There is one thing certain about emergency disasters: nothing is certain.
Whether it’s a report of an oncoming hurricane -- or three -- or an unexpected fire, earthquake or water main break, no one can ever accurately predict exactly what will happen or what losses may look like.
“These things, no many how much notice you may have, are always unexpected,” said William “Chip” D’Angelo of WCD Group of Pennington, a business consultancy firm that offers disaster planning. “They rarely happen on a Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 schedule.”
The only thing people can count on is the ensuing chaos -- unless they have plans in place to react appropriately, in a timely manner, to whatever may befall.
“This is just human nature. The more dramatic the loss, the more anxiety people have; that’s just what happens. So, having a plan in place to create a systematic response to any crisis is the first step to avoiding that chaos.”
For companies, these strategies are known as business continuity plans and they are a carefully calculated assessments of what may happen, what the possible losses might be and a roadmap to get the company back up and running as soon as possible.
“Every business [should] have a specific plan for each asset [building] and operation within the company,” D’Angelo said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of company or size, each plan has to be designed for the unique type of business, assets, people and locations.”
While people can surely find cookie-cutter disaster plans online, D’Angelo is quick to state that this is “not an off-the-shelf process. Business Continuity, to be effective, must use professionals who understand all the disciplines involved.”
Every building has an intricate set of systems including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, telecommunications, fire/life safety, HVAC, elevators and IT. “Unless you know how everything works on its own as well as how all the systems work with each other, it’s not possible to create a continuity plan that will do its intended job without a professional team,” said D’Angelo.
There are several parts of a quality Business Continuity Plan; the first step is creating an organizational chart and step action plan so every member of the team knows exactly what to do at every point of the crisis. “This is a critical component to avoiding chaos and quickly getting back to work,” he said.
Threat analysis is next up. It’s important, D’Angelo said, for each business to understand the possible threats it may face and rank them in order of probability. For example, New Jersey businesses may not have to worry about tornadoes as much as they should plan for sewer backups and the effects of powerful Nor’easter storms. New York companies, he explained, need to be concerned about possible steam pipe explosions or cranes falling. In Louisiana, Florida and Texas, hurricanes are obviously major probable risk scenarios. Companies never know when fire may ravage a building or another tenant’s broken water pipes cause disastrous damage throughout the building.
D’Angelo pointed out that risk probability must be calculated for the entire region and for specific areas. Montclair has less flood risk than Hoboken, as an example.
Next, the assessment team should map out high-risk scenarios and create a strategy for what each team member will if the disaster takes place, he added. “Education is key,” he said. The company should run practice drills and stay on top of changes to its assets, like adjustments in staffing or equipment.
“If I have a flood, I don’t want to be searching for someone with a pump. I want to know how to reach the guy with the pump anytime, because he is under contract on standby rates,” D’Angelo insisted. “We are talking about response vendors -- people who you need when you have an environmental issue, a spill, water damage. You need to choose these vendors and have them on-call long before you need them.”
Immediately after a disaster, such as Superstorm Sandy five years ago in New Jersey, or the current weather crises in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, there is always a huge uptick in the interest in Business Continuity Plans, D’Angelo added. However, those interests fade once the crises are over.
“People forget the chaos, until the next time,” he said. “That’s why it’s critically important for all businesses, right now, to make sure they have top-notch disaster plans in place. Because believe me, there will always be another crisis and always when you least expect it.”