Ready or Not: Hurricane Season Meets Pandemic and Protests
When Irving Berlin opened his song "Let's Face the Music and Dance" with the line "There may be trouble ahead…" he was talking about love and not the confluence of troubles we face today. But I can't seem to get the song out of my head as I think about the ongoing pandemic with its threat of a second surge, the coming hurricane season and, in many areas, the protests of recent and possibly future days. All of these have damaged, or have the potential to damage, or at the very least disrupt, business operations and cause a great deal of stress. It's not a zombie apocalypse, but it might be close, depending on how the months ahead play out.
The pandemic, of course, has caused significant disruptions of business in some cases. Businesses have had to make adjustments to allow people to work from home - providing equipment, bandwidth, and other things to make working from home possible where a simple laptop wouldn't do the trick. But most businesses persevered and have managed to stay afloat so far, meeting challenges they probably could not have predicted in their business continuity plans. I doubt retail stores and restaurants had a plan for not being able to open for months, but they have found ways to conduct business to help them stay afloat. We have talked before about the fact that you cannot possibly prepare for everything. Still, if you have plans that you have tested and are prepared, you can usually survive almost anything. Now that the COVID-19 cases are slowing down, we might have thought we were out of the woods.
Then, on May 25, George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and protests and riots soon broke out. In many cases, these also disrupted businesses. Some businesses suffered physical damage, while others were affected by road closings, police barricades, and possible transportation issues. These types of protests could go on for a while, and we could probably see more such protests over other situations in the volatile environment that currently exists. Are these disruptions in your business continuity/disaster recovery plans?
Next, there's hurricane season, which began June 1, with predictions that it could be 50 percent worse than last year. NOAA is predicting 13-19 named storms, of which 6-10 could become hurricanes, including 3-6 major storms (categories 3, 4, and 5). Colorado State University forecasters are calling for 16 storms, including eight hurricanes. There already have been two named storms before hurricane season began. Major hurricanes will present serious problems, occurring as they will during a pandemic. How will mass evacuations be carried out? Will social distancing be possible in hurricane shelters? Many hospitals are already near capacity with COVID-19 cases, and hurricane injuries or additional cases will cause serious problems. I heard somebody say, "think Hurricane Katrina in a pandemic." It definitely gives one pause.
You've been concentrating on the pandemic for months, but you should not lose sight of your hurricane preparations. Hurricanes may be more challenging to prepare for because the pandemic has sapped resources; you could face a potential lack of supplies, longer times required to get shipments of supplies, and depleted sources of PPEs. If you haven't devoted time to this type of planning, the time to begin to deal with these unique challenges is now. You can't wait and see if a big storm is really coming. And, while you have new problems to deal with, don't forget basic preparations like employee contact lists, communication plans, etc.
It's time to think about how planning for this hurricane season will be different and what you need to do differently. The collision of hurricane season with the pandemic means you'll need more time to obtain supplies. There's the problem of sheltering-in-place if necessary. How are you going to handle this safely? You can't just pack people into one safe area. The fact that many people are continuing to work from home may help you since there will be fewer bodies to shelter. Maybe you need two or three locations in the building where people might be able to observe social distancing, and you will naturally need supplies, including PPEs, in all those places.
Power outages may be of longer duration as power companies also are dealing with social distancing and other pandemic issues. Techs may have to arrive in separate cars, deal with potentially adverse conditions on the roads where road crews my not be immediately available.
What does this mean for you? Well, first of all, more supplies than usual in the event of road closures and lack of public transportation as people may not be able to leave right after the storm. If there is no power for days, are generators necessary? Consider other ways the outages could impact you.
Preparation is key. What adjustments do you need to make to your plans? You no doubt have plans for protecting documents and systems, and you must make sure those are all taken care of. One aspect of preparation is awareness and information. You should make sure you have access to up-to-date forecasts and monitor them, so you will know what's coming. If your workforce is all over the area, you should probably be aware of where people are and if they are in the path of the storm. Scattered power outages could mean you have to have back-ups for people working at home in critical positions or possibly move them to another area.
As you review your plans, you will no doubt find other considerations you'll need to deal with and can begin to plan for those. Make sure everyone knows what to do before, during, and after the hurricane. Below are some links you may find helpful in preparing for a storm.
How Businesses Can Prepare for Hurricane Season
Prepare Your Business for Hurricanes
National Hurricane Center
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