It’s here—the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1 and ends November 30. But brace yourself, folks, because October is traditionally one of the most active months for hurricanes and it's never too late to prepare.
For risk managers who have firsthand experience with business preparedness and disaster recovery planning, the season may call for a careful assessment of the existing plan. But it’s a different story for those who are relatively new to or inexperienced with emergency preparedness. Nevertheless, both experienced and novice risk managers would be wise to prepare and test a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan.
“Today, risk managers who are attempting to draft a disaster plan for their companies, or improving or enhancing one already in place, have an enormous task ahead of them,” says Scott Clark, AAI, RIMS secretary and risk and benefits officer at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “And don’t even think about putting one together if you don’t have the support and
buy-in from senior management first. Without that, you’re setting yourself up for disaster, no pun intended. Once you obtain buy-in, then, and only then, can you draft a comprehensive disaster plan/recovery plan.”
“The number one thing organizations should develop is a turnkey policy so that everyone knows the preparedness process: what do to, when to do it, next steps, and so on. It’s essential that this policy, or plan, be turnkey in nature because, as we all know, when disaster actually strikes is not the time to debate the next steps. Have a plan that has been carefully developed with collaboration from key players within the organization. Draw up a budget necessary for implementation, allowing for the appropriate internal and external resources, and supply inventory if applicable. Throughout these initial steps, there should be regular, ongoing discussions about how and when the process is going to be communicated.”
“For example, let’s say that there have been ample warnings from state and local governments and the national hurricane center that a tropical storm is turning into a named Cat 1—what does your company do when that warning arrives? What if the storm changes direction and becomes a Cat 2 hurricane? Your plan must be flexible and include a set of communications processes that provide for different scenarios.”
Clark explains that the most critical component of any disaster/recovery plan is the testing phase.
“The details and steps of a disaster/recovery plan may look adequate on paper, but if you don’t know if the process actually works, don’t go any further,” Clark warns. “Everyone goes through the mental gymnastics of seeing the plan in action in their heads. But actually putting that plan in motion is quite a different story. It’s important to demonstrate the effectiveness of the plan by getting the necessary stakeholders together and carrying out the action items you’ve outlined. Participants, including the departments that put the plan together, would need to test notification, recovery management, tasks and responsibilities, and overall communications.”
While he says that the steps outlined can be applied to both private and public sector entities, Clark suggests that some parts of a disaster recovery plan are approached differently in public sector organizations such as his.
|Steps to Ensure Your Organization is Hurricane Ready:
- Gain the support of senior management.
- Draw up a comprehensive disaster and recovery plan.
- Collaborate with the appropriate stakeholder groups.
- Implement a testing phase.
- Submit your plan to your underwriter for better insurance rates and conditions.
“We assigned a district critical incident response team that comprises the risk manager (me), our chief of facilities, senior management team representatives from our school, police, district operations, transportation, food service and the Superintendant’s office,” says Clark.
“In the private sector, companies may be organized differently and the risk manager may or may not necessarily be the point person for their disaster recovery plan. And if that’s the case, I would strongly encourage that the risk manager become an integral part of the team that helps develop and implement the plan.”
“Private sector companies also differ from public sector entities in that, as part of their risk management programs, they probably have insurance coverage that would pay their business interruption expenses. That doesn’t exist for the public sector, for the most part.”
Are you a risk manager who is responsible for negotiating the placement of insurance coverage for your company? If so, Clark offers this additional piece of advice.
"Risk managers are in a position to request better rates and conditions if they present a thorough, strategic emergency disaster preparation and recovery program to the underwriter. And of course, better insurance rates impact an organization’s bottom line, so senior management is more likely to approve and support the plan, thereby making the implementation a lot easier. You’re no longer just the risk manager who buys insurance coverage for your company, but a valuable member of the operational management infrastructure, as well”
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters, a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season is most likely this year, comprised of approximately 11 named storms, five or six of which will become hurricanes. However, as with any season, they stress the need to prepare for the possibility of a storm striking, even in areas of the country where storms aren’t an annual issue. The catastrophic effects of storms and hurricanes have been seen in coastal areas throughout the country and businesses with operations in all of these areas should prepare for and manage the associated risks.
Want to exchange advice, plan templates and share ideas about emergency preparedness with fellow members? Join RIMS Disaster Recovery Community or the Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity e-Group.