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flooded office

Hurricane Recovery: Assessing Damage and Staying Accountable


July 25, 2019

Many organizations test their severe weather response plan by moving through the various phases, stopping once a hurricane makes landfall. However, it’s important to continue testing your response for after the storm has passed, aka recovery. The actions taken during the recovery phase determine whether an organization survives or fails. These are the three critical areas of recovery:

  1. Damage Assessment & Accountability
  2. Phased Return to Work
  3. Alternate Work Locations

Damage Assessment and Accountability

The first step to recovering after any storm is taking stock of your facilities and checking on the safety of your employees. Specific preparations should be made prior to an event to ensure a smooth and efficient recovery:

  • Know the key business processes and documents through collaborative discussions
  • Identify and train Damage Assessment Team (DAT) members (see who should make up a DAT below)
  • Ensure an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Craft pre-approved message templates
  • Perform functional exercises for DAT
  • Perform regular functional exercises for crisis communications

Recovery Plan in Action

Hurricane Ike slammed into the greater Houston area early one Saturday morning in September 2008. Prior to the storm making landfall, one company launched their response plan. Incident Command was transferred to the company’s headquarters, Houston assets were shut in, the DAT was prepared for deployment around 1pm, and everyone was hunkered down to await the storm’s departure.

One member of the team awoke to the sight of a large oak tree across his front yard. Another found himself having to ditch his car and wade into the office. Power was out over nearly the entire city and cell service was spotty. This was truly a region-wide disaster. Despite the challenges, all members of the DAT were able to make it into the office to assess the status of the company’s offices.

residential damage

Hurricane Ike caused $30 Billion in damages in Texas, including flooding, power outages and wind damage. These pictures show damage experienced at Ed Schlichtenmyer's home.

The team was made up of trained and practiced individuals from several areas of the business, including HSE, business continuity, facility staff (due to their familiarity with the facility and building management), corporate security (to interact with local authorities), and representatives from the legal department. The latter are required to interpret the lease and the relationship with building management—deciding which aspects of recovery will be covered by the building vs. the company.

Once assembled, the DAT reviewed each member’s personal protective equipment, ensuring everyone had a hard hat, safety glasses, long sleeve shirts and long pants, leather gloves and steel-toed boots. The team also had water, food, cameras, cellphones, laptops, a hotspot, notepads and pencils in their daypacks. After an event like Hurricane Ike, it can be unclear how long the DAT will be deployed and must be self-sufficient. The team concluded with the objective of the assessment: to report the condition and status of the company offices to the Incident Management Team.

The company had offices over several floors in 36-story building downtown. Upon assessment, the DAT discovered that winds from Ike peeled back the roofing material, causing the loss of the top four floors and significant damage to another five. Eight other floors sustained partial damage from flooding. The DAT uploaded pictures and their report to the Incident Management Team (IMT); in all, 352 office relocations were required.

building flooding

Flooding at the company offices. Photos of the flooding were included in the incident report.

While the DAT made their assessment, the IMT contacted Houston employees and contractors to confirm their whereabouts and safety. The company employed a mass notification and accountability platform that allowed for an escalation of contact methods if a response was not received in a certain amount of time. From the reports generated by the platform, the IMT was able to focus resources on using associates of those who hadn’t been heard from and ultimately home visits to ensure the safety of their personnel.

Resulting from these two activities, the IMT safely obtained the information they needed to make specific recovery plans. No recovery event is identical, but with the proper training, preparation, and communication, recovery can be a matter of days, rather than weeks or months. For this company, restoration to normal business took just two weeks.

Our next installment, below, provides an overview of specific recovery plans, including how to set up a phased return to work.