Whatever the weather ...

Whatever the weather... image

We can no longer ignore the change in the pace of adverse weather conditions. Extreme flood conditions are becoming a more regular feature of the headlines. Could extreme become the norm? Whether this is down to climate change or not, businesses can go a long way to helping protect themselves ahead of an adverse weather event by thinking through the consequences and taking the necessary actions to prepare.

Spare a thought for all those who have suffered from the flooding in recent weeks that seems to have become an unwelcome feature of our weather patterns. No longer confined to known flood zones, areas which are either not prone to flooding or only in extreme cases are suddenly find themselves in the front line of torrential rain and storms. 

As yet this winter, we have not had to contend with the arrival of snow and ice to complicate matters, but rest assured if and when they do, temperatures will plummet and the “wrong kind of snow” will cause inevitable travel disruptions amidst hazardous conditions.

Theories abound as to whether these weather extremes are just freak occurrences or likely to become the norm. In many cases, the “once in a hundred years” event appears to have reduced the odds by becoming once in twenty five or even ten years. Whatever the scientific reasoning, it would seem pragmatic to accept that there will be adverse weather situations that will cause disruptions for some time to come and all communities should do what they can to manage these more efficiently, whether this is for the short, medium or long term.

As business continuity planners we have a particular, and personal, interest in the impacts of adverse or extreme weather, having ourselves been stranded on numerous occasions at airports due to snow (and ash clouds), plus two of our – perhaps foolhardy - consultants live on a flood plain and experience flood conditions annually. We are only too aware of how weather can affect people’s daily lives and work and have taken action to set up remote working so at least we can get on with the paperwork!

The beauty of business continuity is that even a modicum of planning will go a long way to help bridge that gap between swimming against the tide and sailing through when adversity strikes. It does not matter what size of organisation you are, business continuity planning is a vital component and will provide practical benefits for every business, large, medium or small.

The all important bit is thinking through the actions that need to be taken pre-incident in order to provide an effective response. Firstly, imagine a worst case scenario; your business premises has been flooded with several feet of water, equipment is ruined, data tapes are waterlogged and paperwork is a soggy mess, phones and power are out. What happens next?

In the first instance, obviously you will be dealing with the immediate impacts, ensuring staff are contacted and safe, phoning the insurance company, trying to salvage anything you can and coordinating the clear up operation. But can you also salvage your business? This is particularly apt for the small to medium business where statistics suggest that a good proportion of these organisations can be put out of business in such an event, largely because they simply do not have the back up plans in place to see them through a period of service and cash flow disruption.

Thinking ahead, why not put business continuity planning on the next management meeting’s agenda and talk through the issues surrounding a disruptive event. It’s likely that this will give rise to the need for further discussion with key business representatives who can give consideration to such questions as:

• Where you could relocate to (home, serviced office, temporary warehouse)

• What are your critical activities (key services or product lines)

• What resources (people, IT/comms, etc.) would be needed to keep these going until full functionality can be restored

Business continuity planning also extends beyond restoring the organisation’s infrastructure and factors into the equation consideration of staff welfare issues resulting from the incident. For example, it may not be just the business premises that is affected, but just as likely is the flooding of homes causing devastation to families forced to relocate and faced with the inevitable hardships that will accompany such a situation.

Experience from hurricane Sandy in New York and surrounding states suggests that a greater focus on staff welfare is an important component of response planning. Being able to support staff through a critical and worrying time following an incident will not only be appreciated, but will be remembered and helps to foster staff loyalty. This focus could also be extended to the wider community.

Take into account too impacts to suppliers and whether an incident affecting a key supplier could affect their ability to maintain the service they provide to you. This could be because of transport disruption, reduced supply of products to them or even going out of business. Do you know of alternative suppliers who you could call on to step in.

Remember that ultimately it is your company’s reputation that is at stake. If you can provide reassurance to staff and customers alike that you have done everything possible to ensure you can respond to an incident quickly and effectively, they should be more predisposed to work with you when and if the time comes and support you whilst you get back on your feet.

  • Date: 8th January 2016
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