Retailers’ Hurricane Preparations More Critical This Pandemic Season

hurricane season

During a televised COVID-19 briefing by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, which he used to also address looting that followed the killing of George Floyd, he paused and pressed his finger to his ear. “Excuse me,” he said. “But I am just getting word that we’ve had an earthquake.” He then added, although it could have gone without saying, “As if we needed something else.”

That is surely how retailers might feel after hearing the forecast for this year’s hurricane season. The same atmospheric conditions that caused higher-than-normal hurricane activity late last year persist, providing “insight into what to expect for the 2020 hurricane season,” according to 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast, May 2020, a report by WorldAware, a global provider of integrated risk management solutions.

2020 Hurricane Forecast

Pre-seasonal forecasts indicate the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends November 30, are for above-average tropical activity. On average, a season will have 12 named storms, about half of which become hurricanes and three which reach major hurricane status of Category 3 or greater. This year? Expect 14 to 19 named storms; 7 to 9 storms to develop into hurricanes; and 2 to 4 to become major hurricanes.

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“The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season raises concerns for organizations still dealing with the effects of the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” according to the WorldAware report. “Social distancing measures, potential curfews, and travel restrictions may make preparedness and relief efforts challenging for areas that could be impacted by hurricanes this season.”

Bryan Strawser
Bryan Strawser

Before clouds gather, there is plenty of work to be done, according to Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive at Bryghtpath, a global risk, crisis management, and business continuity consulting firm. “The first is to make sure that your team understands the hurricane risk; that they understand how rain, wind, and water could impact them,” he said, noting that even in Minnesota, his home base, tropical storms can be impactful. “The second is to make sure that your employees have an emergency plan, which will include where they would evacuate to; copies of key documents, food, medication and other supplies to last for three days; and preparations that account for their extended family, children, and pets.”

For businesses, Strawser stressed the importance of a plan for both gathering and distributing information. During Bryghtpath’s Managing Uncertainty podcast, he said businesses need to plug-in to available resources for information to make decisions and then quickly and efficiently share information and decisions with employees. “Employees will have questions as the storm approaches, about what will our evacuation process will look like? When are we closing the business? And they also start thinking about when we can return home and when can I return to work and how much time will I be given to be able to deal with damage or issues with my home or with my extended family’s home?” Strawser suggested that companies should try to think of storms from the perspective of their employees. “How do they keep in touch with you and your business to make sure that they understand what’s going on in terms of returning to work?”

For information, he recommended the National Hurricane Center, which is part of the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; local public-private partnership programs; state and local emergency management services; and FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center.

You can tell if a business has an effective emergency response plan by how active they are as storms approach, he suggested. “They’re holding calls all the time. They’re sharing information. They ask questions. They want to make sure [to] have the information to prepare and then make plans to respond and recover the business,” said Strawser. “These are all good examples of strategies that are used by successful companies that are resilient…and get right back into the mix of normal business operations, which is our goal is as we go through hurricane season.”

Complications Due to the Pandemic

This hurricane season could be more complicated than normal because of the pandemic. “While approaching hurricanes often cause localized shortages of essential goods, the pandemic would likely greatly exacerbate such shortages,” according to WorldAware’s report. “Panic-buying associated with an approaching hurricane could cause significant localized food shortages.”

The report notes other issues that could arise as disasters collide:

  • The measures implemented by governments to stem the spread of COVID-19 could be ignored or lessened should a storm develop, particularly a major hurricane.
  • Social distancing regulations would be nearly impossible to obey or enforce as large-scale evacuations are coordinated ahead of an anticipated storm landfall.
  • The number of qualified FEMA personnel available for deployment or field operations is down by about half, and “a major hurricane may further stretch FEMA’s already limited resources, especially if it occurs before the COVID-19 outbreak significantly abates.”

Seven Steps to Ensure Safety

WorldAware’s new report suggested seven steps can go a long way toward ensuring the safety of a retailer’s people and business:

  1. Hazard assessment. A good understanding of the characteristics unique to each hazard type is crucial to the success of such an assessment. This includes gathering information on the magnitude, frequency, onset time, spatial dynamics, and duration of a given hazard, as well as any secondary hazard events.
  2. Vulnerability Assessment. Categorize all business assets that could potentially be exposed to storm activity and assess their degree of vulnerability.
  3. Tropical System Risk Assessment. Develop a comprehensive tropical system risk assessment for your company that speaks to the vulnerability of exposed personnel and outlines what you consider to be tolerable or unacceptable risks.
  4. Insurance Policy Review. Verify the details of your insurance coverage for natural hazards.
  5. Follow Weather Advisories. Ensure that you or your dedicated risk manager are always aware of any storm system developments.
  6. Effective Communication Plan. Maintain an accurate contact list for all staff members; establish a redundant employee communication plan; and facilitate a safety check-in process to validate personnel safety and wellbeing.
  7. Disaster Risk Reduction Plan. The risk mitigation initiatives of your business should be formalized, continuously reviewed, easy to understand, and readily accessible to all employees.

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