Weatherproofing Your Business Continuity Plan

Watch this on-demand webinar to hear from two business continuity experts on how they weatherproof their companies' plans to continue operations before, during and after a storm.

Weatherproofing Your Business Continuity Plan

During a severe weather event, employee safety is the top concern followed by minimizing operational disruptions. Faced with hurricanes, tornados, hail, winter storms and extreme heat, businesses must not only withstand the weather event, but also mitigate risks, ensure safety and reduce costs. Disaster Recovery Institute International’s Director of Communications Buffy Rojas Leach spoke to two business continuity experts about how they face down severe weather events:

  • Scott Cormier, VP Emergency Management EC, & Safety at Medxcel, a healthcare facilities provider
  • Alicia Henderson, CBCP, Business Continuity Incident Manager at Zions Bancorp, a personal banking company

Buffy: What are your main concerns when dealing with a severe weather event? Which weather events cause the most impact to your business?

Scott: We have five main concerns when it comes to severe weather events:

  1. Can our healthcare facilities continue care through the event? How will it impact transport and utilities?
  2. Can our associates get to and from work?
  3. Can our patients, ambulances and emergency services get to us, and can they get home?
  4. Can our vendors deliver supplies?
  5. Will there be long-term effects on our community? For example, Hurricane Katrina changed both the landscape and population of Louisiana.

We are most affected by hurricanes and ‘unknown’ events—those that are unexpected, such as the polar vortex in Texas in February 2021. While we prepare for storm season every year, every event is different, and we encounter new problems in each scenario.

Alicia: Our main concerns revolve around uncertainty and assessment—assessing the people, property and operational impacts that the event could have on us. Our company must prepare for and cope with a multitude of weather threats including hurricanes, flooding, winter storms and even wildfires, which may cause residual impacts as our partners closer to the west coast are affected.

Buffy: What critical steps do you take to ensure business continuity in the event of severe weather?

Scott: We rely on the data provided to us by our partner StormGeo, who supply accurate and reliable weather intelligence, with up-to-the-minute alerts. Our planning processes start with daily checks on the climate using this data and commence as soon as a storm starts to develop off the coast of Africa. Given the changing nature of the weather, we must be nimble in our response, as sometimes we only have 24 hours’ notice to plan for a storm. Given our experience, we prepare seasonally for known events like tornados and hurricanes, bringing in extra equipment, supplies and remediation contractors that will facilitate a quick recovery.

Alicia: Our initial step is an assessment of the overall impact to our people, property, and operations. For this we also partner with StormGeo and spend time with their meteorological team to fully understand the timing of any weather system—gathering any clarifying information that helps in our assessment. We also work with external agencies, such as the local office of emergency management, to align our preparedness efforts with those of the local community. Once we know what to expect, we review our business continuity plan—assessing each component of the plan to see if it should be fully or partially activated. This plan may include relocating people at risk, offloading critical work functions or even activating a call tree.

Buffy: Can you tell us about the most impactful weather event you’ve had to deal with? What changes did you make to your preparedness strategies because of that event?

Alicia: Hurricane Harvey had a large impact on our region. The day that the projected path of the storm took a turn toward the southern Texas coast, we were visiting StormGeo in Houston. Without hesitation or delay, StormGeo alerted us to the storm’s direction change and we were able to start our planning and establish our incident objectives with time to spare. StormGeo was instrumental in helping us determine how we would move through each phase of the storm. Due to the size and complexity of the hurricane, the event required a lot of coordination between internal and external partners, and the communication with our leadership team had to be extremely crisp.

As a result of Hurricane Harvey, we incorporated a customer concession program to our overall business continuity and crises management platform. With leaders invested in the community, we wanted to provide a service that would tighten our relationship with our customers and care for our own people. This program has helped customers who have been directly or indirectly impacted by various weather events.

Buffy: After a storm has passed, what are some of the steps you take to ensure you return to business as soon as possible? How do you coordinate with other departments?

Scott: As soon as an event commences, we start our recovery process, in which we consider three factors:

  1. 1. How do we get back to normal? This can take years if there is a loss to infrastructure. We have a team dedicated to this recovery process who manage insurance claims, public assistance and hazard mitigation grants until we reach a point where we are whole.
  2. We ask our staff to stay at work through these disasters so we must ensure our associates and people are safe and healthy following the event. We have several foundations to support associates, helping them with public assistance and even their personal insurance claims.
  3. What can we do better next time? How can we improve our response? What infrastructure improvements can we make? For example, we built a large flood wall for one of our hospitals in upstate New York which was tested recently and prevented previous flood damage from occurring again.

Alicia: Our Facilities team plays a critical role on our incident management command bridge. The team ensures all buildings are prepared for a storm and that they’re ready to re-open after the event. This includes ensuring onsite generators are prepped, buildings below ground are protected and supplies are on-hand. The Facilities team also coordinates the damage assessment of all locations on a storm’s path. Once the scope of damage is understood, management moves to the reports from other teams to ensure buildings are ready for people. This may include technology, ATM network teams, communication partners, and HR. It takes all departments working tightly together to meet the common objectives of each incident.

Buffy: How do you adjust procedures when you’re presented with an atypical storm or event?

Scott: We’ve experienced almost every single weather event possible, even a volcanic eruption. Because of this we can translate our experience to deal with unprecedented events. We follow the same procedure as normal, starting by notifying all teams. The goal is to understand what potential resources people may need in the scenario and cater to them accordingly. A snowstorm may require a salt delivery and/or four-wheel drive support vehicles; a flood may require high-clearance vehicles. Pre-empting what will be needed, we call in our vendors. We try to think ahead of requirements and react quickly. During the polar vortex in Texas, we were able to redirect water trucks from construction sites to our facilities to keep boilers full and heating on.

Buffy: What do you do to make sure all staff are prepared to respond to an event, and what efforts do you make in the off-season to prepare for upcoming storms?

Alicia: Prior to a storm, our team continues to educate employees and provide links to local and federal agencies that have up-to-date guidance on personal preparedness. We are constantly reminding employees, especially those living in Houston, to be prepared to work remotely for an undetermined amount of time and to know their contingency plans. We rely heavily on our communications partner to relay these messages to all staff. Our annual training program follows regulatory guidance to prepare staff not only for business continuity but also for at-home safety and remote working. Also provided are internal employee preparedness websites that can be accessed at any time. As climate change has affected extreme weather, we don’t feel there is an off-season.

Buffy: What tools do you use for your response plan and team for continuity and communication for weather events?

Scott: The foundational tool we use is our partnership with StormGeo, who have the GPS coordinates of all our locations. With this information they provide exacting data related to our business continuity plan. When we were preparing for Hurricane Michael, StormGeo indicated that one of our hospitals would only experience wind speeds of a Category One storm, not the Category Five winds we were expecting. This meant that the facility would not have to be evacuated. Having that kind of tailored, accurate information is key to our response plans.

Alicia: We use various risk intelligence monitoring tools, such as our partnership with StormGeo. By leveraging their web platform and calling into their meteorological desk, we get a deeper look at every storm. We also leverage Everbridge as an alert notification tool to communicate with our employees; NC4, a risk intelligence tool that pinpoints information for adverse weather events; social media platforms; and ‘boots on the ground’ partners to give us people at the event site reporting information. These tools help us assess and disseminate information and thus respond to severe weather events quickly.