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In our last blog post, we reflected on Hurricane Katrina, and the incredible amount of destruction it inflicted regionally and throughout the nation. In this piece, we’ll be sharing key lessons from the storm and how we can apply them to current business continuity planning.

1) Prep your infrastructure & equipment

If your emergency backup generators are on the ground level, consider re-location to a portion of your facility that can accommodate high-rising flood waters. If your building has an underground tunnel connecting your facility to a local power plant, make sure that it is protected as well.

It’s also extremely important to maintain your generators, tanks and equipment. During Katrina, more than 100 deaths occurred in New-Orleans-area hospitals and nursing homes due to emergency backup power system failures. This goes to show that poor planning doesn’t just affect a business’ bottom line, it can also be detrimental to human life. Implement regular fuel polishing and tank maintenance to ensure there’s no sludge, water or grime that would prevent your equipment from starting when you need it most.

2) Have contracted business continuity vendors in place

Think through all the critical assets your business needs to function, that could potentially face shortages during a disaster, and ensure you have arrangements in place to secure them.

For instance, during Katrina, spike in demand for fuel outpaced production leaving many without access to the critical fuel supply they needed to keep their generators running. To avoid supply chain challenges, avoid buying “spot market” and have a contracted vendor in place. Ensure your supply contract is legally binding and outlines obligations relative to how quickly your supplier will respond, how much fuel they will supply and what circumstances qualify under contract.

Also consider employing a contractor to close off and shutter your buildings. During Katrina, many facilities were destroyed or sustained significant damage due to high winds and storm surge flooding. Having a dedicated vendor will help alleviate the stress on your maintenance team and ensure your structure is properly secured in advance of the storm.

3) Re-evaluate risk management plans annually & plan for the worst

Assume your facilities are going to experience extended power loss. During Katrina, 2.6 million outages were reported. In Mississippi alone, it took utility companies 15 days to restore power for businesses and residential areas. Utility companies have already stated that if the power grid goes down during a hurricane in 2020, it may take even longer to recover due to limited help from outside resources and the added precautions of social distancing.

Another key step organizations can implement during business continuity planning is to take learnings from the federal, state and local governments’ post-disaster reports and evaluate how you can apply them in your business. For example, New Orleans levees catastrophically failed resulting in devastating flooding that cost billions of dollars, left almost 2,000 dead, and more than 30,000 stranded. Post-Katrina, raising New Orleans’ levees cost $14 billion. This is a hefty spend but could have saved $150 billion in economic impact and thousands of lives if it had been done in the first place. Think through areas in your business that are weaker and weigh the cost of upgrading versus the impact post-disaster.

4) Prepare for severe logistical challenges

During Katrina, the U.S. DOT mobilized 1,350 buses and 15 helicopters to support evacuation efforts. Still, major highways like I-10 and US 90 quickly became inoperable, leaving thousands stranded. This hurricane season, we’re facing new transportation challenges due to COVID-19. To maintain proper social distancing, mass transportation is strongly discouraged and will need to be at limited capacity. Cities are beginning to think through new ways to transport citizens through partnerships with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

It’s also important to account for the fact that roads leading to your business may be closed off. During disaster situations, this is very common to prevent traffic from entering areas with poor infrastructure, flooding and down power lines. Supplies required for business continuity may become inaccessible, even if your building is secure. If your business has the capability, make sure critical systems are in place and your staff has the necessary tools in advance of the storm to telecommute once in a safe location.

5) Stay informed & have an organization-wide crisis communications plan in place

Even through the U.S. DOT’s evacuation efforts during Katrina, 15,000 people became stranded and evacuated to the Superdome. The Superdome was meant to be a refuge but lack of supplies and organization by the federal, state and local government left citizens living in extremely inhumane conditions. The Superdome was old, outdated, worn out and insufficient. The AC and power quickly failed, the city’s water supply gave out making toilets inoperable, part of the roof gave out and critical supplies like diapers, and toiletries ran out almost immediately causing an immense amount of crime.

This 2020 hurricane season, we’re facing a new set of challenges that could lead to equally as catastrophic results. Due to COVID-19, many local shelters could be closed, leaving people with nowhere to turn. Emergency planners are considering hotel use instead, which may cause room shortages for utility staff, emergency responders and outside resources. With COVID-19 positive citizens and healthy citizens intermingling, we could very well face another Superdome-like situation, adding to the current nationwide health emergency. 

To mitigate these risks, download the FEMA app for a list of open shelters in your area, follow local evacuation instructions and advise your staff to do the same. Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by severe weather and have a communication plan in place to ensure your staff is accounted for throughout the storm.

For more emergency planning tips and information, follow our page! Next week, we’ll be sharing an insightful Q&A with Atlas’ Director of Emergency Fuel Services, Jayme Oyen, who was boots on the ground during the storm.