Q&A With AlertMedia’s Peter Steinfeld:
Every year from June 1 to November 30, hurricane season brings with it the threat of ferocious winds, torrential rain, and powerful storm surges. According to hurricane researchers at Colorado State University, this year could be another for the record books.
After a historically active hurricane season in 2020, meteorologists at CSU predict we’ll see an above-average hurricane season yet again in 2021 with 17 named storms and upwards of eight hurricanes. The probability that one of those hurricanes makes landfall along the U.S. coastline is a staggering 69 percent.
For businesses, hurricanes bring financial, social, and environmental repercussions, not to mention they also pose a threat to employee safety. To mitigate losses and improve safety outcomes, organizations must plan appropriately.
To better understand how to prepare in advance of an above-average hurricane season, we enlisted the help of Peter Steinfeld, Senior Vice President of Safety Solutions at AlertMedia. In the following Q&A, Peter shares his advice for building a hurricane preparedness plan and how to keep your people safe, informed, and prepared no matter the situation.
Q: Thanks, Peter, for speaking with us today. Before we dive into specific preparedness advice, what should our readers know about this upcoming hurricane season, and how is it different than previous years?
Peter: For starters, we’re still in a global pandemic. Hurricanes present significant safety and operational challenges under the best of circumstances, but organizations now need to account for the added complexity that COVID-19 has created, including the fact that much of the workforce is still remote. Most homes lack the technology or infrastructure needed to stay up and running during a hurricane, which means IT failures will be more frequent and harder to fix. Additionally, should a hurricane force an evacuation, community shelters will face additional safety and logistical challenges given that not everyone has been fully vaccinated yet.
Beyond the pandemic, meteorologists predict this hurricane season will be ‘above average,’ meaning we could see a greater frequency of storms. It’s common knowledge that a major hurricane can create long-term and far-reaching consequences, even for organizations not in the direct path of a storm. Supply chain and travel disruptions caused by a hurricane can wreak havoc for organizations hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the eye of the storm. But even smaller, less severe storms create numerous safety and business continuity challenges.
With an increase in the number of storms—large or small—businesses will need to prepare for shipment delays, airport closures, and shortages of goods produced in hurricane-ravaged areas, among a hundred other logistical considerations. For that reason, hurricane preparedness is something every organization should prioritize, regardless of where their offices are located.
Q: What steps should businesses take to prepare for a hurricane?
Peter: While hurricanes can be devastating, the good news is that they are also foreseeable events. Businesses often get an advance warning period that can last days thanks to advanced tracking technology and dedicated threat intelligence solutions. These technologies have life-saving potential as they provide real-time, accurate data about storms as they develop, so organizations can take appropriate precautions to get employees out of harm’s way.
However, several ingredients must come together for organizations to navigate hurricane season successfully.
First, you need to identify each of the potential hazards of a hurricane that could impact your business and employees. Every business has different characteristics, which means they’ll also have unique risks depending on their industry, office locations, where their employees live, and potential impacts to service providers. Risks could include things like power outages, damage to facilities and assets, flooding, mandated evacuations, and more.
Next, you need to determine who will be responsible for each task in your preparedness plan. Many organizations have a backup and recovery plan for IT and critical infrastructure. One area that is often overlooked is employee communication. Ensure your plan accounts for providing timely, accurate information to employees throughout the storm, including both those in the direct path and teams that may need to assume additional responsibilities if colleagues become unable to work due to an outage or evacuation.
Lastly, once you’ve identified risks and outlined roles and responsibilities, you need to create a specific action plan for each hurricane hazard. For example, develop a checklist of things you must do before, during, and after a hurricane, including obtaining any goods or materials you might need should you have to evacuate or close the office.
Q: How has hurricane preparedness changed over the years?
Peter: Hurricane preparedness is a lot more complex today than it was a decade ago. Not only because of the frequency and severity of storms but because organizations are more interconnected. Even before the pandemic, we started to see a shift to remote work, which means even if a hurricane doesn’t directly hit your office, many of your employees could still be in its path. Additionally, we continue to see large amounts of people migrating to more hurricane prone states like Florida and Texas, and they may be unfamiliar with what to do during a hurricane or what to expect. Businesses should make sure all employees are well equipped for a storm, paying special attention to newer residents for the first year.
Add to that the technological changes, increasing customer demands, and a higher volume of overall threats facing organizations and their people, and it’s easy to see how quickly emergency response planning can become overwhelming.
That’s why, in addition to having a hurricane preparedness plan, organizations should adopt an all-hazards approach to emergency response. An all-hazards approach addressed the resources and steps a business must take before and after any emergency happens. By focusing on developing capacities and capabilities that matter when the going gets tough, you’ll be better able to protect your people, avoid losses, and decrease downtime—all while taking your emergency preparedness to a more effective and scalable level.
Q: What one piece of advice would you offer an organization in the middle of preparing for a hurricane?
Peter: Stay in constant communication with your employees. Hurricanes aren’t quick incidents, and multiple things can go wrong. From the hurricane’s strength to the expected path, forecasts can change rapidly, and you’ll need a way to notify employees continuously as new information is available. Make sure you’re sending messages across multiple channels to ensure the right people get the messages they need when they need them. That includes via text, phone call, mobile push notification, and even social media.
During a hurricane, it’s also important to establish a two-way dialogue with employees so they can notify you if they are in immediate danger or even provide helpful information about an event as it’s taking place. For example, a particular area of the city may lose power or experience flash flooding. An employee’s first-hand experience can advise you of road closures or shelter conditions, which you can pass along to the rest of your workforce.
At the end of the day, employee safety must be your top priority during a hurricane or any emergency. Make sure you have a quick, efficient way to check in with them and confirm their well-being.
About AlertMedia: AlertMedia is the world’s leading emergency communication provider. Our award-winning, two-way multichannel messaging system, threat intelligence, and 24/7 employee safety solution help organizations protect their business and people through all phases of an emergency. For more information, visit www.alertmedia.com.