When a major storm is announced, retailers know that the first thing many people do is head to the store to stock up on the essentials: bread, milk, water, toilet paper. Typically, given only two to three days’ notice, retailers must ensure their shelves are stocked to meet the preparedness needs of the community, while also ensuring they are able to reopen quickly.
Food Lion, for one, aims to reopen its doors within 24 hours of a storm impact. Retail Business Services is the services company for six major East Coast grocery brands in the United States, including Food Lion. Tina Sellers, former director of asset protection for Retail Business Services, knows the only way to achieve this 24-hour goal is with clear weather intelligence and a proactive emergency plan. “Prior to a storm’s impact, our company has made plans for recovery—including which stores may need generators and which associates in the areas surrounding the impact zones can be called upon to help reopen stores,” said Sellers. “As soon as the storm has passed, we are working to route trucks to stores to stock fresh supplies.”
How to roll out your plan when weather rolls in
The surest path to recovery is to have an emergency plan in place well before a storm is announced. The plan should include drills that run through multiple emergency scenarios so your business and employees are prepared for what happens before, during and after a natural disaster, including outages or stoppages. Being prepared ensures employees have the chance to batten down the hatches while they and customers get to safety.
Most importantly, making sure your business has an early warning system can save not only your business, but the lives of your employees.
As we all know, these types of events can be financially draining. Even a thirty-minute outage can cost a business $20,000. If you haven’t prepared for the possibility of an emergency causing your business to shut down, you’ll lose money, recovery will be difficult, and you might be forced to permanently close.
No matter what protocol you put in place to deal with a weather-related outage, make the following considerations to construct the most well-rounded plan possible:
1. Know what’s coming.
It’s vital to have an updated, accurate understanding of what the season has in store. Meteorologists consider several global and regional factors when determining the outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season. StormGeo, a global provider of weather intelligence and decision support solutions, provides this forecast for 2019:
Based on ocean water temperatures (which are impacted by the current El Niño in the Tropical Pacific and cold cycle in the Atlantic), wind shear, and analog years (a year in the past with similar oceanic and atmospheric characteristics leading up to the start of hurricane season), StormGeo meteorologists predict 11-13 named storms in 2019. Of those, 4-5 may reach hurricane intensity, with 1-2 of the hurricanes becoming intense (Category 3-4-5). There is a decreased risk of significant hurricane activity across the islands of the eastern Caribbean; however, the risk to the area from southeast Louisiana to Cape Cod may be close to normal or slightly above normal.
2. Think immediate and long-term.
Let’s say a storm knocks a tree onto a power line near your business, causing an outage. This will require an immediate short-term action, but may also require a disaster response plan that accounts for a longer outage.
For short-term emergencies, have supplies on hand, especially emergency lights, a radio and/or TV, flashlights with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, water and snacks. Floods can make travel impossible, forcing customers and employees to stay inside a business for days.
Stockpiling emergency supplies isn’t difficult; however, the forethought required to get it done is what separates the good plans from the bad ones.
In case of a more significant weather disaster, such as a tornado, flood or hurricane, a long-term strategy is needed. Relocation might be necessary. All entrances and windows should be secured. Protect, back up, or remove important internal documents or items. If necessary, enlist 24-hour security to protect assets that can’t be moved. Before returning to the facility and entering, make sure a team surveys the damage and declares it safe.
Put a plan in writing, practice it, and review it to give employees a sense of security. You can also use commercial weather services to inject “real” weather into the session to simulate realistic conditions and timelines.
When Hurricane Katrina infamously hit southern portions of the United States, Mike Lamb, The Home Depot’s senior director of loss prevention at the time, supplied teams with hurricane kits and instructions on how to carry out a full-fledged disaster plan while keeping a small crew on 24-hour standby to help with storm support. The move proved pivotal, as all but two of The Home Depot’s stores in Katrina’s path reopened within a week of the storm.
3. Know your surroundings.
Because the main objective is to avoid interruptions to your business, it’s important to realize that even faraway storms can affect your operations by interjecting themselves into your supply chain. Vendors, suppliers, distributors, contractors, manufacturers and transportation firms all rely on readily available power, and if any part of that chain is cut short by an outage, it can ultimately affect your business.
Outline how outages in surrounding grids will affect your business and how weather events elsewhere might affect your supply chain. It’s not unreasonable to have a conversation with your vendors to learn about their emergency plans and their ability to support you when they are in crisis.
4. Look at alternate forms of communication.
Nothing dashes hope like being cut off from the world, and having working cellphone service during a crisis is far from a sure thing. Landline phones, VoIP, two-way radios, and even social media should all be part of your emergency plan.
Employees should know that in disaster zones, text messages stand a higher rate of success than voice calls. They should also have emergency apps on their phones to locate family members or to notify authorities. If the primary form of communication falters, your people should know the alternatives and how to use them.
5. Know that you can do something about the weather.
While a National Weather Service forecast can tell you to expect bad weather over the weekend, it can’t say exactly how your specific location will be affected. You need to know the likelihood that you’ll experience an outage or at what specific hours or days your area will most likely be hit the hardest.
Having your own meteorological experts just a phone call away can be a crucial part of any disaster response plan. For some smaller companies, the cost may seem prohibitive, but it’s important to remember that by avoiding even a single weather-related shut-down, the cost of a professional weather service can be well worth it.
If you want your employees and customers to be safe and your business to reopen as quickly as possible following a disaster, having a strong disaster plan isn’t just an option—it’s a vital step to take when owning a business. Whether it’s a storm or another type of major disaster, with a solid and well thought-out plan, you can safeguard your business and the lives of your employees and get back up and running posthaste. Get ahead of the storm with a strong disaster response plan, and you will recover more quickly and with confidence when disaster hits.