HOW CAN BUSI­NESSES RE­SPOND EF­FEC­TIVELY TO EACH HUR­RI­CANE?

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY STAR BUSINESSWEEK CORRESPONDENT

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 (in­coun­try 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.

SUM­MARY

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.

Hur­ri­cane To­mas un­leashed its force as it crossed Saint Lu­cia on Oc­to­ber 30, 2010 , killing 14 peo­ple.

Hur­ri­cane To­mas left a trail of dev­as­ta­tion.

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