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Prepare Your Business for Weather Disasters

Feb 3, 2017

As originally published by Business.com

We often overlook the risks associated with events of any magnitude until they arrive, but consider what a lack of preparedness could engender. The most obvious cost of neglecting to plan for severe weather may be increased risks of injury or death. From sending delivery drivers out during an ice storm to keeping a coastal company open in the path of a hurricane, know this: Not having a contingency plan in effect when natural disasters strike is asking for trouble.

However, sometimes the dangers aren’t so obvious. The recent wildfires in the southeastern U.S., for instance, not only affected the localized areas, but also worsened air quality on a much larger scale. For a company with employees who work outside, a plan of action such as issuing respirators or limiting outside work ensures the safety of the company’s human resources.

While safety is the top priority, businesses exist to provide services and to make money, yet failing to plan for weather events can cripple a company’s ability to deliver those promises. Planning is only the beginning; preparedness also takes training. Training for inclement weather is like any aspect of job training: It takes time for people to learn new roles. Those who are repeatedly drilled on difficult scenarios will always outperform those thrown into chaotic positions for the first time.

Your company preparedness plan is much more effective and efficient if it begins well before crunch time. It also allows plenty of time to work through any confusion about who is responsible for carrying out specific tasks and responsibilities.

Where Weather Can Wear on Your Business

Weather generally affects three areas related to business: business continuity, supply chain and employee health and safety. Each can be impacted in both the short term and the long term. Short-term weather forecasts might predict a winter storm with heavy snowfall across several states in the coming days, while a long-term forecast might identify a higher-than-usual frequency for winter storms in the coming months.

Your business might prepare for the short-term event by briefing employees, customers and vendors; double-checking staffing schedules; and arranging for additional supplies. You can also use short-term forecasts to keep employees informed as weather events unfold and to send workers home if severe weather threatens your location. Long-term forecasts impact the same three areas mentioned above, but they do so on a seasonal level and can be used in increasingly complex ways.

For example, consider a manufacturing firm that relies on parts from a company near the Gulf of Mexico. The manufacturer might increase its warehouse inventory of finished goods in anticipation of possible supply-chain interruptions during hurricane season. Likewise, a business that relies heavily on crude oil and that predicts temporary refinery closures during hurricane season can mitigate costs by purchasing necessary fuel while supply is up and costs are down.

Use whatever tools are at your disposal to build these practices before unfortunate weather hits. Erring on the side of caution never hurt anyone, but it takes on specific importance when considering your business’s future.

Get Everything in Place

Ultimately, businesses must react to weather events in ways unique to them, but leaders can implement several broad strategies to improve preparedness and benefit their operations.

1. Overdo the dry runs

Weather events like hurricanes may follow a (somewhat) predictable path, but tornados, flooding and even simple power outages resulting from high winds often happen quickly. Make sure everyone is familiar with the emergency plan, and don’t stop with your own company.

Discuss plans with your vendors and strategic partners, and make sure they’re prepared as well. If they aren’t, that can put your own business at risk.

2. Fight apathy

No one expects a disaster, and you can be sure that some people in your company will voice their doubts that a disaster will ever happen or that preparing for one is a worthy endeavor. However, few investments have immediate returns, and building a culture of preparedness can take time.

When a disaster does occur, being prepared and functioning smoothly will go a long way toward preventing injuries, mitigating costs and returning your business to operational status quickly. Think of it less as prepping for something you might not need and more as putting something back into the business. Treat it as an investment in the business’s future and employees’ livelihoods.

3. Shake things up

Throw in different scenarios and present adverse conditions for your employees to encounter. Find a variety of resources to solidify your preparation strategies.

Rely on multiple sources for your supplies and communications. Whatever you can do to think outside the box for preventive measures will make your foundation that much stronger. This amounts to better preparedness, allowing you to avoid unnecessary costs and gain a competitive edge.

When skies are blue, severe weather — and its fallout — is the last thing on anyone’s mind. However, business leaders should understand that over time, natural disasters are inevitable. Companies should plan for them, train employees in emergency procedures and implement outside-the-box strategies. A professional weather service should be considered as a means to fortify your operational capacity not only for short-term safety and logistics, but also for long-term planning and even competitive advantage.

Your business should identify and overcome initial obstacles to preparation and start planning for the inevitable disaster without delay. Hoping for the best is an acceptable strategy only when you’ve already planned for the worst.