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Eight business continuity tips for weathering hurricane season

It’s June, which means hurricane season is upon us, and it’s time to shore up business contingency plans. As we all remember, many firms in New York and New Jersey were impacted by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, and since then, focus on business resiliency and continuity has increased dramatically. If you’re an emerging manager just embarking on your first BCP plan or it’s time to review and update your existing plan, here are eight tips to keep in mind as hurricane season begins. 

1. Determine how/where your employees will work in the event of a weather scenario. 
Some firms opt to identify a secondary work site, but in the event of a widespread or regional event, you may find that location is inaccessible also. You should also consider if transportation is/will be impacted by the weather. If road conditions are bad or public transportation is shut down, employees will have to remain home.

If your firm supports remote access capabilities, ensure employees are prepared with the necessary infrastructure, workload expectations and communication tools.

2. Ensure employees test for remote access before an incident occurs.
If your firm plans to allow employees to work remotely, it is critical that employees understand HOW to work remotely. Provide users with login information and ensure they have the appropriate resources at home to support their needs:

  • Computer/PC/Laptop
  • Required software or applications
  • Mobile phone
  • Power/connectivity

Testing is imperative here. If a hurricane strikes and an employee realizes he/she cannot login remotely, you could end up having to shift responsibilities at the last minute or, worse, projects may fall through the cracks.

3. Provide employees with quick reference cards and/or wallet cards with high-level BCP information.
A great way to ensure employees have access to all the information they could need during an event is to provide quick reference or wallet cards. These handy documents should contain the following:

  • Key personnel contact information
  • Alternate site location/directions
  • Remote access instructions
  • Call forwarding instructions

4. Keep in communication with your employees before, during and after a stormy event.
A once-off email is not enough during a weather-related event. During any type of disaster, it’s imperative to keep employees (as well as investors, clients and other third parties) informed at all times.

Try to provide as much information as possible during your updates. Employees should be confident the firm is in full control and business operations will be unaffected by the inclement weather.

Provide employee workload expectations, recovery steps the firm is undertaking and how long you expect the situation to last.

Post-storm, share what you learned from the experience: the positives and negatives. Employees will appreciate that you are forthcoming and are willing to work to improve procedures.

5. Consider an emergency notification system to alert employees and/or third parties. 
Traditional calling trees are cumbersome and time consuming, and emails – especially outside of business hours – can often be overlooked. Automated emergency notification systems (ENS) can quickly and effectively deliver messages to various parties using a variety of methods.

When shopping for a ENS system, here are a few features to look for that could serve you well during a business continuity scenario:

  • SMS texting: Unlike calls, texts can be queued if there are service interruptions during a disaster
  • Two-way messaging: Allows users to respond to basic questions if needed
  • Mobile/remote access: Allows the system to be activated remotely or from a mobile device—convenient during a storm
  • Scheduled messaging: Having a “canned” message or scheduling notifications in advance can save time

6. Store investor and third party vendor information on a mobile device or accessible shared drive in the event your office/PC are unavailable. 
Remote access is critical during a hurricane or other disaster scenario. If your role requires you to be in constant contact with clients, investors or other counterparties, you’ll want to consider how to communicate with them if you can’t access your primary work environment. Storing contacts on a mobile device is one way to ensure you always have contact information readily available – as long as your device is charged!

7. Establish contingency plans for critical roles and responsibilities in the event some employees are unable to work remotely or maintain their workload.
Realistically, some employees have more mission-critical roles than others. Portfolio managers and investor-facing employees, for example, are likely considered more “essential” than administrative assistants and marketing execs. In the event essential personnel are impacted by a hurricane or other weather-related event and unable to perform their duties, you may want to consider a contingency plan that includes other employees who may be able to pick up the slack.

8. Conduct BCP scenario planning and tabletop exercises to ensure employees are clear on disaster procedures. 
The key to successfully weathering a storm is ensuring the entire organization understands what’s expected of them. And the only way to properly achieve that is through testing.

Tabletop exercises are a great way to get your response team working in step. These informal brainstorming sessions encourage participation from management and other key employees. The group typically discusses a variety of potential scenarios and covers all of the actions necessary to ensure employees are safe and accounted for and the business can continue to operate.

Firms could also conduct full-scale BCP tests to give all employees the opportunity to participate and share feedback with the group.

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