This past winter, blizzards, bomb cyclones, bombogenesis and other severe winter weather caused major damage and disruption to the U.S. economy. Businesses large and small in industries ranging from airlines to retail to government felt the unforgiving impact of these storms. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average cost of damage from a winter storm is $3 billion, inclusive of business interruptions. And with no control over Mother Nature, organizations are left to figure out how they can best minimize damage from adverse weather.
The trick is to stay ahead of the game and lay out a clear preparedness and responsiveness plan for your organization to follow. Living in the Northeast, we have a lot of first-hand experience preparing for severe weather. Here is our step-by-step guide to preparation and response when winter weather strikes:
Pay Attention to the Forecast
Meteorology is a tricky science and weather patterns have been known to change on a dime. Make sure to monitor the winter storm track and forecast from your most reliable local weather source. If the forecast is for more than two to three inches of snow or heavy winds, notify your Incident Response Team (IRT) immediately so they can be ready to spring into action.
Create Your Own Team of First Responders
Having an IRT mobilized is an essential part of preparedness. Your IRT should assign roles and responsibilities for each of your organization’s leaders and departments, and prepare them accordingly. This includes identifying essential employees who will either be on-site or on-call throughout the storm in case of utility power outage or storm damage.
In addition, your Corporate Communications Head should prepare and send regular internal communications about the storm track, possible delays or closings and any other changes in policies for the duration of the storm. Your COO should ensure that snow/ice removal vendors are on-call to keep walkways and parking lots salted and safe. Your CIO should identify key IT infrastructure (i.e., labs, mechanical closets, telecom closets, NOC, etc.) that must have uninterrupted power throughout the storm and that they are connected to the facility or office backup generator(s).
Although each IRT member will have separate responsibilities, communication among members will be critical throughout the duration of the storm, so make sure to put someone on point for scheduling coordination calls or meetings.
Think Through Your Approach to Special-Ops
Your COO and CIO should tag team to take stock of the operations and technology needed to weather the storm. For example, they should think through the internal and customer-facing systems and processes that need to continue through the bad weather. This includes conducting a test run of your backup generators two days before the storm, and ensuring that fuel tanks have been topped off. They should also decide which engineering and development activities need to continue and which can be postponed.
Making sure that emergency technical support staff is either on-site or on-call will be key to keeping operations running as normally as possible. And caring for these employees is a must; it’s a smart idea to stock provisions and book hotel rooms (within walking distance, if possible) for any employees who will have to stay on-site.
Know When It’s Closing Time
Although business continuity is a big concern, the safety and well-being of employees is paramount. It’s best to follow the guidance of local county or city authorities (not necessarily school systems) to determine when to alter normal business operations for offices and facilities. If a major weather event is expected to unfold during the workday, we recommend closing three hours prior to the storm start to give employees enough time to get home, or allowing employees to work from home. Think about encouraging employees to work on projects that may not otherwise get attention to keep productivity on track.
Reflect on Key Learnings
After the storm has passed, take the opportunity to gather feedback from each organization leader, IRT member and key department on what worked well and what could have been handled better. Identify major issues, protocols or processes requiring updates or changes, risks, IT challenges and any other employee issues or concerns. Use these learnings as the basis for developing an After Action Report (AAR) which should be distributed to your executive team and IRT. Use these feedback loops and best practices to make improvements for how your organization handles the next adverse weather-related event.
Conducting “business as usual” in the midst of severe winter weather can be quite difficult. But with the right plan in place your organization can help ensure business continuity doesn’t freeze over too.