Disaster Recovery: Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy

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Information provided by Agility Recovery Solutions

Although it was classified as a moderate Category 1 storm, Sandy will be remembered as one of the most devastating storms in history. Sandy affected all segments of society from private citizens and businesses, to government services and utilities. While some businesses had plans in place to deal with a situation like this, most did not. Those that didn’t paid a heavier price! So if a disaster strikes your company, how prepared are you? If your disaster plan is solely comprised of computer backups and a phone tree, you may want to invest some effort in a real recovery plan.

Disaster Recovery is a Risk Control technique. Risk Control is anything you can do to lower the frequency and severity of a claim. Disaster recovery won’t reduce frequency, but it will definitely reduce severity. In some cases, an effective disaster recovery plan supported by a correctly-written insurance program can be the difference between a business’ survival or failure.

The Basics

Preparing your Employees

Though many organizations were unharmed during Sandy, their employees could not, or would not, return to work for various reasons. Below are some thoughts and suggestions on how to better prepare your workforce for disaster, so they can return to work in a timely manner.

  • Cross train your employees. Regardless of a disaster’s impact on your business, if an employee’s family is displaced or affected by a crisis, they will respond to their family first and their employer second. Be sure you can continue operations if key personnel are unavailable due to family emergencies.
  • If a “work from home” scenario is part of your plan, you must plan for the risks of power loss, communication interruptions, inconsistent internet access and the inevitable distractions encountered when staff are working in a home environment.
  • If employees must be “in office”, how will they travel to work when public transportation and fuel are cut off? Consider establishing carpool protocols or hiring a transportation service. For future events, consider storing fuel on-site for distribution to key personnel. Be sure to follow official guidelines for fuel storage and distribution.

Communications

In every crisis, from large to small, communications is the key to recovering quickly. When planning, “communications” should be a top priority. Below are some lessons learned that may allow you to better develop your crisis communications plan.

  • Having a single carrier for phone, internet and mobile access is a major point of failure. Diversify your communications providers to provide an extra layer of resilience.
  • Because communication is the key to any recovery, mobile service is a typical bottleneck during a regional crisis. During Sandy, smart phone power and network access were either limited, or simply not available. Be sure you have a solar powered or hand crank charger for mobile devices. For those in healthcare, government, security, etc., you may need to consider satellite communications tools including phones and internet providers.
  • When bandwidth is limited, text messaging may be your only means of communication. Know how to send texts to employees, staff, vendors and customers. Consider implementing a system for sending mass texts or email-to-text messages.
  • Think about the different audiences that must be communicated with immediately following a disaster: family, employees, partners, investors, vendors and customers. What is the message to each audience? If you communicate effectively, most people will be able to accommodate short-term disruptions, and will remain loyal customers. However, if you don’t communicate at all, they will simply find the next provider.

Planning

It seems like sometimes the smallest detail can have the greatest effect on your ability to recover during a crisis. Here are a few tips:

  • Know your local emergency management, political leadership and law enforcement. Knowing these leaders can make or break your recovery when it comes to outside assistance making it into a restricted area, or finding out key information that can aid in your recovery.
  • Document, document, document. Take pictures before, during and after the crisis (if it is safe to do so.) It will help aid the recovery effort and ensure that insurance has enough information to quickly and properly process claims.
  • Knowing your electrical demand ahead of time is critical. It can save time and potentially thousands of dollars when making decisions in the midst of crisis.
  • If your generator is elevated to avoid flooding, make sure the fuel supply is elevated as well. Fuel sources and/or pumps to deliver fuel to a generator that are below, or at, ground level can be compromised by floodwaters. Additionally, any generators elevated above ground will be difficult to refuel. During Sandy, some hospitals were forced to hand carry containers of diesel fuel up dozens of flights of stairs to refuel generators on rooftops.
  • Have more than one fuel vendor available. Perhaps no other frustration attracted more media attention than the lack of fuel, for both backup generators and vehicle use. Supply lines can be interrupted hundreds of miles away affecting supply and local rationing can be imposed at any time. Be sure to have multiple vendors in the event a primary vendor’s operations are interrupted.

Cavignac & Associates partners with Agility Recovery Solutions not only to help manage our disaster recovery efforts, but to help our clients manage theirs as well. Agility provided the material for this newsletter. If you want a more in-depth disaster recovery checklist, click here.

Note that Agility is hosting a Disaster Recovery Seminar at Cavignac & Associates on Friday, May 10, 2013, at 8:00am. If your current disaster recovery program leaves a little to be desired, or you simply have questions, you should consider attending. The seminar invitation follows this newsletter.