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In Case of Crisis, Build Community

A complete disregard for the law. A lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse with regards to harming others. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are only a couple of the symptoms that could describe someone afflicted with antisocial personality disorder.

They also aptly describe Mother Nature—especially when she throws a tornado, flood, wildfire, or any other natural disasters into the path of an organization, its facilities, and its workforce.

The United States is home to more tornados than anywhere else in the world, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Before 1991, it was rare to see more than 1,000 tornadoes within a year. But between 1991 and 2010, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center recorded a yearly average of 1,228 tornadoes.

More recently, there were 1,517 tornadoes in 2019, which directly resulted in 42 deaths; 1,075 tornadoes in 2020 linked to 76 deaths; and 1,174 tornadoes between 1 January 2021 and 25 November 2021, during which 14 people died. This does not include the series of tornadoes that tore through Kentucky and other U.S. states on 10 December 2021, which killed at least 90 people—a death toll that may still be increasing.

Statistics with hurricanes are not much more encouraging. According to data from the National Hurricane Center, in 2017 there were 17 named storms that emerged out of the Atlantic Ocean; in 2018 there were 15; in 2019 that number climbed to 18; and in 2020 it jumped to 30. Before 2020, the last time there were more than 19 named storms within a year was in 2005 during which there were 28, and before that there were 20 storms in 1933.

The more you do in advance, the higher levels of community resilience.

But after the storm passes—whether literal or figurative—businesses and communities are left to pick up the pieces. By now, whether because of a natural disaster or instead thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations have a business continuity plan, while “anti-fragility” and “disaster recovery plan” have become industry watchwords.

Having business continuity and recovery plans in place—especially ones specifically tailored to a natural disaster—can help protect a business and curb the amount of downtime that an organization might spend returning to an operational status. Various organizations, such as government agencies and insurance providers, offer resources and guidance for businesses—advising on what an individual company or facility can do to prepare or protect itself.

“It doesn’t matter what the threat vector is, the end goal is still the same: that you’re able to survive the situation,” says Nicole McDargh, CPP, vice president of safety and loss prevention for pizza giant Domino’s. “This is where that anti-fragility bent comes from.”

While she aims to focus on “controlling the controllables,” McDargh also acknowledges that when it comes to natural disasters, significant elements and impacts cannot be reigned in by an organization or person, even after a storm has passed. “You have to solve for the things you can solve,” she says.

Planning to resist a weather event is difficult given its ability to decimate entire communities and regions. There’s not exactly a way to fortify a facility against an earthquake if the ground opens underneath it. So instead, McDargh opts to not only consider every bad thing that could happen to a facility or its employees, but to also consider how to limit any damage.

“Not solve for it or eradicate it—but mitigate it. What can I do to make it the least amount of damage to my people or to my business?” McDargh says. “How do I get back up to speed?” This train of thought is part of her larger aim: not only getting the business back up and running and ensuring employees and facilities are safe, but also learning from previous incidents and returning to normal operations faster than before.

For an organization looking to prove itself resilient to a natural disaster, the planning phase must take into account steps well before an event blips on a radar, as well as look beyond its own walls.

After a weather event, one key consideration to consider while planning for recovery and getting back to speed sooner rather than later is coordination with the local community. While threats from inside or external attackers might target a specific business or person, a climate event doesn’t differentiate between one building and another, much less one person and another. The value in having previously connected and developed a positive relationship with other community stakeholders—including churches, first responders, community centers, and utilities—is that this network can assist in a speedier recovery.

Businesses’ ability to reopen and ensure few disruptions in payroll is most critical for economic recovery.

According to Nora O’Brien, a business continuity planning expert and CEO for Connect Consulting Services, organizations should go beyond networking and a general awareness. She recommends having memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with other businesses or organizations that a company may need to rely on during recovery efforts.

For example, a hospital may want an MOU with a childcare company, one that outlines the number of employees needed to care for hospital staff’s children in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency—allowing doctors, nurses, administrators, and other staff to focus on caring for those injured by a weather event instead of how to get home to their children.

O’Brien also suggests that local networking relationships should take these partnerships a step further, potentially conducting drills or other training together. At the very least, there should be meetings between stakeholders to discuss readily available resources and establish expectations, such as whether community shelters be set up in the local high school’s gymnasium or a hotel’s ballroom.

“The more you do in advance, the higher levels of community resilience,” O’Brien says.

While reopening for-profit businesses immediately benefits the companies returning to normal hours and operations, a 2016 paper from the think tank RAND Corporation, What Role Does the Private Sector Have in Supporting Disaster Recovery, and What Challenges Does It Face in Doing So?, noted that the benefits are felt throughout the surrounding community. “Businesses’ ability to reopen and ensure few disruptions in payroll is most critical for economic recovery,” the report said, and these organizations can provide goods or services, such as logistics, even during response and recovery.

Private businesses’ assistance to an area hit by a disaster is sometimes quantified through monetary donations to relief funds or regional or specialized recovery funds and nonprofits. Other times, such as within a community network, it’s not about the money.

McDargh recalls that local Domino’s restaurants sent over food to line workers trying to fix power lines downed by Hurricane Ida around early September, even though there had been no call for a delivery order. From the perspective of the company, such scenarios are symbiotic. One organization can feed those in need of food, fueling the people who will help refuel power supplies, supplies that in turn help bring the company back to 100 percent operational capacity, along with the rest of the community.

“Without you doing your job, you’re not going to be able to help me do my job,” McDargh says. “I’ve got backup generators, but I need power eventually, so I need to keep you fed.” And McDargh has found that in general, those receiving a service are willing to reciprocate, whether that reciprocal behavior presents as restored power, shelter for employees and their families, additional fuel for generators, or other goods and services.

If it happens again—and it will happen again—you were already unprepared the first time, but now it’s almost negligent.

While natural disasters do not discriminate, the unexpected outcome during recovery efforts is that everyone in a community is united in their attempts to not only survive, but thrive in the aftermath, hopefully coming out stronger and faster than before. “Nothing brings us together like an absolutely hideous event,” McDargh says.

When it comes to determining who in the community can help in this fashion, the nature of the network will depend on the nature of the business.

While a superstore might have an emergency facility that can withstand a storm or tornado, a power plant or a luxury goods store probably cannot make its entire site available to the public given its need for high security in at least some areas. Instead of shelter, a different kind of exchange of services or goods would likely be more beneficial to the overall community as well as to the individual organization.

When putting together this kind of recovery plan, McDargh notes that it’s also wise to look up and down the organization’s vertical. For example, a grocery store might need to rely on a nearby warehouse to resupply its shelves, but what if that warehouse is somehow cut off from the store or major highways altogether? And what is the plan if that happens—who can help and how can that person or group be helped in return?

Failing to have those conversations and build those relationships before the next storm or disaster hits, especially after weathering one before, can not only hurt an organization as it works to recover but also further down the road.

“If it happens again—and it will happen again—you were already unprepared the first time, but now it’s almost negligent,” McDargh says. “You know that it can happen, and you know that there were some things that you possibly could have done better.” 

Sara Mosqueda is assistant editor of Security Management. Connect with her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @ximenawrites.