Recent weeks have proved once again just how vulnerable the Caribbean is to hurricanes. Hurricane Irma caused immense damage throughout the Caribbean and North America. Thereafter, Hurricane Maria swept through, delivering another round of devastation. Even if hurricanes are accepted as ‘a way of life’ in the region, these have been testing times for all. The work is still underway and it will be many months, and even years, before our local communities feel normalcy.
Yet, we are also not helpless. Each year brings new approaches and methods for dealing with the hurricane season. The ways in which business has changed shows this, especially with the rise of online, globalised business. It’s recognised that taking steps to secure the immediate assets of a business is stressful, but generally straightforward. Ensuring electricity is switched off‚ doors are locked‚ and no heavy furniture could collapse are all familiar steps to anyone living in the Caribbean. What about once this is done? What then for a business that needs to operate after the storm passes‚ and may do so amidst great difficulty?
Step 1: Be Agile Beforehand
Businesses talk about the value of being agile. From increased growth to carving out a status as a market leader‚ a dynamic and responsive operation is something every business should aspire to. It is when a hurricane hits that the real value of this is seen.
Being agile is not only advantageous for productivity and profits, it is essential to protect against a business ceasing operations outright during a storm, and also being unable to reopen and operate for a long period after. A hurricane can wreak havoc on a business’s balance sheet, so every effort to defend against the long-term impact must be pursued.
In order to do so effectively, businesses need to ensure there is a clear plan of communication in place before the storm lands. Beyond securing safe accommodation and accounting for all staff, a clear line of communication between all personnel (in-country and globally if required) guarantees a business can cease operations before a storm with peace of mind surrounding its staff.
This preparation beforehand can serve to make a huge difference when seeking to operate effectively after the storm. By no means is this an easy feat to achieve in the best of times. Nonetheless‚ the failure to do so can prove very costly‚ even to a business that operates outside the impact zone of a natural disaster.
Step 2: Be Responsive After
Just as it is important to communicate clearly before a storm, so too is it vital a business remains communicable throughout it. This may not be possible within a local capacity as a storm hits, but assigning the responsibility to a regional or international office can help ensure operations continue (where possible) even amidst a hurricane.
Once the storm has passed, resumption of regular business is a priority. Not only does this seek to restore the business, but it begins to provide essential services and support to the local community. It also assists staff members and clients to return to a sense of regular life and routine; and this factor alone can prove vital to sustaining operations now and into the future.
It is important in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane that such services align with the recovery needs of a community – no Caribbean dismayed by a category 5 hurricane would feel delighted to hear there’s 20% off a tax return with their local accountant. With proper sensitivity to the situation, a business can build anew as it seeks to rebuild its local community.
Step 3: Guard Against Security Risks – the Data Danger
Because business data is usually stored in the cloud, a hurricane is unlikely to do any major damage. Provided there are off-site servers that can serve as a backup in the event a local server is brought down, there is the capacity for a business to continue online operations without change. Yet, it can be a big mistake to think losing power or dealing with lost data are the sole concerns.
The greater threat is the potential for the emergency situation to attract scammers. The reality is many of these scammers are sizeable, sophisticated, and prey equally upon businesses and their clients. This means the potential for a massive data breach, theft or act of extortion can be greater when a hurricane has arrived in the region. Not only is the risk increased during this time, but the capacity for victims to combat scammers is diminished, with local business personnel often evacuated, and police resources strained attending to urgent matters elsewhere.
However much you prepare, it is a reality that Mother Nature will always have the greatest power. As time and technology progress, the hope is that any community regularly facing the threat of hurricanes will find new ways to address the situation.
Ultimately, while our efforts to minimise the damage among our businesses, families, and communities grow stronger alongside our resourcefulness, there is little capacity to ever resist the raw power of a hurricane making landfall. In these circumstances, businesses that seek new ways to be proactive will always find opportunities to serve within their local community.
Each hurricane takes our theories surrounding natural disaster management and tests them. There are never any victories in such a circumstance. Instead it’s simply a matter of determining whether or not systems put in place beforehand did sustain throughout an emergency.
It also cannot be understated just how expensive hurricanes can be. Yet‚ with Hurricane Irma having caused over $10 billion dollars’ worth of damage in the Caribbean alone, once emergency work has been carried out‚ attention will ultimately turn to a rebuild of the impacted area. That process will always be longer and more protracted, as meeting the immediate needs of the community is succeeded by the need to rebuild the community, and return its life to ‘business as usual’.
A business that is able to sustain and remain in operation can serve as an essential cornerstone in these efforts‚ but only in so far as it remains in effective operation itself.