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Underscore preparation in your natural disaster recovery plan

When it comes to recovering after a natural disaster, you'll need more than just basic business continuity and recovery planning. Being informed about severe weather events is key.

Across the U.S., especially in the central regions of the nation, severe weather in 2019 seems to have escalated in severity. Days rarely go by without news of tornadoes, large hail and torrential rains causing billions of dollars in damage, not to mention loss of human life.

Weather affects just about every aspect of our lives and, by extension, where we work. When your job involves maintaining business continuity and protecting company data, extreme weather can be a major workplace concern. Getting a better understanding of weather and how it can affect your workplace is the first step in preparing for severe weather events, and it should be a key part of your organization's natural disaster recovery plan.

Extreme weather events can feel inevitable, so preparation, rather than prevention, is the way to go when it comes to protecting your data and getting business operations up and running again. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to help with the planning process and get your organization ready to deal with the effects of a severe weather event.

Notification and pre-storm challenges

When gathering resources to include in your natural disaster recovery plan, look for sources that can provide early notification, as well as tips for preparation. With severe weather, we have the advantage of the National Weather Service, which is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to provide timely alerts and guidance on potentially severe weather. Early awareness of a severe weather event is critical for such activities as protecting human life, securing and preparing physical structures, emergency evacuations, and business continuity and other resilience-related activities.

We know the amount of pre-event notification time can vary among weather events. For hurricanes, we often have days to prepare for the event and are also updated regularly on the storm's path and its severity. By contrast, tornadoes can appear almost without notice, except for the fact that we know certain weather conditions, such as wall clouds, are often precursors.

Weather forecasting is a very sophisticated science today, and reports and forecasts we see on television, hear on radio or view on hand-held devices result from the efforts of many highly trained meteorologists using ultrahigh-performance computer systems. But even with all these assets in our favor, determining when and where severe weather actually occurs is a major challenge.

For most of us, business continuity, disaster recovery, incident response and emergency response plans provide the steps we take to act when a disruptive event occurs. Severe weather is certainly among the most significant events for which planning is essential. Rather than go into a discussion of these plans, let's examine some additional resources and activities that can help you prepare for severe weather as part of your organization's natural disaster recovery plan.

Becoming StormReady

As you might imagine, the federal government has resources on the front lines of everything involving weather. The National Weather Service provides specialized programs to help communities and organizations prepare for severe weather. One of them is the StormReady program, which uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle all types of extreme weather -- from tornadoes to winter storms. It provides emergency managers with clear-cut guidelines on how to improve their hazardous weather operations.

Severe weather is certainly among the most significant events for which planning is essential.

Criteria to be designated as StormReady include the following:

  1. a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center;
  2. multiple ways to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts and to alert the public;
  3. establishing a system that monitors local weather conditions;
  4. promoting the importance of public readiness through community seminars and other outreach programs; and
  5. developing a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and conducting emergency exercises.

While automated notification systems are growing in popularity, having a backup call tree or similar manual system for alerting employees is a good idea. While the StormReady program focuses primarily on communities, an organization can take similar steps to prepare employees for potential disasters and ensure readiness. A common emergency exercise for businesses is a tabletop exercise, which assigns roles and runs through a disaster recovery plan from start to finish.

For organizations with employees in the Pacific and Caribbean coastal areas, a similar program called TsunamiReady addresses severe storms in those regions, as well as their detection and reporting. If your organization has data centers or offices in a storm zone, it's worth it to look into such programs when putting together a natural disaster recovery plan.

Other important resources

NOAA's Weather Radio service is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official weather warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Working with the Federal Communications Commission's Emergency Alert System, NWR is an all-hazards radio network, making it a critical source for comprehensive weather and emergency information.

NWR broadcasts using more than 1,000 transmitters, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific territories. The service requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal. Broadcasts are found in the VHF public service band on the following frequencies: 162.400 MHz, 162.425 MHz, 162.450 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.500 MHz, 162.525 MHz and 162.550 MHz.

When providing your human resources department with an up-to-date natural disaster recovery plan, consider including these frequencies in the resources so they can be provided to employees who may use them.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides extensive guidance, training and information on all kinds of emergency situations. Along with guidance on preparing for and recovering from severe weather events, information for disaster recovery and business continuity planning can be found on Ready.gov, a partner site to FEMA run by the Department of Homeland Security.

On the DR team, you're bound to have your hands full when a natural disaster hits. Hopefully you won't be stuck in a disaster zone, but if you are, it's important to not only have a plan in place for data protection and business continuity, but be informed about emergency actions and management. You never know what roles you may need to take on or information you'll need to relay, so having some basic natural disaster preparedness tips in your back pocket could be a life saver.

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