by Joseph Riscica
Every year around this time, a question hangs in the air for non-profits and businesses like storm clouds in the sky: Will a hurricane affect our area and our ability to serve our communities?
Now at the midpoint of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, activity has been relatively muted so far and the few storms named have not resulted in significant damage to the New Jersey area. But with the most active period of the violent weather approaching, many meteorologists believe the quiet trend could make a 180-degree shift, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Superstorm Sandy came ashore in 2012, according to a newly released forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to NOAA, there’s a 70 percent chance that between two and four major hurricanes will develop between now and November 30, the last official day of the hurricane season.
“We’ve raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Nino ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon,” explained Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster and analyst at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
But a hurricane doesn’t have to be major to be damaging. Superstorm Sandy is perhaps the best example. At one point, Sandy reached Category 3 strength, but by the time it reached the Atlantic coastline, it was downgraded to a Category 2. Despite this, the massive storm system is behind only Katrina and Andrew as the most damaging hurricane to ever hit the U.S., according to numbers gathered by the Insurance Information Institute.
Even more recently, Hurricane Hermine in September, didn’t pack a lot of punch in the way of winds, but it caused massive flooding for parts of the south. If the weather maker had affected your non-profit, would you have been prepared?
With September and October typically being the most active month for hurricane development, the following are some of the ways business owners, non-profit groups and organizational heads can prepare for whatever Mother Nature has up her sleeve in the days and weeks ahead.
Perform risk assessment
As the name implies, a risk assessment is a system that enables organizations to analyze what vulnerabilities their properties possess, and from there, how they can be mitigated. For instance, if in a heavily wooded area, you may want to consider paring back tree limbs and branches. Additionally, because power outages are a hazard, it may be worth investing in surge protectors to reduce the chances of losing stored data on computer systems. This also serves as a step toward implementing an effective business continuity plan.
Collect emergency contact information
Nothing is worse for a non-profit leader, than a breakdown in communications. As such, staff and board contact details should be assembled so everyone can be informed of the very latest. Staff should also be familiar with what they are supposed to take and where to go if ordered to evacuate the premises.
Know your neighborhood allies
Non-profits responsible for the lives of others, including hospitals, assisted living and daycare centers, need to have a plan on how their clients will be transported and cared for. Collaboration, ahead of time with other non-profits and social services groups in your area is imperative.
Learn about the resources at NJVOAD (New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), an organization with a mission to “bring together NJ organizations active in disaster assistance, and to foster cooperation and coordination in preparedness, response, and recovery in order to offer more effective services to people and communities affected by disaster.”
Make a checklist
PrepareMyBusiness.org has a superb crisis communications checklist that can help ensure everyone is kept in the know.
Here are a few other measures to take, some of them general, with the others best done when a hurricane is imminent:
- Remove or anchor outdoor furniture and detachable installations that can be picked up by wind gusts.
- Install or consider investing in windstorm shutters.
- Shut off natural gas supply.
- Fill fuel tanks with gas, particularly generators (where available).
- Assemble an emergency preparedness kit with plenty of medical supplies, water and non-perishable food like canned goods and meals ready-to-eat (MREs).
- Clear gutters and eaves of debris to reduce the risk of localized flooding.
- Make sure signs are taken down or properly braced.
- Locate important documents that may be needed in the aftermath, such as insurance papers if a claim has to be filed.
- Acquire a radio, TV or handheld device that provides up-to-the-minute information from local and/or national media sources.
- Understand the differences between a hurricane warning and a hurricane watch.
This is only a handful of the steps that businesses and nonprofit organizations can follow to reduce the fallout from natural catastrophes like hurricanes. The internet is teeming with additional resources including:
- NJ 2-1-1 Partnership’s Emergency Preparedness,
- Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety,
- New Jersey utility companies such as PSE&G, JCP&L, etc.
- National Hurricane Survival Initiative
For more information on what we at Continuity Centers can provide to non-profits and their recoverability, including your workforce, your technology needs, and the tangible tools and resources to continue operations, please visit our website at www.ContinuityCenters.com.
Joseph Riscica is the executive sales director for Continuity Centers, “Recovery, Redefined,” in New Jersey. Joe has over thirty years’ extensive experience as an information technology senior executive and a leader within the business continuity and disaster recovery industry. Joe has worked with major recovery organizations such as IBM, SungardAS, and SEMA Group Recovery Services.