Winter is rushing in with a vengeance this November. But it wasn't too long ago that the meteorological term “Polar Vortex” was indoctrinated in the minds of millions across the United States. In January 2014, arctic temperature plummeted unusually south and two-thirds of the nation was paralyzed by record breaking cold. Will we have another Polar Vortex-filled winter that impacts businesses across the country?
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 2014 events, which impacted nearly 200 million people, is one of the many examples of how severe weather affects operational continuity.
As we begin another winter season, companies should perform a business impact analysis (BIA), a precursor to a business continuity plan. The process of a BIA allows for targeted recovery strategies to be developed in the event of an emergency. A BIA should be utilized to identify likely consequences of critical business process disruptions.
After each critical business process is identified, the potential impacts resulting from loss of facilities and/or necessary 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 area identified. 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.
Timely recovery also depends on specific preparedness and planning initiatives. Establishing processes, training employees, and restocking necessary equipment can drastically reduce the overall potential damage to operations and the financial bottom line. In order to minimize the effects of severe winter weather on continuity, preparedness protocols should be established. Depending on location and specific operations, these protocols 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
- Winterize and shut off landscaping sprinkler systems
- 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