When it comes to a severe weather event, no organization can go it alone. External parties are crucial in helping you through a crisis—whether they provide food, shelter, transport or, in the case of StormGeo, actionable weather insight. But how should you select these third-party vendors and how can you be sure their resilience will match your own?
As the Director of Organizational Resilience for Texas Children’s Hospital, one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country, James Mitchell knows the importance of selecting the right vendors. “It’s not just about what’s in the contract,” says Mitchell, “but whether [a company] is capable of delivering, understanding our needs and coming through when we need them.”
We spoke with Mitchell and two additional business continuity professionals who work in healthcare about what they look for in third-party vendors to help them through a severe weather event or other emergency.
For all three, “partnership” was one of the first words to come up. Scott Cormier, VP of Emergency Management, Environment of Care and Safety for Medxcel, defines a partner as, “Someone who will be in it with us; who understands the value of us staying open and providing services to our communities in their most desperate times—right after a disaster.” Medxcel oversees more than 2,600 sites of care, 1,900 employees and 162 healthcare facilities across 21 states.
As a contractor to large organizations across various industries, StormGeo knows the importance of forming a partnership with our clients, rather than only providing a service. Each of the three healthcare professionals we spoke to rely on StormGeo as their vendor for severe weather planning and mitigation.
Cormier, who has been working with StormGeo since he took up his role at Medxcel four years ago, says trust is a critical aspect of any partnership with a third-party vendor.
“I watch the national weather news during extreme weather events because I know our associates watch those newscasts. Sometimes they can be a bit over the top and our associates react. But because we have such strong trust in the information we get from StormGeo, if they tell us something about the weather that is different from the national weather forecasts, I know StormGeo is correct.”
Cormier adds, “Our patients and associates rely on us to have thorough emergency management plans, and we rely on vendors to help us. We look for someone like StormGeo, who has a national presence and can draw on a lot of resources.”
David Hughes, HCA Healthcare AVP (Enterprise Risk Management and Business Continuity Planning) agrees that a national presence and experience is important.
“Our supply chain ensures we have vendors that can support us. We’re pretty self-sufficient, but we do rely heavily on vendors for remediation (reversing or stopping environmental damage). For example, we have a contract with a national aviation company to have first right of refusal access to their helicopters. This sort of thing costs a lot of money but gives us peace of mind during big events, which we might not have if we relied on someone locally or with less experience,” says Hughes.
Your partnership with an external party means they should be involved every step of the way during a disaster. This includes before the disaster—in the planning phase of your emergency management plan.
At Texas Children’s Hospital, external parties are involved as much as possible in tabletop exercises because it helps them understand the hospital’s decision-making. “They need to know what our triggers are and we need to know theirs. This communication also helps to build those relationships for when a real event occurs. If you’ve sat at a table with people and spoken to them, that goes a long way when you’re in an emergency and desperately need their help,” says Mitchell.
It’s best if vendors can become part of your team on-site during a crisis. Mitchell says that the aviation company they use has a representative in their emergency operation center, while their biomedical provider has a representative in the command center.
Mitchell also adds that a crucial element to their relationship with StormGeo is communicating with staff on scheduling during severe weather. “Our partnership with StormGeo enables us to give good data to our staff about, for example, when they need to come in.”
Hughes says the remediation teams that his organization uses are closely linked in, as is the generator company that they lease from. “Our supply chain looks closely at what supplies we might need and which need to be brought in early. You can put a lot of things into the facility ahead of time, before the weather gets bad. It’s critical to know when that delivery window will end, so you can get as many supplies stocked beforehand.”
No matter how strongly you’ve built your network, there will be times that you desperately need something your vendors cannot provide. This is when the positive relationships you’ve built with external contacts become vital.
“During Hurricane Harvey, there were some critical pharmaceutical products that we needed delivered to our hospital in the Medical Center. It just so happened that a member of our ride-out team was part of a National Guard helicopter unit in a city just north of us. He reached out to his contacts there and they were more than happy to help,” recounts Mitchell.
Knowing the right person at the right time can have a good outcome, but the best time to get those contacts is before a storm. David Hughes says his organization’s supply chains start updating their contact lists in the spring—months before hurricane season.
“We had a similar experience with Hurricane Katrina,” says Hughes. “We ended up getting in touch with somebody that flew helicopters out to the oil rigs to airlift patients out. They weren’t medical helicopters, but we couldn’t get any of those at that point.”
Cormier adds, “Every CFO and administrator would love to wait until two hours before landfall to make a decision about whether or not they’re going to spend money on bringing in a generator. We’ve found that you need to do that 72 hours out. You need to spend that money to know that when you call the generator company, they will deliver exactly what you need.”
Finally, in your vendor relationships, just as in any other relationship, you need to ask the right questions to determine whether they will be able to help you through a serious business interruption.
Ask about estimated response times and procedures. Ask about lessons learned from previous crises and what framework the vendor uses for identifying and responding to a crisis event. The more foreknowledge you have—about your own needs, the capabilities of your vendors and the robustness of your emergency plan—the more confidence you’ll have about staying on track.
Read more about how to continuously optimize your emergency response plan in the last part of our business continuity series, The Most Important Tools for Creating Your Organization’s Emergency Plan.