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Preparing For Hurricane Season 2023

An executive from an emergency planning and incident response company discusses preparing for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The 2023 hurricane season is underway, with Tropical Storm Adrian gaining near-hurricane strength in the Pacific Ocean near Mexico. As building owners and community managers brace their buildings, it’s critical to establish proper protocols to prepare for potential natural disasters strike.

To offer more information about a potential hurricane’s path, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed a tool called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System. Another tool available to business continuity professionals is a service of extensive hurricane preparedness training sessions from Kenyon International Emergency Services, an emergency planning and incident response company.

To learn more about preparing for hurricane season and Kenyon International’s program, Continuity Insights spoke with Matt Walton, Vice President at Kenyon International Emergency Services.

Continuity Insights: In your opinion, what does proper hurricane preparedness look like?

Matt Walton: In my view, proper hurricane preparedness starts with a comprehensive understanding of your company’s risk profile, considering factors like geographic location, structural resilience of facilities, the nature of operations, and the safety of employees.

This understanding informs a detailed Emergency Action Plan which outlines procedures before, during, and after a hurricane. This plan should be clear, easily accessible, and understood by all personnel. It must address evacuation procedures, communication plans, securing critical operations, and safeguarding important documents and data.

Critical to this is the regular training and drills for all employees, so they’re familiar with the plan and can execute it effectively under stress. More intense training would be given to Crisis Management Team who would be the decision-makers during a crisis.

Supply management is another key aspect, ensuring you have the necessary resources like food, water, medical supplies, and power generators to keep the company and its employees safe during a storm.

Once the hurricane has passed, swift damage assessment is crucial to begin recovery operations. Having people trained to assess the damage quickly and accurately can help expedite insurance claims and identify priorities for repair and restoration.

The post-storm recovery plan should be part of the overall emergency action plan, detailing how operations will be re-established, and how support will be provided to affected employees.

Finally, an After-Action Review process should be in place to learn from each event, using these insights to continually update and improve the emergency action plan.

Proper hurricane preparedness is about anticipation, effective action during the event, and swift recovery afterward, coupled with a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement.

CI: Kenyon’s hurricane preparedness initiative allows companies to offer training and in-depth planning with pre-storm and post-storm services. What does this training entail?

MW: The training will assist businesses in three different phases of the Hurricane: Pre-storm planning, Storm Response actions, and Post Storm Recovery.

In the context of the Kenyon Emergency Services hurricane preparedness initiative, the objective is to prepare companies to handle hurricane-related emergencies effectively.

Pre-Storm

The training generally begins with pre-storm planning, which involves conducting a comprehensive risk assessment. Here, we help companies understand their vulnerability to hurricanes, identifying which assets and operations could be most affected. This step is crucial as it lays the groundwork for developing tailored strategies to mitigate these risks.

Next, we move on to the Emergency Action Plan development, which is a meticulous process. We help companies devise strategies for various stages of a hurricane event, starting from when a hurricane is forecasted, through the storm itself, and in the aftermath. This could encompass evacuation routes, communication plans, and sheltering procedures among other things.

Training and drills are essential components of these initiatives. It’s one thing to have a plan on paper, and another to execute it under the stress of a real-world event. Regular drills ensure that all staff members can effectively follow the plan when required.

Storm Response

Once the pre-storm planning is robust, we focus on the storm-response actions. The storm-response phase is a critical part of our hurricane preparedness initiative. During a hurricane, the primary objective is the safety of all personnel and, where possible, the preservation of key operational assets. This phase can be broken down into several key elements.

Firstly, we prioritize the activation of the Crisis Management Center Team (CMC). This team is vital in coordinating the organization’s response efforts during the storm. They are responsible for decision-making, communication, and resource allocation. To ensure the CMC functions effectively under high-stress situations, we provide them with extensive training, including simulations of severe storm events. Their training not only focuses on strategic decisions but also on maintaining clear and calm communication, which is critical in these high-stakes scenarios.

Secondly, supply management becomes a crucial part of the storm-response phase. In the face of a hurricane, companies must ensure they have essential resources such as food, water, medical supplies, and possibly alternative power sources. We help organizations plan for these needs and train them in managing these supplies effectively under storm conditions. This training can include sourcing reliable suppliers, inventory management, and safe storage and distribution practices.

Additionally, ensuring that everyone in the organization understands their role during a storm is key. For this, we conduct comprehensive training sessions and drills for all staff members, ensuring they know what to do and whom to contact during a hurricane.

The storm-response phase is about making the best possible decisions in the midst of a difficult and rapidly evolving situation. We aim to empower organizations with the training and resources necessary to navigate this challenging period as effectively as possible. As always, the ultimate goal is the safety of all personnel and minimization of operational disruption.”

Post-Storm

Once the immediate danger of the hurricane has passed, the post-storm phase commences. It’s in this period that the focus shifts from immediate survival and safety to damage assessment, recovery, and planning for the future.

Firstly, a prompt and accurate damage assessment is crucial. This involves evaluating the damage done to the company’s physical infrastructure, assets, and understanding the impact on its operations. We provide training on using the right tools and methodologies to perform these assessments effectively, and on how to prioritize areas for inspection based on their criticality to the company’s operations. This phase can also involve working with insurance companies, as an accurate damage assessment forms the basis of any insurance claims.

Next, recovery planning comes into play. This is a complex process that involves many aspects, from rebuilding physical infrastructure to supporting employees and re-establishing operations. It’s about making sure the company gets back on its feet as swiftly as possible. We provide guidance and training on creating effective recovery plans, including identifying reliable supply chains for materials and labor, re-establishing operations in a phased manner, and providing support to employees who may have been personally affected by the storm.

Lastly, but very importantly, we encourage organizations to conduct an After-Action Review. This process involves analyzing the company’s response to the hurricane, from the pre-storm phase through to recovery, and identifying what worked well and what areas could be improved. We train organizations on how to facilitate these discussions and how to incorporate the findings into their ongoing emergency action plans.

“In summary, our goal is to equip companies with the knowledge, skills, and strategies to effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from hurricane events. The exact details would vary depending on the specific needs and vulnerabilities of each organization.”

CI: Because natural disasters can come on so suddenly, is there any way to truly prepare for them? Especially with more unnatural and bizarre weather patterns becoming the norm?

MW: The unpredictability of natural disasters, especially in the context of increasingly erratic weather patterns, does pose significant challenges. However, the unpredictability doesn’t negate the need for preparedness. In fact, it underscores its importance.

We believe that a robust preparedness plan is a combination of broad-based readiness to handle any emergency and specific protocols for known risks. This involves having a comprehensive Emergency Action Plan that accounts for different scenarios and includes protocols for communication, evacuation, sheltering, and recovery.

For example, while we may not know the precise timing or intensity of a hurricane, we know the regions that are more likely to be affected and the general pattern of events when a hurricane strikes. This knowledge forms the basis of a specific preparedness plan for hurricanes.

In the face of changing climate conditions and the so-called ‘new normal’ of more extreme and unpredictable weather events, we believe in the importance of continuously updating and evolving these plans. This involves keeping a close eye on the latest climate science, investing in more resilient infrastructure, and incorporating flexible and adaptive strategies into emergency planning.

Training and drills are also a vital part of preparedness. Regular training ensures that when a disaster does strike, even if it’s earlier or more intense than expected, staff know what to do and can act quickly and effectively.

Ultimately, while we can’t control when or where a natural disaster will strike, we can control how well we prepare for it. It’s about building resilience in the face of uncertainty, and that’s what our hurricane preparedness initiatives aim to do.

CI: What are some of the most basic steps facility managers and executives should take to prepare for potential natural disasters? How can they ensure buildings will be resilient to this kind of event?

MW: Natural disasters pose a unique set of challenges, especially for facility managers and executives who are tasked with safeguarding physical infrastructure. The first step to prepare for such events is to understand the specific risks associated with the geography and climate of the location. A coastal city might need to prepare for hurricanes and storm surges, while a location near a fault line should be prepared for earthquakes.

Once you’ve identified the potential risks, it’s essential to conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment of your facilities. This involves checking the structural integrity of buildings, assessing the robustness of utilities and essential services, and evaluating evacuation routes and procedures.

Another key step is to create and implement an Emergency Action Plan tailored to your specific facilities and potential disaster scenarios. This plan should include procedures for evacuating the building, protecting critical assets, and securing the building before a disaster strikes. Regular drills should be conducted to ensure that all occupants know what to do in case of an emergency.

Building resilience into your facilities is also a proactive measure. This can involve structural enhancements to withstand specific types of disasters, such as reinforcing buildings for seismic activity or installing flood barriers for flood-prone areas. Incorporating redundant power and utilities systems can also be a key aspect of building resilience.

Regular maintenance and inspection of facilities is also crucial. Even the best disaster preparedness plan can fall short if the facilities themselves are not kept in good condition. Regular checks and timely repairs can significantly enhance the resilience of buildings.

Lastly, communication is vital. Facility managers and executives need to keep staff, tenants, and other stakeholders informed about disaster preparedness plans and procedures. Clear, timely, and regular communication can make a significant difference in ensuring everyone’s safety during a natural disaster.

Ultimately, while it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of damage from natural disasters, these steps can significantly enhance a building’s resilience and the safety of its occupants. And remember, it’s always better to over-prepare than to be caught off guard.

Is there anything else about hurricane preparedness that you’d like to mention?

I think we’ve covered a lot of the core components of hurricane preparedness, but there is one area that I believe merits further attention—the human factor. While having a robust plan and prepared infrastructure is essential, it is also crucial to consider the people involved, both as actors in the emergency response and as those affected by the storm.

People’s behavior and decision-making during a crisis are often quite different from a typical situation. Understanding this, and incorporating psychological considerations into the emergency plan, can significantly enhance its effectiveness. For instance, ensuring that communication during a crisis is clear, calm, and authoritative can help people make better decisions and reduce panic.

Moreover, a comprehensive emergency plan should also consider the post-event support for employees and community members. This includes not only physical aid but also psychological support. Experiencing a hurricane can be a traumatic experience, and providing resources for mental health support is an important part of the recovery process.

Since an employer owes a duty of care to its employees, we see value in working with an HR department to deliver detailed hurricane preparedness training for employees so that they know what to do and how to prepare for a hurricane. The sessions are inexpensive and invaluable.

Finally, does an employer have a notification system for employees? Does an employer typically reach out to all its employees in an impacted area? These are all areas of importance for employers to consider.

Continuity Insights

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