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Hurricane season is upon us once again, and if early forecasts are correct, it looks to be a doozy. The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their early forecast in May with predictions of eight to 13 hurricanes and 17 to 25 named storms. This higher-than-average active season is predicted as a combination of warm Atlantic waters and a strong chance of La Nina conditions. While the forecast does not necessarily mean storms will make landfall on the U.S. Atlantic or Gulf coasts, now is the time to review and prepare just in case a storm should impact your area. The annual hurricane season lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30 with peak hurricane season typically mid-August through mid-October.

The Adams and Reese Crisis Preparedness and Response Team helps businesses plan for, respond to, and recover from natural and other disasters. Hurricanes can be some of the most destructive weather events we face, but also ones we can adequately prepare for. As we move into the 2024 hurricane season, below are our top tips for planning for hurricanes and other potential disasters:

1. Review Your Business Emergency and Preparedness Plan

Maybe you’ve heard the adage “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Without planning how to respond to a disaster, actually responding when a disaster strikes becomes infinitely more complicated. If you don’t have a written emergency response plan for your business, write one NOW. This plan should outline procedures to evacuate employees, secure business premises and other assets, implement business continuity actions, and prioritize post-storm recovery processes. Ideally, this plan will also include checklists for maintenance and operations. These routine inspections will help identify and reduce potential risks, threats, hazards, or other things that could occur on or around company property. Lastly, make sure to publish this plan and provide it to all employees; they all need to know what to do and when.

One important piece for an emergency plan: review work from home policies. Even companies with in-office requirements should have remote work exceptions in emergency situations. Employees may be in a situation where they are unable to return to work in the aftermath of a storm, and certainly there is the possibility that the company may not be able to operate from a building that suffered storm damage. It may take some time to recover (such as power and utility restoration, building damage assessments and repairs, etc.), so having a backup plan to keep the business up and running is necessary.

2. Establish a Communication Plan

Having a communication infrastructure in place is critical during and immediately after a crisis. This is most important for your employees – ensuring their safety is top priority. Make sure to annually update emergency contact information for all employees, as well as customers, suppliers, vendors, and others that you deal with on a routine basis. Make sure you are also aware of their disaster policies. Also ensure the effectiveness of your communication systems; this plan should include how you will communicate with employees, customers, and vendors/suppliers before, during, and after the natural disaster.

3. Designate a Disaster Recovery Team

Having an emergency and preparedness plan is only the first part of the equation – you also need the people available to implement the plan when necessary. Designating specific employees (usually members of the management team) as responsible for implementing the plan is crucial to its success. It’s best to also make sure your Disaster Recovery Team has all the tools they need to put the plan into action, so testing the emergency plan is also advised. This will (a) make sure there are no gaps in the plan, (b) that all employees and others receive the test communications and (c) identify any tools needed to implement the plan.

The Disaster Recovery Team should also be in charge of prepping for a disaster, including securing business property and other assets. This would include actions like boarding up windows, securing outdoor furniture or equipment, and discussing with office building owners and managers the roles and responsibilities of property owners and tenants.

4. Review Insurance Coverage and Policies, and Document/Back Up Data

When individuals and businesses hear a hurricane is coming, insurance policies are not usually something we think about. That’s why including them in storm prep before a storm is imminent is important. Reviewing business insurance coverage and policies can ensure proper recovery in the event of a storm, and also impact the emergency plan. By knowing policy coverages, deductibles, and contract language, the Disaster Recovery Team can know what steps to take to comply with policy requirements when needing to make a claim. Having property and other assets regularly appraised will help make sure the policies provide adequate coverage for the business.

It is also important to be familiar with all contract language in your insurance policies. The more you can specify in your contract language, the less that is open to interpretation from your insurance company (or potentially a court) should a claim dispute arise. The same can be said for the information needed for incident and property loss reports; updating this information on a regular basis protects your company in the event of a claim. Make sure to also photograph or take video of business assets, showing the condition of the property and other assets prior to a storm. Document anything of value on the property; accurate documentation can reduce timing for receiving insurance proceeds, compensation, and financial recovery assistance.

Also make sure to work with your IT team to establish a plan to back up all data, business records, financial information, and customer files, so that nothing is damaged or lost in a natural disaster. Wrap this back into your remote work policy in the emergency preparedness plan; know how and when your employees will be able to access company data and business systems in the event they or the company are unable to work onsite.

5. Understand the Recovery Resources Available

Federal, state, and local resources are available to assist with recovery after a natural disaster. Putting together a list of those resources, how to access them, and what information you might need can streamline the recovery process. Picking up after a natural disaster is a stressful time, so understanding ahead of time what funds your business may be eligible for and how these funds can be leveraged and maximized to sustain your financial resources in the aftermath of a crisis goes a long way to alleviating that stress.

Multiple resources are available for hurricane recovery, including:

There are more than 1,500 federal agencies and programs that can be leveraged with initial funding received from FEMA, not to account for additional funds available at the state and local levels. Each program has its own requirements and exceptions, so we encourage businesses to take the time to understand these opportunities before a disaster hits.

Last, But Not Least, Is Your Name on This Year’s List?

The names are in. Is your name on this year’s 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season list? They are (in alphabetical order) – Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Francine, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Milton, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sara, Tara, Valerie, and William.

If your name is on this list, please, be gentle when your time comes, and your name is called.

Fun fact: Did you know that there are six alphabetical lists of names that are rotated through every six years, so this year’s names were also from 2018 and will appear again in 2030. There is also a supplemental list of storm names that will be used if the alphabetical names run out. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Our Adams and Reese Crisis Preparedness and Response Team will keep you updated on any pertinent news you need to know throughout the entire hurricane season. Stay tuned for additional tips to help your business prepare and be proactive.

About the Adams and Reese Crisis Preparedness and Response Team: Thanks to our regional footprint across the Southeast, our team is familiar with a host of natural disasters that can strike, both with advance notice and without warning. Our team members have helped businesses and individuals with proactive disaster planning for events such as hurricanes, and our experience includes post-natural disaster relief counseling in the event of an unanticipated weather event such as a tornado or flood. We address issues including insurance claims, business interruption, liability, employment issues, and related litigation that may arise following a severe weather event.