Diagram Your Disaster Plan to Ensure Recovery When a Storm Hits

How can a business ready itself for the appearance of something as destructive as a hurricane? The Home Depot took a proactive approach, readying its disaster response teams two full days before Hurricane Katrina infamously hit southern portions of the U.S. Mike Lamb, the company's senior director of loss prevention, supplied teams with hurricane kits and instructions on how to carry out a full-fledged disaster plan and kept 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.

It's likely that The Home Depot's collection of stores wouldn't have reopened as quickly without such a detailed plan already in place. When a store is at the whim of weather elements, simulating and planning for every possible situation puts a business in a better position to handle any outages or stoppages caused by the weather.

Well before a potential storm, it's important to run through every scenario so your business and employees are prepared for what happens before, during and after a disaster. Making sure your business has an early warning system can save your company and the lives of your employees. Being prepared ahead of time will ensure employees have the chance to "batten down the hatches" while employees and customers get to safety.

How to roll out your plan when weather rolls in
Your recovery plan is like a boat. When you have one, the storm still wreaks havoc, but everything is still riding safely inside the boat. Having a thorough plan saves time when you have already thought through what you'll do if disaster strikes.

As we all know, these types of events are also financially draining. Even a 30-minute outage can cost a business $15,000. 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. Think immediate and long-term. Retail executives need to cover every base and account for all kinds of disaster when plotting disaster-recovery protocol. For example, let's say a storm does something as simple as knocking down a tree onto a power line near your store and causing an outage. This will require some kind of immediate short-term course of action by the retailer. But is your disaster response up to the challenge if the mishap lasts longer than expected?

Have supplies on hand, especially emergency lights, a radio and/or TV, flashlights with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, water and snacks. There have been instances when a flood has washed out a bridge or icy roads have made travel impossible and customers and employees were stuck inside the business for days. Stockpiling emergency supplies like this isn't difficult; however, the forethought required to get it done is what separates the good plans from the bad ones.

If something more significant, such as a tornado, flood or hurricane, hits your business, however, a long-term strategy will be needed. Relocation might be necessary. Secure all your building's entrances and windows. Protect, back up, or remove important internal documents or items. If necessary, enlist 24-hour security to protect assets that can't be moved. And before returning to the facility and entering, make sure a team surveys the damage and declares it safe for reentry.

Put a plan in writing, practice it and review it to give employees a sense of security should it need to be carried out over a number of days or weeks.

2. Utilize online programs and data. Food Lion uses an online program called Hurrtrak, which keeps the store alerted to severe weather. When a hurricane is closing in, it prepares by having emergency supplies and generators readily available to get its stores operational as quickly as possible once the storm passes.

If you have access to such a program, keep your employees apprised of impending weather bulletins. Notify them of any urgent updates that may cause the emergency plan to be activated. Keep communications regular and concise. Let them know when the next communique will be sent so everybody is on the same page.

3. Evaluate other areas where your business will be affected. Don't just take the information you're given as gospel. Make sure the data is accurate, and look at surrounding areas to see how they're doing. A store two blocks away might be dealing with issues yours isn't and might be able to reopen sooner, so exercise caution — but not so much that your store is unable to operate or reopens sooner than is safe.

If your facility is affected, it's highly likely that areas around you are affected as well. Plan beyond just your own facility. You might find that employees, stock and other assets need to be relocated or that you need to receive employees, stock and assets from another location.

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 post haste. Get ahead of the storm with a strong disaster response plan, and you will recover more quickly and with confidence when disaster hits.

Layla Kayali is an industry manager for StormGeo. She boasts more than 10 years of experience in delivering customized professional solutions for clients in a variety of business sectors.