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Don't Let the Next Weather-Related Outage Leave You Light on Recourse

Updated on December 28, 2016

When Target prepares for weather events, it has a wide variety of concerns that it must plan for well in advance. Whether it’s sending executives to travel abroad or trying to not to strand employees due to facility breakdowns, Target uses advanced weather technology and other proactive measures to ensure there’s always a strategy in place — no matter what Mother Nature throws its way.

High-profile retail chains, such as Target, can't afford to get the dear-in-headlights look when weather disrupts any link in its operation chain. They have to look ahead, and so do you.

When it comes to dealing with natural disasters, retail executives fall into two categories: those who make it a top priority to plan for weather-related shutdowns and those who get caught unprepared. If you'd rather be the former than the latter, here are four steps you must take to get there:

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1. Run the plan — a lot.

Gather key players together and, using a carefully crafted business continuity strategy as a guide, go through a scenario that tests your business to its breaking point. If you’re feeling truly ambitious, use commercial weather services to inject “real” weather into the session, and simulate realistic conditions and timelines.

These services should offer a package that includes a risk assessment involving inclement weather, a road map, an action plan, and maintenance services. The data gathered here can be examined in much more detail than other information one can retrieve via public website and apps, allowing executives to work every possible scenario into their continuity strategies.

It’s important to remember that turnover among employees means new workers don’t know the protocol. In addition to keeping everyone on the same page, regular drills also reveal weaknesses in the plan that should be designated for improvement at the earliest convenience.

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2. Get all your resources gathered.

Supplies should be on hand for any minor and major emergencies that affect your area. There are some region-specific items, such as radiant barriers and sandbag materials, but you’ll want food, water, blankets, flashlights, cellphone chargers, and batteries no matter where you are.

When hurricanes, cyclones, and other extreme weather hits, power is usually the first thing to go. To counter the outage, try assembling mobile photovoltaic power systems. These devices mount on top of trailers near outage sites to power nearby health clinics, shelters, and homes until regular power sources are restored.

Consider how long your company can survive without commercial power and a full staff. Will you need resources for three days or three weeks? Will you provide assistance to your employees during the entire crisis or just at the beginning? It’s important to find these things out before a disaster.

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3. Look at alternate forms of communication.

Nothing dashes hope like being cut off from the world, and having working cellphone service during a crisis is far from a sure thing. Landline phones, VoIP, two-way radios, and even social media should all be part of your emergency plan.

Dealing with outages and accidents caused by a nor’easter, an emergency management unit in Nashua, New Hampshire, dealt with the fallout through alternative means. Aided by skills learned in a cross-border preparedness exercise with Canadian agencies, the team used social media and other resources to put out alerts, warnings, and calls for assistance.

Employees should know that in disaster zones, text messages stand a higher rate of success than voice calls. They should also have emergency apps on their phones to locate family members or to notify authorities. If the primary form of communication falters, your people should know the alternatives and how to use them.

4. Consider third-party vendors.

If any of your resources or emergency procedures rely on third-party vendors, take them into account. Make sure they have emergency procedures in place and can continue supporting your company even in the midst of their own disasters.

Let’s say you plan to have some nearby restaurant supply meals for your employees when the disaster strikes. Make sure the eatery can follow through in the event that a weather-related disruption occurs.

Interruptions in normal service are inevitable. But if each of your locations is properly prepared, you can survive these weather-related outages, and, in many cases, even maintain service through times of crisis — something your unprepared competitors might not be able to do.

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