Business Continuity Lessons from the 2017 Hurricane Season

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Earlier this month during the worst of Irma, journalists and other Miami Herald employees hunkered down in the paper's headquarters to document and ride out the storm. The building, a former defense-department facility, was famous for its fortress of concrete walls, four generators, and bullet proof windows. But what really made it feel safe was what employees of the paper could bring with them - their families.

It was an ingenious move for an organization that had to stay operational throughout the storm. As CNN reported, "having family close by and safe certainly helped ease the nerves of journalists providing their community the latest updates on the hurricane's path and the damage it could do to their city."

Business Continuity Concerns Fueling an Increased Sense of Urgency

Most organizations don't have the luxury of a bunker. But the Herald wasn't the only quick-thinking employer that needed to have their people front and center. And the importance of being prepared has renewed urgency in the wake of the post-Maria heartache in Puerto Rico.

For us, it's been about flying in to provide care for children of first-responders. But there were lessons that applied to numerous businesses and benefits:

Call in the reserves

If you're handling a crisis or natural disaster, you're not going to have extra hands inside the organization to manage ancillary (though essential) supports. During Harvey and Irma, our hospital clients like MDAnderson Cancer Center and JFK Medical Center didn't have to call around to find child care for their doctors and nurses. They knew we'd be there. We did our jobs!so they could do theirs.

Have clear policies and know where to go for info

During the storms, several companies made news (good and not so good) for inconsistent policies on going to work. There was also confusion about where to get info. Start now to assemble business continuity policies and communications plans. Don't forget to make use of social media. Business continuity will depend on it.

Assess vendors reach

How local can your national provider be? One of the reasons we were able to respond quickly after Harvey is because our coast-to-coast network already included a large contingent on the ground in Houston. There were no long waits for people to fly in (a bonus since many flights were grounded); and no guessing if they'd arrive.

Ensure your Plan A has a Plan B

In a crisis, regular procedures might not apply. So how can you use existing supports in novel ways? During the recent storms, our back-up crisis plan reimbursed client employees if they had to hire the sitter next door; it also enabled in-home sitters to be booked on-site in hospitals in case doctors and nurses needed to bring children with them.

Make sure to debrief

Unprecedented events call for scrappy solutions; but those same solutions can (and should) be tweaked later into official policy. Many hospitals, for example, gave themselves high marks for ferrying in doctors and nurses. But those same hospitals are rethinking their approaches to support personnel and supplies. "If you're planning for a disaster," an MDAnderson administrator told MedPage Today, "have you touched base with lab medicine to make sure they have what they need?" After the crisis, schedule a check-in to assess what worked, what didn't, and how to turn improvisation into a solid crisis plan.

Our Heartfelt Best Wishes to All

Extreme weather continues to play out around the country. And it's been heartbreaking to watch the impact, first in Texas, then in Florida, and now on the devastated island of Puerto Rico. We continue to be there for clients when they need us. And as the cleanup goes on, we send our most heartfelt wishes to all who have been affected, and our sincerest thanks to all who continue to open their hearts and homes to pitch in.  

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.