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Lessons From
Hurricane Hermine

Tropical Storm Hermine caused quite a ruckus for retailers — but not in the way you’d think.

As it lingered in the Atlantic and threatened the Jersey Shore, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency. Predictions of a deadly storm surge kept the typically lucrative throng of Labor Day shoppers away from the shore and out of the shops all weekend.

By the time it was over, feelings were mixed. Thankfully, the damage was minimal, but merchants were livid that the habitually profitable holiday was ruined.

Had it been any other weekend, however, many of those same stores would likely have shut down early anyway. Under normal operations, the threat of a storm strong enough to knock the power out instinctively invokes the fear of losing profit.

It’s a reasonable fear; after all, even a 30-minute blackout can result in average losses of more than $15,000 while an entire eight-hour day without power comes in closer to $94,000. But simply reacting to the fear and shutting operations down early can also cut deeply into profit margins even if the power stays on.

Be prepared to act

A premature shutdown in the face of a possible weather-related power outage is a gut reaction that naturally doesn’t take every variable into account. A store owner wants to stay open and avoid profit loss, but by closing the shop, he loses profit no matter the outcome of the storm. When you’ve prepared for such a possibility, though, you don’t have to rely on a feeling.

Here's how you can be better prepared for when disaster strikes:

1. Develop a thorough disaster plan.

Craft a plan to keep operations going in the event of a disaster, and make sure it accounts for every possibility and responsibility. For instance, in preparation for an outage, make sure you have enough fuel stocked to run the backup generator and have contingencies in place for more emergency fuel should it be needed. Include your staff in the planning, and make sure everyone has a clearly defined role to play. Make sure everybody knows what to do during regular business hours as well as in the middle of the night of a holiday weekend.

Assign team members to be in command in the event of an emergency, and keep communication uninterrupted during the incident. Put an alert system into place that notifies all staff and employees of weather events that might affect operations. The forethought to line up secondary communications including landlines and cell phones, text, voice over Internet protocol and other options may prove invaluable.

As part of the emergency team, assign staff to clear shopping carts, display items, and other debris from the parking lot or lobby that might fly in and cause damage. Also, plan for the aftermath by creating a system that not only checks on employees, inventory and assets, but also assesses the need for any necessary repairs. Don't forget to consider additional security personnel should stores be left without power or snow removal crews that can clear parking lots and sidewalks at a moment's notice.

2. Take the initiative.

In the midst of severe weather, agencies such as the National Weather Service provide fairly conservative reports, focusing mainly on wide patterns to keep a larger demographic of the public informed. For merchants trying to base their operations on these types of weather reports, staff can be left waiting, uncertain and in want of more specific information. Before long, all that sitting around can make it all feel like just a drill and lull staff into complacency.

Avoid this by investing in automated technology that analyzes current and past data to more accurately pinpoint weather events — particularly the kind that can lead to power outages caused by weather-related events. More detailed probability reports and more precise tracking can give you and your team a better idea of what to expect and when it’ll arrive. Commercial weather services add the ability to tailor weather support services specifically to your needs while offering direct communication with expert meteorologists who can keep you updated not only hour by hour as the storm unfolds at your front door, but also a week or more in advance to help with pre-storm planning and logistics.

3. Know your surroundings.
Because the main objective is to avoid interruptions to your business, it’s important to realize that even faraway storms can affect your operations by interjecting themselves into your supply chain. Vendors, suppliers, distributors, contractors, manufacturers and transportation firms all rely on readily available power, and if any part of that chain is cut short by an outage, it can ultimately affect your business.

Outline how you'll know how outages in surrounding grids will affect you and how weather events elsewhere might affect your supply chain. It's not unreasonable to have a conversation with your vendors to learn about their emergency plans and their ability to support you when they themselves are in crisis.

4. Know that you can do something about the weather.

While a National Weather Service forecast can tell you to expect bad weather over the weekend, it can’t relay exactly how that weather will affect your specific location. You need to know the likelihood that you’ll experience an outage or at what specific hours, or days, your area will most likely be hit the hardest.

As an industry especially susceptible to inclement weather, large utility companies typically have access to multiple data sources concerning the weather, but how they interpret the data is highly subjective and can sometimes lead to misinterpretation. Having your own expert meteorological experts on hand would help, but for many smaller companies, the cost may seem prohibitive. Just the same, avoiding even a single weather-related shut-down brings the cost of a professional weather service into perspective.

Without a team of weather professionals advising you, it's up to you to analyze and interpret various streams of weather information as the only way to know when you should enact your emergency plan. If you guess wrong, the result may be more than just costly — it might bring an end to your business. You can make sure you aren’t just reacting by securing access to professional weather services, which offer not only precise weather event reporting, but also personalized guidance and support.

As Hermine showed the merchants of the Jersey Shore this past Labor Day weekend, having a well-thought-out emergency plan in place is vital to limit unnecessary profit loss. In the case of those retailers, advanced technology could have provided earlier, more accurate warnings of the weekend’s weather woes so they could have planned for it more effectively.

In your case, it can allow you to do the same for future weather events and help you avoid losing profits from outright closing or shutting down too early.

Want to learn more about how StormGeo serves retail companies? Click here.

Layla Kayali, the industry manager for StormGeo, has more than 10 years of experience in delivering customized professional solutions for clients in a variety of business sectors.

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Link to original Article: http://apparel.edgl.com/news/Emergency-Weather-Preparedness--Lessons-from-Hurricane-Hermine107261