Hurricane Ida swept through a country already fighting floods, fires, social unrest and the pandemic. Here’s what Ida taught us about business continuity strategy.

On August 29, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a strong Category 4 hurricane – exactly 15 years after the Category 5 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas. Ida wreaked havoc for six full days, leaving a destructive path of infrastructure damage, power outages, tornados, and flash flooding from the Gulf of Mexico through the Northeastern U.S.  As of September 4, a total of 91 deaths have been confirmed in relation to Ida.

September is National Preparedness Month, dedicated to driving emergency awareness and preparedness across individuals, families, businesses, and communities. For many businesses, it’s the time to review and refresh business continuity plans, update and practice emergency drills, and reexamine strategies to respond to emergencies in ways that support a resilient future. This year, we experienced a disastrous hurricane sweeping through a country already wrestling with flooding, fires, a pandemic, and social unrest. What, then, did Hurricane Ida teach us about business continuity strategy?

1. Even the best business continuity plan can’t stop a disaster

Hurricane Ida came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 150 mph. We knew she was coming. Certainly individuals, businesses and communities in the gulf regions had plans for what to do in the face of a hurricane. But that didn’t stop her arrival. And it didn’t prevent the destruction caused by her winds and rain.

An excellent business continuity plan can help protect people and property. But the plan itself will not prevent the destruction.

2. One disastrous event can impact multiple communities

As a country, we were mentally prepared for Hurricane Ida to cause intense damage in the gulf region. But many in the Northeastern U.S., though we saw the forecasts of heavy rain, were caught off guard by the flash flooding and tornados that arrived days later.

Ida reminded us of what we should have known from previous natural disasters and disease outbreaks (including COVID-19): a single disastrous event can cross community, state, and international borders.

The best business continuity strategies of today look well beyond a single business or community. They consider risks and opportunities for collaboration across local borders. 

3. The presence of one disaster doesn’t miraculously cancel another

Hurricane Ida hit many communities already grappling with COVID-19 Delta variation outbreaks. Hospitals treating COVID and other patients evacuated patients – or treated them in place – as Ida passed through. Emergency shelters were not simply concerned by the direct impact of Ida; COVID was a concern, as well.

Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020 along with nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd and a reckoning over everything from monuments to sports team names and mascots. Businesses scrambled to implement or shore up their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives – even while many employees were working remotely due to COVID. One disruptive event didn’t cancel out the other. Business leaders had to (and still must) find ways to operate in an environment where COVID-19 and racism still threaten the health and wellbeing of individuals, teams, businesses, and communities.

How well does your business continuity strategy handle the co-existence of multiple threats or events?

4. A single disaster can spark new threats

Business continuity managers know this well: one initial disaster can spark secondary threats that can be just as devastating. Hurricanes, for example, directly deliver wind and water damage. The result is power outages – often for weeks. Poor road conditions can slow the delivery of food, water, and health care to those in need. And standing water or flooding residue can spawn disease or mold-related illness.

Other examples of disasters creating new threats are all those cyber bad guys who prey on those in need in the wake of disasters. Cyber criminals love sending phishing emails pretending to offer disaster relief, COVID vaccines, or other assistance to unsuspecting recipients whose identities or funds are stolen as a result.

Sadly, a return to work after COVID has also been associated with an increase in active shooters in the workplace.

When reviewing your business continuity strategy, consider both primary and secondary threats associated with the risks you’re evaluating. 

5. Supply chains matter

In business, we know that supply chains matter. Every business needs some kind of raw materials, tools, and/or goods to serve its customers and clients well.

Before Ida, costs for construction materials were already high, due to a national materials and labor shortage created by COVID-19 supply/demand issues. Now, with escalated demands in hard-hit areas, costs to rebuild are expected to increase further.

Toyota Motor Corp. is one company that, as a result of the 2011 Fukushima earthquake, had intentionally stockpiled chips for potential future supply chain disruption. That plan worked well, until yet another wave of the pandemic started moving through Japan. In August, Toyota announced it is reducing its planned September manufacturing target by 40 percent because of the global chip shortage.

Business continuity strategy should encompass a company’s supply chain resiliency strategy, too. 

6. The end of one disaster may be just the beginning

It will take weeks or months to clean up from Hurricane Ida. For many, life won’t quite go back to the pre-Ida normal. People may relocate. Communities may rebuild with investments in infrastructure for more resilience. Businesses may move or shut down or permanently change the way they operate.

The pandemic is a good example of one (very long) event that’s driving permanent changes. We’re not even through the pandemic yet, but already we’re seeing businesses wrestling with changes such as safety measures that may remain in place for the foreseeable future, remote and hybrid work models that may become permanent, and policies around employee vaccinations that may shift the underlying employee – employer contract for many.

Business continuity plans are ultimately meant for companies to serve their customers and clients with the least disruption. Today, that means that companies must not simply prepare for natural disasters, infectious diseases, civil unrest and supply chain disruption. They need to prepare to pivot to meet the needs of their customer base as the market changes in response to those disruptive events.  

7. Business continuity is also about workforce continuity

Whether navigating a single disaster or multiple disruptive events, the ability of a business to get back on its feet to serve customers and clients is directly tied to the availability of its skilled and competent workforce.

Customers using our WebMentor Skills™ competency management system report that, when they’ve faced business disruptions, the system helps them know where their people are and what skills they have. It helps them support those who need to get through the aftermath of a disaster while supporting their customers and clients with others who are available to step in.

This has been true for the pandemic as well as other, more acute, disruptions. As our CEO, Tom Grobicki has observed, “Coming back from a global pandemic … is different than recovering from most other business disruptions. This time, it’s not just one company or region or industry assessing where they are, what skills they need in their workforce, who to bring on, and how to communicate to stakeholders. This time, changes in the labor force span geographies and industries that are intricately intermingled.”

Are your business leaders, business continuity and risk managers, and workforce leaders assessing your business continuity strategy and plans to reflect today’s complex world? Read our white paper Before Disaster Strikes: Building Your Crisis Management Plan from your Skills Inventory to get started. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can help to track and manage your workforce skills and competencies for your most resilient business continuity.

RELATED RESOURCES

Business Continuity: How Can Competency Management Help Now?
How to Update Your Business Continuity Plan in a Time of Crises
Do you Really Need to Prepare for an Active Shooter at Work?
Competency Management Toolkit
Ready.gov – Emergency Preparedness Resources for Business

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