Global Guardian’s experts outline steps corporations and individuals should be taking to protect their people and assets during a natural disaster.
Natural disasters have the potential to cause widespread damage and impact business and supply chain operations, making it critical for corporations to take steps to minimize these disruptions and ensure the safety of their people and assets. While the warning times vary across types of natural disasters—days in the event of a hurricane to very little time for a tornado as examples—each crisis follows a similar pattern of challenges that need to be accounted for. With the start of Atlantic hurricane season this month, comes an important reminder to take stock of how you and your organization have performed in past emergencies and ensure your emergency plans are up to date and well-communicated.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Climate Prediction Center has predicted an above-average Atlantic hurricane season this year, running from June 1 to November 30. “These storms are larger, more powerful, and more frequent than ever,” said Global Guardian CEO and President Dale Buckner. In 2021, extreme weather/climate events killed 688 people and resulted in billions of dollars in damages in the United States.
“It is worth your time to consider these factors as you think about this, as you are trying to protect your people, your infrastructure, and your communications,” Buckner said in a webinar hosted by Global Guardian on June 15. Michael Coleman, senior vice president for strategic partnerships at Global Guardian, moderated the discussion.
Noting NOAA’s prediction of an above-normal hurricane season, Juan Mestas, fire operations deputy chief and emergency manager for City of Miami Beach and FEMA urban search and rescue senior liaison, said: “It doesn’t matter what’s being forecast. If one hits you, that is bad enough.”
Loss of mobility: Mobility is one of the first casualties in a natural disaster. Roads, highways, and ports are backed up as people attempt to flee and flights are in short supply. In order to head off this challenge, Buckner advises people to heed evacuation orders.
“Being a first mover matters; it gives you optionality as a firm and as a family that you lose if you move too late,” Buckner said. “You don’t lose a lot by getting out of the way.”
Mestas, too, emphasized the importance of timely evacuations. Noting the public’s reliance on social media during a crisis, he said it is critical that sources of information are reliable. He provided an outline for an emergency plan that includes:
- talking to family, friends, and others who are part of your personal support network;
- sharing your emergency plan with everyone in your network;
- making sure everyone knows how you plan to evacuate and where you plan to go;
- remembering to take your critical documents and medications; and
- practicing your plan.
Mestas said it is important to be prepared. “Prepare, practice, make a plan, practice that plan, and then correct whatever you think may not have been perfect with that plan,” he said.
Scarcity of essential supplies: Empty grocery store shelves are a common sight ahead of a crisis. It is one that has become all too common as the COVID-19 pandemic created supply chain issues. Buckner advises companies and families build a survival kit well ahead of a crisis.
Rise in crime: Natural disasters are often followed by a spike in crime, particularly looting. “You can anticipate that if you have infrastructure left behind, you’re going to have to bring in a security element from the outside,” Buckner said. This is because local security guards will be facing the same challenges as everyone else during a natural disaster and may not be available. The same is true for local first responders.
Mestas said given the limited bandwidth of first responders during a natural disaster, companies and individuals should empower themselves to take care not just of themselves but also of their employees until a first responder can help.
“One of the things we suggest is: be ready for 72 hours and be self-sufficient for 72 hours until first responders can get out there and get help,” he said.
Inability to communicate: Corporations often have the mistaken assumption that they are going to be able to communicate with their employees—whether that is through a phone call, text alerts, or emails—during a crisis, said Buckner. But the ability to communicate is often hit during a crisis. In 2017, for example, Hurricanes Irma and Maria knocked out communications networks in Puerto Rico. “The appropriate assumption is this: You will not be able to text, you will not be able to call, there will be no internet of any kind, there will be no email. So, all those HR directors and chief security officers, you have to plan as if you will not be able to communicate once the storm passes and this is where satellite devices on key personnel, if they are to remain, is essential,” said Buckner. “Ultimately, the message is, if you do have satellite devices—text or voice—with key and essential personnel, we can move mountains for you.”
The biggest challenge in a crisis is reaching those in need. “Depending on the severity of the storm, you may not have 911, you may not have a way to contact anyone,” Mestas said. To overcome this challenge, Mestas has leased satellite phones for key officials in Miami Beach so that they are able to communicate during a crisis. Buckner said this is a model most corporations are also following as they prepare for a crisis.
HOW can Organizations Plan for a Crisis?
Jeff Stacy, director of operations at Global Guardian, discussed how organizations can plan for a crisis. Eighty percent of such planning work is done during the preparation and prevention phase, while 20 percent occurs during the response and recovery phase, he explained.
Stacy listed some steps organizations should take.
In the preparation phase:
- Check emergency management and business continuity plans to ensure that they are up to date.
- Review policies and procedures and operations governance.
- Liaise with intelligence and analysis groups that can provide the most current and up-to-date information on an event.
- Talk through tactical operations and communicate this to staff.
“What we have found [is that] where organizations were successful in dealing with crises it was because the organizations are aware of what they should be doing,” Stacy said.
In the prevention phase:
- Work with legal, human resources, and corporate communications groups to develop a clear and concise message for staff.
- Collaborate with design engineers for countermeasures and any mitigation steps that might need to be put in place.
- Exercise your plan.
“Organizations that do realistic tabletop exercises and push through them as far they can tend to have greater success,” Stacy said.
In the response phase:
- Have in place specialized vendors: kidnap and response vendors, travel security, guard services, etc.
- Reach out to any government agencies whose assistance might be required during a crisis.
In the recovery phase:
- Ensure insurance providers are on hand and you are aware of what is covered, but also what is not covered.
- Conduct thorough after-action reviews.
“Where we have seen people be successful is that they are honest in these [after-action reviews]. There is no finger pointing. They are going through the facts of what worked well so that they can make adjustments going forward to make themselves better,” Stacy said.
In the case of hurricanes, specifically, Stacy said it is important to ensure that facilities that are in the path of possible storms have put in place mitigation steps—generators and water pumps, but also fuel services. During the disaster, intelligence and analysis groups should be available to provide updates. In the recovery phase, disaster recovery firms and guard services should be brought in to protect facilities while cleanup is underway and rebuilding is completed. Nearby facilities should be considered to serve as backup locations for operations or logistic hubs to push in supplies once the storm has passed. Duty of care providers should also be readied for when the storm passes.
The importance of communication
Stacy, like Buckner and Mestas, emphasized the importance of communication before, during, and after a crisis. In the planning phase, companies should ensure that they have accurate data related to their employees, including phone numbers and addresses, and consider if there are some employees who may need special assistance.
“The more data we have the better,” said Buckner. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, locating people is like “finding a needle in the haystack,” he said, so “I need a data point to then pull that thread.”
Stacy highlighted Global Guardian’s experience dealing with Hurricane Ida which made landfall in Louisiana in August 2021. Global Guardian’s teams extracted more than 700 people from the area, secured facilities, and helped clients rebuild.
A 'Consistent Playbook'
Buckner explained that there is a “consistent playbook” in a crisis, whether that is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. First, there is an alert. In the case of a hurricane, this alert could come days before the event. On the other hand, there is little to no warning of a terrorist attack. Next, freedom of movement is constrained as road, rail, sea, and air transport are impacted and critical assets become scarce. “You can’t wave a wand and have magic evacuations,” said Buckner, adding that it is important to have a plan that can be augmented by government assets.
ASK The Hard Questions
Above all, Buckner said, it is important to ask the hard questions. Who is going to come help you when a crisis hits, what are their capabilities, and where are their assets located? He said it is critical to know before a crisis hits what insurance plans will and will not cover. Typically, insurance plans do not cover medical evacuations, war, or even a pandemic. It is equally important to know your duty of care provider’s capabilities.
“If your duty of care provider’s solution is sending texts and alerts and they cannot answer where the helicopter is going to come from, where the agents are going to come from, how they are going to execute, and how many assets they have… near that crisis zone… you don’t have a solution,” Buckner said.
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