How your Business Can Recover from a Natural Disaster

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natural disaster

The “Big Freeze” of Texas in February 2021 exposed a number of flaws in the disaster preparedness plans of organizations throughout the public and private sector.  Record low temperatures throughout the region placed an unprecedented strain on the electric grid, most notably in Texas, as homeowners and businesses fought off deadly and damaging freezing temperatures.  As the electrical grid was systematically shut down to avoid a catastrophic failure, leaving millions without power, the cascade of failures resulted in one of the costliest (and unforeseen) natural disasters in Texas history.

This weather event and the subsequent disaster is a classic example of “hindsight preparedness”.  There was a time in the disaster response planning profession when the concept of “what-if”-ing the possible scenarios too much would result in a stalled conversation and lack of progress.  The idea was to focus time on the most-likely events and how to respond.  However, the most damaging natural disasters in modern history have been mostly considered “possible” but “unlikely”.

  • Hurricane Katrina entered the mouth of the Mississippi at just the perfect angle, strength and time of day to break the levees and flood a large portion of New Orleans
  • Hurricane Harvey produced so much rainfall that large portions of the 4th largest city in the US – Houston TX – were flooded and inaccessible for weeks
  • A historical drop in temperatures in Texas caused the electrical grid to be unexpectedly shut down to prevent an imminent complete failure, potentially resulting in Texas having no power for months

Reactive Disaster Planning

Every major disaster produces a reaction to prevent the same thing from happening again.  After the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history, the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900 in which approximately 8,000 perished, it was determined a seawall, along with improvements to the warning and evacuation system, would prevent another disaster.   After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the levee system was substantially improved to prevent another catastrophic failure.  Following numerous earthquakes in California, building codes were changed to help infrastructure withstand future earthquakes.

Many of the important aspects of your company’s disaster planning are implemented over time either through legislative action (legal requirements to meet a minimum standard) or through industry best practices, which force action due to the civil liability ramifications of not following those standards.

A business operation may expend considerable effort and money to bring their disaster response plan to minimal compliance with government regulation.  This can often lead to limited resources dedicated to non-regulated disaster planning.  As an example, a commercial office building may be required to make costly upgrades to the building’s physical structure while leaving significant deficiencies in basic planning that could be identified through a professional risk assessment.

Proactive Disaster Planning

There are several steps your business can take to plan for a natural disaster.  The entire planning process starts with a risk assessment that identifies “possible” and “likely” scenarios.   It is vitally important to engage either your in-house security experts or the assistance of a professional security consultant to help navigate the conversation.   

Once the scenarios have been identified, the planning process can begin.  There are many resources available to help you create planning checklists.  They can be found with the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and through Allied Universal’s experts who can assist with all aspects of the planning process.

The planning process will likely involve a series of steps the organization must follow to arrive at a comprehensive plan:

  • Risk identification – what are the possible scenarios and those most likely to impact employee safety and business continuity?
  • Compliance – is the facility in compliance with all regulatory requirements and regularly inspected by qualified engineers?
  • Best Practices – does the organization monitor and comply with reasonable and applicable industry practices regarding disaster planning?
  • Response – does the organization have a critical incident team in place to coordinate disaster response activities?
  • Basic Resources – have sufficient resources been secured to implement the response plan (i.e. generators, supplies, etc.).
  • Specialized Resources – have providers been identified who can supply unique resources (i.e. security personnel to protect damaged facilities, etc.)
  • Practicing the Plan – is the organization running table-top exercises that involve senior leadership to ensure the plan is coherent and relevant?

Summary

Continuity planning is a basic requirement of any business operation.  There are a number of resources available to help any organization plan for a natural disaster, regardless of size or internal expertise.  It is vital for a business to engage with other organizations, including both the public and private sector, to ensure the planned resources are available when needed.    

An operation impacted by a natural disaster is 75% less likely to return to normal operations within 1 year without a preparedness plan in place.  Organizations with a plan and the right resources in place in advance of a natural disaster have an enormous advantage in their return to normal operations.  Planning and resource procurement are essential to a quick recovery from a natural disaster.  

 

Blog contributor:

Marcus Perdue

Marcus Perdue

Vice President, Threat, Disaster & Emergency Response

Allied Universal® Risk Advisory and Consulting Services