Q&A With Alison Svrcek, StormGeo:
With National Preparedness Month underway, Alison Svrcek, Global Director of Client Services and Manager of Business Continuity for StormGeo, a 24/7 weather intelligence service, sat down with Continuity Insights and offered her thoughts on how organizations can ensure business continuity during a severe weather event.
Question: What are the most important strategies businesses should have in place prior to a severe weather event?
Answer: Every business needs to have an all-hazards emergency preparedness plan in place. This is the most important step you can take to ensure continuity of operations and recovery. Severe weather action plans address the types of weather that threaten your location(s), as well as the appropriate steps to take before, during and after a storm. About 50% of businesses that we work with have very generic plans that aren’t as extensive as they should be, but they’ve been lucky to not yet be impacted. If you have a lot of locations across different regions, your response plan should be more robust to address a wider variety of severe weather.
The second most crucial aspect to response planning is to ensure that everyone in your company is familiar with the plan’s procedures and knows what steps they should take and when. During a storm is not the time to be learning how to operate communications equipment or trying to find a generator. Hold a drill on the plan every year to give your personnel an opportunity to run through each procedure.
Q: What is the best way to determine what hazards should be included in the plan?
A: When building a new plan or evaluating a plan, organizations should conduct Risk Assessments and Business Impact Analysis. A risk assessment is conducted to determine what potential hazards could affect a business and details what could happen if/when a hazard occurs. Hazard identification is important to understand the type of impacts to which your business is susceptible. A Business Impact Analysis is a proactive measure to identify hazards, assess vulnerabilities – determine which assets are most at risk – in order to develop a mitigation strategy.
Business continuity is an evolving process. Business procedures change and weather concerns may change over time. In addition to annual drills, these assessments should be completed every 2-3 years, or even more frequently depending on the nature of the business, to ensure the proper hazards and mitigation strategies are in place.
Q: Communication is critical during a natural disaster. What are the communications best practices that you recommend organizations follow?
A: It’s important to keep communications factual and succinct – describe the event, explain what employees can expect from your company, let your employees know what the company expects from them, tell them where they can get more information and when they should expect the next communication.
Make sure all employees are familiar with the set-up. Send tests at least 1-2 times a year to ensure all employees receive the notification. It’s also good to have more than one type of communication, i.e. email, automated voice message, text message, etc.
It’s also critical to define the ‘incident objective,’ or your main priorities including life-safety, crisis stabilization, and asset preservation during and after a severe weather event. If the goal is to safely shut down operations and send everyone home to reduce safety risks, your actions are going to be very different than if the goal is to maintain operations during the weather event. Defining this enables all key parties to be aware of the objectives, prepare for, and execute the plan of action.
Q: What is the difference between a weather warning and a watch? What response steps should businesses take for each?
A: A Weather Watch tell us that the conditions are favorable for a certain type of weather. It’s good to pay attention to these types of forecasts and alerts, and you may want to familiarize yourself with your response plan and alert your essential personnel to the potential risk, but typically there’s no need to take action at that point.
A Weather Warning is an alert that should be taken seriously, because it means severe weather is in your area or imminent. Once a warning is received, you should start running through your response plan, with considerations of the location, type of threat and the response parameters set in the plan.
Q: What tools do you recommend that help businesses and organizations mitigate risks before, during, and after a severe weather event?
A: Establish a network of resources, both public and private, that will ensure you have the best information to make decisions. Public resources include national and local government. Private resources include a professional weather service that can provide a reliable source of weather data and alerts customized to your business. Internally, you may want to establish an Incident Management Team, who will be responsible for deploying an adequate response to incidents, including severe weather. You may also need a critical alerting system for crisis communications to all employees.
Q: What preparedness steps do companies tend to overlook?
A: There can be a tendency to gloss over employees’ personal preparedness. It is essential for personnel to be prepared for emergencies so they can be in a position to support the business.
It is a good to share best practices and checklists for preparing emergency kits and protecting the home. Encourage employees to take the time to make necessary preparations. If an employee is worried about their personal property and safety of their family and pets, they won’t be able to focus their attention on the needs of the business.
Business resiliency can only be as robust as the employees own personal resiliency during a crisis.
As a severe-weather meteorologist for 15 years, Alison manages the continuity of the StormGeo Houston office and the StormGeo Group to maintain the highest level of service delivery to all clients.