In January 2014, the meteorological term “Polar Vortex” was indoctrinated in the minds of millions across the United States. With arctic temperature plummeting unusually south, two-thirds of the nation was paralyzed by record breaking cold. According to Evan Gold, Senior Vice President at Planalytics, a business weather intelligence company, January’s polar vortex resulted in a $50 billion economic disruption, the most delivered by a weather phenomenon since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Severe weather habitually effects routine business operations and profitability. Weather can be the culprit of power outages, dangerous temperatures, supply disruptions, safety hazards, and potentially impair access to key infrastructures. The January events, which impacted nearly 200 million people, is one of the many examples of how severe weather affects operational continuity. Fortunately, temperatures will generally rise over the next few weeks and winter gear can be stored until next season. However, with every new season come new risks and the need for an effective business continuity plan.
Despite seasonal specifics, companies should perform a business impact analysis (BIA), a precursor to a business continuity plan. The process of a BIA, in conjunction with a Business Continuity Plan allows for targeted recovery strategies to be developed in the event of an emergency. A BIA should be utilized to predict the consequences of business functions and process disruptions. Through a detailed analysis of potential lapses, predetermining applicable recovery strategies can reduce the length and severity of disruption impacts. These preparedness strategies allow for a smoother transition from critical business process disruptions to “business as usual”.
After each critical process is identified, the potential impacts resulting from loss of facilities, infrastructure, personnel, or supply chain can be examined for each process. Key minimum recovery components along with incremental recovery time objectives should be detailed for each critical process. Timely recovered critical processes reduce the overall potential damage to operations.
To identify the minimum service level requirements for specific key process, the following components should be evaluated for each critical business process.
- Recovery Time: Identify how long it would take to recover a specific critical process under scenario specific circumstances.
- IT requirements: If electronic data must be available to recover specific processes to a minimum service level, identify the necessary requirements.
- Data Backup History: Indicate how old the data can be to satisfy recovery (i.e. last weekly backup, last monthly backup, last quarterly backup, etc.) and review recovery methods.
- Review alternate location options: Identify needs and review options for off-site backup processes.
- Staffing minimums: Identify needs throughout recovery time objectives to optimize recovery.
- Impact Level: Indicate how severely the process would be impacted considering current/existing mitigation measures (ex. minimal, somewhat severe, severe).
- Likelihood Level: Indicating how likely each specific threat could occur considering current/ existing capabilities, mitigation measures, and history.
Once critical business units are identified and the BIA is completed, companies can develop a business continuity plan (BCP). For predictable naturally occurring events such as severe weather, business continuity planning can minimize potentially dire financial impacts. Such planning should include, but not limited to the following:
- Conduct awareness training, including facility evacuation routes and procedures
- Coordinate activities with local and state response agencies
- Communicate recommended community evacuation routes
- Procure emergency supplies
- Monitor radio and/or television reports
- Secure facility
- Secure and backup critical electronic files
Preparedness efforts, specific to winter weather, should include, but are not limited to the following:
- Monitor news and weather reports on television or the radio (with battery backup)
- Alert employees or others on-site that severe weather is approaching and communicate expectations
- Be aware of the dangers posed extreme temperatures, and ice and snow falling from equipment and buildings; mediate if possible
- Identify infrastructure dangers posed by cold weather on exposed piping (hazardous releases, flooding, etc)
- Prepare and insulate exposed piping
- Contract snow removal services or obtain the necessary equipment (snow shovels, ice scrapers, rock salt, tire chains, etc.)
- Ensure that company vehicles have a full tank of gas and are functioning properly (heater, deicing fluid, antifreeze levels, windshield wipers)
- Ensure flashlights are in proper working order and have additional batteries on site.
- Monitor ice and snow accumulation on any on site tanks, sheds, or buildings and identify non-hazardous procedures for mitigation.
- If necessary, obtain generators to re-power facilities or necessary equipment
- If appropriate, leave water taps slightly open so they drip continuously to prevent pipes from freezing.
- Understand and implement cold weather response techniques when responding to product spills as released product may flow under ice or snow.
- Establish and maintain communication with personnel
- Consider limiting vehicle traffic
- Maintain building temperature at acceptable levels and understand safety measures if using space heaters.
- Notify supervisors if facility(s) loses power or is otherwise unable to operate