources including construction management and move management to help companies recover after a disaster.

 How will you access your data?  Who has your back-up tapes and how will you access them?  Is your server off-site in a safe location?  My office can transfer service to one of our out-of-state data centers in the event of a disaster so our files are safe and accessible.  How will you handle payroll during the post-hurricane recovery phase?   Do you have insurance for business interruption?  This is very common for retailers, but many office-based businesses do not carry this coverage. 

We can have another discussion solely about generators.  The pros and cons, who needs them, portable versus fixed, how will it be re-fueled after the storm, will your landlord allow one?   Generators are expensive so assess the costs versus the benefits carefully.   It can take months to gain approval from your landlord, obtain permits and finally install the generator, so plan ahead.

What about your employees?  How will you contact them after the storm?  Discuss post-hurricane responsibilities with staff and find out now who will be available.  Who will be evacuating and to where?  How will you deal with childcare issues?  During the 2005 storm season, Miami-Dade schools were closed for about three weeks.  Parents were reluctant to leave even teen-age children alone in a house without electricity and a generator running.

Conclusion

Common sense is the best tool for hurricane preparedness.  Give your employees time to get home safely before the storm and prepare their homes.  Cover your office computers and equipment with plastic to protect from water damage—even if the equipment is not close to a window in case the water comes from the floor above you.  Make sure your cell phone is charged and your car has a full tank of gas.  For more information on preparing for hurricanes and tracking the storms, the National Hurricane Center website at  http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

 

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