When rain stops play

As hurricane Irma approached landfall, news screens were filled with tales of evacuations and preparations; of people doing what little they could in the face of the power of nature. No amount of predictions prepared us for the aftermath, the scenes of devastation with islands scoured clean and communities being obliterated from the landscape.

In some areas reconstruction could take years and in some of the worst hit communities life will never be the same again. That fact was starkly highlighted in a comment by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which revealed that almost 40% of small businesses will never open their doors again following a disaster. What the percentage is following a natural disaster such as Irma we don’t know but it would not be surprising if it was higher.

When we think of business disasters we tend to think in terms of fire or IT failure, of the loss of a key member of the team or the knock-on effect of a problem in the supply chain.  Indeed another US survey for CNBC revealed that just 8% of businesses saw environmental problems as the most critical factor in disaster management.  And yet, the impact of flood or other weather events can be severe.

Admittedly we don’t get hurricanes in the UK but autumn and winter storms can have a significant impact.  One of the largest forecasting companies, AccuWeather, has recently issued its long-term forecast predicting that seven named storms will hit the UK before the end of the year.  According to an AccuWeather commentator this is down to the effects of a “positive North Atlantic Oscillation”.

This would make 2017 the stormiest year on record and with gusts of over 90 mph predicted, floods and infrastructure damage are very much on the cards. Make no mistake, this isn’t simply a matter of a small amount of rain stopping play. As we’ve seen increasingly over recent years, persistent and localised downpours can have a major impact; and businesses which aren’t prepared could well find themselves in full disaster recovery mode.

With this in mind it’s time for businesses of all sizes to check over their business continuity plans and ensure that the consequent effects of weather events are covered. It may well be that existing plans require very little tweaking; on the other hand major revisions may be required. For example, the effects of an IT failure may well be the same no matter whether caused by fire, flood or other event. On the other hand, if you are relying on backup generators to keep the business running in the event of a power failure, it may not be a good idea to have these sitting in a basement which is likely to flood.

Whatever the disaster, there are certain key areas which can make a measurable difference to the management and recovery phase. These include communication and service continuity. When there is a problem you have to be able to communicate swiftly and effectively. This includes being able to check up on the security and safety of your employees; to keep customers, suppliers and others fully appraised of the situation; and to work with third parties in order to move back towards business as usual. Having a robust telephone continuity plan is therefore a vital element of effective disaster recovery.

Let’s hope that the worst predictions of the weather forecasters are just that; worst-case scenarios and that the worst we will be able to say of autumn weather is that rain stopped play. But if storms should arise then it’s well to be prepared.

Written by Alison