Weathering The Storm: Keeping The Lights On For Business When Things Go Dark

While it’s been just over a month since Hurricane Sandy, many of us are still feeling the effects of the storm’s destruction. As the Eastern seaboard continues to rebuild, we have reflected on how businesses maintained continuity and customer relationships when the lights go out. What steps should you take so business runs as usual? Are there ways to better prepare for huge disruptions to your business operations? How do you conduct business when your customers and employees are faced with gas shortages, power outages and serious property damage? 

Here are three key measures to implement as part of your business preparedness/continuity plan before and after a storm strikes: 

  • Proactive Decisions and Testing – If you have some notice before disastrous weather is due to make landfall, it may be best to make decisions and run tests to prevent business interruptions with and for your customers and to protect your employees. Close your office(s) so employees aren’t traveling in potentially treacherous travel conditions. Secure your office space and networks, backup work and operating systems, charge devices and obtain fuel to prepare for outages and shortages at a later date. 

This is also a good time to test your current networks through contingency planning exercises. For example, run a drill of your emergency telephone chain so employees are familiar with the procedure in advance of any storm-related chaos. Also, have IT run extra diagnostics and testing of your office networks, software and servers and data centers, and move as much information as possible to the cloud so employees, and in many cases customers, can access information from any location.  

  • Remote Operations – Most of us are familiar with working from home, but be prepared to work from anywhere to maintain communications and business operations for your customers! During Hurricane Sandy, we had employees connecting from the homes of family and friends and setting up temporary “offices” at Starbucks, Panera, bars and restaurants. Many walked miles to connect to available Wi-Fi and got creative by purchasing extension cords in order to secure a plug at remote locations. 

Although many storms allow for employees to operate remotely, be prepared for power outages and employees that are unable to log on or travel to a location where they can connect. If possible, have employees or partners at offices outside of storm-impacted areas help fill in any gaps and reach out to customers to keep them up-to-speed. Data centers in remote locations should also be utilized so that repairs can be made to those affected or shut down to prevent damage. 

  • Consistent Communication – Effective communication is always vital in driving sales and maintaining successful employee and customer relationships, but its importance is magnified when businesses are operating in disaster recovery mode. In line with testing emergency phone chains and aiming to remain as connected as possible, frequent communication is one of the cornerstones of maintaining business continuity throughout a storm and its aftermath. 

If you are able to connect online, ensure that you are constantly providing updated information, both internally and externally. Let customers and employees know of any changes to operations including business hours, changes to events, building outages, etc., through a variety of communication channels. Social media is perfect for this kind of quick, easily accessible information sharing. For example, we set up a separate Twitter account for employees to track operations, power and transportation updates during and after the storm in addition to regular emails issued by management to employees and clients.

As mentioned above, if employees or partners in areas outside of the storm are available to provide assistance, enlist their help. Our employees across the globe helped run webcasting events remotely following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, and our London office contacted all New York employees by phone to confirm their safety. 

While the above steps will certainly help with disaster recovery planning and execution, in many instances, all the planning in the world might not prepare you for a storm’s destruction. We learned a great deal in the wake of 9/11, but there are always areas for improvement as the effects of each disaster varies. We’ve been analyzing our Hurricane Sandy operations, and I’m sure the final results will help us better prepare for other situations like this in the future. 

We maintained business operations through Sandy, but there was certainly a lot of work going on behind the scenes to uphold business as usual for our customers. Perhaps the best advice for continuing business through a major disaster is to hire intelligent and thoughtful employees who are dedicated to serving the needs of their customers. Luckily, we can always check this off our planning list.

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