The 2021 hurricane season continued the recent trend of more frequent and intense storms. Hurricane Elsa became the earliest fifth-named storm on record. Then, in just three days, Ida strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane.

Ida made landfall just a few weeks after NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said, “After a record-setting start, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season does not show any signs of relenting as it enters the peak months ahead.”

Costly damage from major storms is one of the most significant natural disaster risks to businesses along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Tropical cyclones now cost an average of $20 billion per event. Those who want to avoid the crippling effects of these storms would do well to take their emergency planning cues from Hurricane Ida.

Lessons from Hurricane Ida

Prepare for the worst.

Ida reminded us all how quickly storms can strengthen under the right conditions. While scientists predicted Ida would become a hurricane, few expected it to go from a Category 2 with 110 mph winds to a Category 4 with 150+ mph winds in just one day. This left little time to ramp up preparations for a storm of that size. Any other resources had to be staged outside of the storm’s path — with the hope that they could get through after it passed.

Storms can have far-reaching impacts beyond the area of landfall.

Even more stunning is the destruction and death Ida brought to the Northeast. The historic rainfall she dumped on New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania turned city streets into rivers, flooded basements and trapped many seeking higher ground. It’s estimated that flood damage to these states will cost between $16 and $24 billion.

Recovery will take longer.

Both supplies and labor are low right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lumber and parts necessary to the rebuilding process are taking more time to receive. Insurance companies are struggling to process the massive influx of claims. FEMA is also spread thin between recent wildfires, flooding and significant storms.

Infrastructure improvements matter.

Ida hit 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, yet we didn’t see the tragic flooding of New Orleans that happened in 2005. What made the difference was an investment in the levee that protects the city. The $15 billion project took five years to complete and passed its first major test with Ida. Cities along the coasts, especially with low-lying areas, would do well to take note and consider shoring up their infrastructure.

What business owners and executives can do moving forward

Catastrophic damage from a hurricane is the type of thing that keeps business owners up at night. Yet, many don’t make all of the necessary preparations for such an event. Unfortunately, the bare minimum won’t cut it in today’s elevated disaster threat level. A plan is no good if the resources to implement it are not in place. 

As we saw with Ida, COVID-19 has made it difficult to source essential supplies and labor. Implementing business continuity and emergency plans earlier than usual will help businesses have the items they need on hand well before they become necessary. 

Emergency planning means preparing for a worst-case scenario like Ida’s rapid intensification or Hurricane Charley’s last-minute swerve. It includes paying close attention to tropical storms, watching cross-country storm path forecasts and preparing for lengthy outages for power grids, cell towers and sewage systems.

The good news is that we can never overprepare. Vigilance and implementing smart emergency plans go a long way in lessening storm impacts to business continuity.