The Day We Stopped Thinking of Hurricanes the Same Way: Eight Years Later

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Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico.Katrina. A name so infamous it need not be preceded by the word hurricane. A name that conjures images of people rowing boats past destroyed neighborhoods, seeking shelter in a rapidly disintegrating sports stadium and desperate hospital staff scrambling to arrange patient rescue. Presently immortalized as the costliest United States storm to date, we cringe at the thought of another Katrina making landfall near any of our bustling cities. For eight years, companies have had time to adapt to the mega storms that have shaken our confidence in government response and preparedness in general, but the question still stands – are we any more prepared today than we were eight years ago?

The answer is yes. Overall, more companies have taken steps to safeguard employees, assets and their bottom line, especially in the face of our evolving climate. An article published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) pointed out areas in which businesses faced operational challenges following Hurricane Katrina, including electrical and telecom outages and damages to infrastructures. Based on these items, we created our own list of the top business lessons learned post Katrina:

  • Hope for the best, but plan for the worst – Most companies were not expecting such long recovery periods following that storm. It’s always better to plan for a Category 5 storm, even if a Category 1 or 2 is predicted.
  • Employees are significant in your recovery. Take care of them – Many people lost everything when Katrina came through their neighborhood. Businesses did not plan for the lack of person power they needed to become fully operational, which in turn had negative effects on the community’s recovery.Sign in backyard following Hurricane Katrina
  • How quickly your business recovers is how quickly your community will recover – Those industries that are consumer-oriented play a significant part in the recovery of a community. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, retail stores can provide food and water, while banks provide cash that people need to purchase these items, and hotels are re-location spots for displaced families. If these facilities can’t operate, neither can your community.
  • Plan AND rehearse – You many have an emergency response plan, but if it has spider webs growing on it, chances are it’s no good any more. Practice makes perfect, and those companies who implement fire, communication, evacuation and emergency drills are several steps closer to fast recovery post-storm.
  • Communicate with key stakeholders – As we mentioned in our recent IndustryWeek article, a stakeholder is anyone locally or nationally that will be affected by the operations of the company.  These can be employees, board members, vendors, operators or suppliers. If they know how your business plans to respond to a severe weather threat, they can plan their deliveries, routes and responses more safely and efficiently.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but learning from the past is the key to your company’s future success. The heart of hurricane season is here. It’s not too late to implement these tools into your company’s emergency response plan. Plan today. Don’t wait until the next Katrina is headed your way.

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