Planning For The Unexpected Saves Companies From Severe Weather

Some of the effects of extreme weather — like factory shutdowns and diminished workforce — are obvious. But longer-lasting consequences aren’t always so apparent, and thoughts like the aforementioned greatly exacerbate problems and lead you to ignore planning for the many details of impending events.

Mnet 174051 Severe Weather
Ian Nicolson, StormGeo industry managerIan Nicolson, StormGeo industry manager

Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I plan for a tornado, I’ll get hit by a flood, so I may as well not plan at all and just take my chances”? Or perhaps you simply postpone planning for a disaster because skies are sunny.

Some of the effects of extreme weather — like factory shutdowns and diminished workforce — are obvious. But longer-lasting consequences aren’t always so apparent, and thoughts like the aforementioned greatly exacerbate problems and lead you to ignore planning for the many details of impending events.

Yet even sunny skies shouldn’t be taken for granted. For example, after a week’s worth of above-90-degree weather, U.S. automobile plants have experienced up to an 8 percent reduction in productivity. Even though automobile manufacturing occurs inside, high heat outside can put stress on the plant’s HVAC system. This can translate to slower production on both the human and machine sides of the equation. And of course, the consequences are more obvious if the HVAC fails entirely.

Though you can’t prevent adverse weather or its consequences, you can certainly be prepared for it. By considering and planning for all contingencies, you can better position your company when unforeseen weather enters the picture.

There’s More to Extreme Weather Than the Extreme Weather

Inadequate planning for extreme weather leaves the future of your company unnecessarily vulnerable. If you believe any effort to prepare would be fruitless, you’ll fail in preparation, which can lead to a wide range of setbacks, including:

  • A warped sense of reality: Believing a disaster can’t or won’t happen leads to an inability to consider — and plan — for the what-ifs that may occur. Freezing rain can surprise drivers and cause delays or accident-related shipment losses. High winds can drop trees on power lines or across roadways. Unexpectedly high temperatures can lead to spoiled or damaged products, while unplanned-for flooding situations can trap employees and force a shutdown.
  • A lack of alternative work locations: Nearly all types of severe weather can damage your facility to the point that it is unsafe for production to continue. Even non-weather events — like chemical spills, police activity, power outages, or communicable diseases — could force a workplace evacuation. Without stand-in work locations in place, all operations will have to stop. This may be unavoidable for some small companies, but whenever possible, alternate facilities or even remote locations should be considered long before extreme weather causes the need to arise.
  • A dearth of communication options: It might take a hurricane or winter storm to drop a cell tower, but even an unusually strong gust of wind might put a tree onto a telephone line. In calm weather, a technical glitch might have the same effect on communication. Failing to establish and train employees to use backup forms of communication — such as cellphones, texting, internet, and mass notification — affects everyone. In the case of a shutdown, employees who can’t be reached will show up to a building where they can’t work. Beyond that, vendors and supply companies won’t be aware of delays, postponements, or cancellations, which adversely affects relationships, operations, and the bottom line.
  • A shortsighted plan for the aftermath: Whether your office or factory suffers damage, production and morale can take a drastic hit if you don’t properly account for the aftermath. Surrounding damage can make it impossible for employees to travel. In some cases, their livelihoods may be at risk due to severely damaged homes, injuries, and possibly death. Unless resources like payroll, HR, and other support mechanisms are available to assist employees who are affected by the disaster, you’re not setting up your company to prosper.

How to Stay Ready When Storms Hit

The unexpected happens sooner or later, but it doesn’t have to blindside you. Besides planning for the obvious effects of a weather disaster, you must also consider the continued ramifications in and around the workplace. Here are three ways you can prepare for such commonly overlooked circumstances:

1. Leave no stone unturned. Plan for every possible contingency. For instance, approximately 15 million customers are affected by weather-related power outages annually. So, ask yourself what you would do if you lost power?

Planning for a winter storm may be a no-brainer, but do you also have a plan in place for consecutive days in record heat? If you store food or other perishables, are the storage containers temperature-controlled and connected to an alternate power source? Are all transport and delivery vehicles prepped for severe conditions? Is there a plan to account for your outside workers? Plan for these possibilities to give your business its best chance to weather any storm.

2. Stay on the line. Ensure that communication to your employees doesn’t falter. Every employee’s full contact information — including landline, cellphone numbers, and email address — should be company record so they can be reached during emergencies.

Apps like GroupMe facilitate conference calls and messaging with the push of a button, while Twitter lets you tweet emergency communications instantly. (Remember, though, that platforms like Twitter are public, and what you tweet can be seen by others.) Be sure several individuals know how to initiate various critical procedures so communication will always remain active.

3. Know what’s coming. In both planning and execution, base your decisions on quality weather information specific to your location. The best way to secure this information is through commercial weather services, rather than relying on national or local TV meteorologists.

Television and radio meteorologists provide forecasts for a broad market that often cover hundreds or thousands of square miles, while free app weather services on your phone are typically model-driven and lack regular input from meteorologists. Conversely, commercial weather services provide location-specific data and can tailor their services so your facilities, assets, employees, customers, and logistics are protected.

Weather disasters can’t be cancelled or rerouted. However, planning for them can help you overcome unexpected hurdles, reduce operational downtime, expedite recovery, and have a positive effect on the bottom line.

Ian Nicolson serves as an industry manager at StormGeo

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