Within hours, the winds and rains of a 300-mile wide hurricane will sweep along the Mid-Atlantic states and make landfall near New York City. The extent of the damage Hurricane Irene will leave in her wake is unknown, although the media and federal, state and local governments are advising citizens in the hurricane’s path to ready themselves for the worst.
Those citizens include many members of the contract industry who live and work in the states that will be affected. That got me to thinking about the family, friends and acquaintances I have along the East coast, and my own experiences with these big storms.
I grew up in Florida and went through at least four hurricanes. My father was a partner in a small business there. With memories of those times in mind, I thought I would share some ideas for readying the communications and marketing functions to ride it out and get going again once the storm has passed.
Feel welcome to add your ideas and comments to mine.
For Businesses Headquartered Outside the Storm Path
1. Create a Team Irene – you have time now to organize a coordinated response. Your sales team, dealers and others will be looking for answers and information come Monday or maybe sooner. Gather representatives from customer service, shipping, transportation and finance. Find a member of management to serve as the sponsor. The goal will be to determine how the various teams can coordinate in response to needs from sales reps, dealers, end users and the A&D community.
2. Have answers ready – the questions and situations that might arise are too numerous to list. Some discussion areas regarding the affected states include: trying to make sure everyone stays safe before, during and after the storm; shipping schedules; production schedules; operations at showrooms, distribution centers or production facilities; priority of service parts orders or orders to replace storm-damaged products; credit policies for dealers; and gathering reports on conditions of roads, power grid and landline/cellular service in affected areas.
3. Gather internal contact information – establish a master directory of contacts and distribute links to Team Irene members or others who might need it. Highlight “go-to” contacts in each of the departments represented on Team Irene. Include contacts for sales, showrooms, production, distribution or other functions in the affected states.
4. Create a help desk for customers, clients and end users – whether by phone, email or instant message, publish contact information to dealers and others in the affected states about special communications capacities. Make it clear that specific measures are being taken to assist them, that where possible the “red tape” is being cleared away and that helping to get their business going again is a priority.
5. Establish communications alternatives – consider a protocol for how the home office will communicate with employees, customers and others in the affected states during power outages, with downed landlines and/or no cellular/WiFi service. For example, text messages sometimes will go through when calls will not or when the device has too little charge to make a cellular call.
6. Plan the reboot – look beyond the storm and the immediate aftermath to the time that Team Irene can be disbanded and the special measures withdrawn. What activities, performed at what level, will be the deciding factors? When this happens, it might be a moment for the “higher-ups” to visit dealers and customers in the affected states to see and hear first-hand what it has been like. The visiting managers can also ask for reviews of the company’s responsiveness to local needs.
For Businesses Headquartered Inside the Storm Path
7. Stay safe – not to reiterate all the information that is online, on cable and elsewhere, the most important thing is to keep everyone safe.
8. Protecting the facility – again, there is abundant information from federal agencies, organizations and other resources. A few links that might be useful appear below. One footnote: it may be a good idea to have handy the contact information for suppliers, service providers and others connected with facility operations. Contacting them may be necessary to cancel or reschedule activities and deliveries.
9. Protecting the data – most businesses have a plan that includes ongoing archiving of data, back-up power, surge protection and secure storage of data and records. These plans may not necessarily include contingencies for long-term power outages or long-term inaccessibility of data in the cloud or on remote servers. Consider what provisions, if any, can be made for continuity of operations if the power or access to the Internet is out for more than two or three days. One thing more: finances. Have plans in place for processing payroll, accounts payable and tax deposits, as well as receiving payments from customers.
10. Communicating with customers and clients – consideration might be given to setting up a Team Irene with a different focus than the one for businesses outside the storm path. This version of Team Irene would be reaching out to customers and clients to reassure them about their orders, find out what changes may be needed due to damage at the customer’s location or to let customers know if operations are offline and when they might resume. The team might create a help desk that customers can access by phone, online or by messaging so that customers have a specific contact point for communications, order status or order changes.
11. Communicating with employees – make sure there are two, maybe three, ways to contact each employee, and that they have two or three ways to contact members of management. Depending on how the business is organized, contacts could be arranged by teams or departments, with managers having the responsibility of getting two-way contact information in the hands of each of their team members. The Team Irene, if there is one, can channel updates to managers for distribution to team members, or be sure that all employees are linked with an online or messaging application.
12. Communicating with the home office – naturally, if there is a home office elsewhere, they will want status updates on a regular basis. Depending on the amount of damage, some or all of the operations for facilities in the storm path may be physically or virtually moved elsewhere during repairs. That in mind, a Team Irene could review the sales communications and marketing communications functions to determine where these could be temporarily housed, if necessary.
Hurricane Readiness Links