By: Amy Bean Napier
After four hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, most Florida businesses now have business continuity and disaster preparedness plans in place. We keep the plan updated continuously with the latest technology to ensure that we are ready just in case.
The office closed a little early on Thursday afternoon to allow all staff to get home safely and prepare for the storm. All equipment in the office was up off the floor (in case of flooding). All equipment, computers and servers were powered down (in case of power surges and outages). Files and materials were secured in file cabinets and blinds were lowered (in case of breaking glass from high winds). Critical contact lists for staff, insurance, office complex management, vendors, etc. were provided in both electronically and in hard copy to take off premises.
And we were ready when Hurricane Hermine hit Tallahassee on Friday, September 2, 2016. Hermine made landfall at 1:30 a.m. Just east of St Marks which is located approximately 20 miles Southeast of Tallahassee.
While the storm did not directly hit Tallahassee, we did get a lot of wind with gusts up to 75 mph throughout the night. This caused many of our beautiful trees (which Tallahassee is well known for) to topple or lose large limbs. This in turn caused many power poles and lines to collapse causing over 100,000 homes and businesses to lose power.
We experienced loss of power at both our home and our business. The good news in this case was that the storm hit on a holiday weekend (Labor Day) so we had almost four full days to get electricity restored. The bad news was that electricity was not restored by Tuesday morning when we were supposed to return to work.
We worked our disaster plan and contacted staff by text the night before letting managers know to come in for a briefing and letting other staff know to stay home. During the manager briefing (held onsite in the office without electricity, phones or internet), we reviewed our next steps in disaster planning implementation and what our short and long term plans were.
Short term (meaning for a business day or two at the most), our plan was to notify key customers by email and text and other customers by social media and via websites of the office closing and reasons why. We instructed our managers to utilize remote (work-from-home) procedures to make these initiatives materialize (most had electricity at their homes by this time). Long term we secured an alternate workspace in our same complex that had electricity, placed our technology partners on standby for temporary phone and internet solutions and determined what staff was critical to keep the business running.
We were ready for either scenario. But the sticking point was timing, what I call the disaster gap. We couldn’t get any information from the city on when the electricity might be turned back on for our office. And because the electricity could come back on at any time, we weren’t sure how much of the plan we wanted to implement. Do we spend our time and effort setting up the alternate office or resetting our current office so that it would be ready to go immediately when electricity was restored? What is the best plan of action during the disaster gap?
Our electricity was ultimately restored by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. And we were up and running with electricity, phones and internet by mid-morning Wednesday. So in this case, we were saved from making that important decision of when to implement the long term disaster plan.
But we did realize that our business continuity/disaster preparedness plan doesn’t address the disaster gap clearly enough between short time and long term outages. This is an area that we will be starting to look at immediately so that next time we are better prepared to “Mind the Gap”!