What Hurricane Harvey Can Teach Us About Continuity Planning

December 1, 2017

When Toni Harrison, president of Houston’s Etched Communication, returned to her house after the flooding from Hurricane Harvey late this past summer, it was bittersweet. Her home was among the few in her neighborhood that survived with minimal impact; all around her was devastation.

One thing Harrison did not have to be concerned about, though, was her company, as she had a business continuity plan in place.

“Before the storm, I went through hurricane preparedness and met with everyone I work with,” she says. “We focused on the basics at first: Charge every device to the maximum and have batteries.”

Because Harrison’s business uses a cloud-based system and a shared drive, both of which are not located in Houston, important data was not at risk.

She had a strategy for staying connected, too. “I made sure that I could use my devices to create a Wi-Fi hotspot, and I even had two smartphones on separate networks — T-Mobile and AT&T,” says Harrison. “If one was down, I had access to the other.”

Harrison also made sure all her emergency contacts and source material were in printed form so that when batteries on her devices died, she still had access to the information.

As Harvey approached, she met with her colleagues to conduct a formal document review for emergency planning and to ensure as much continuity as possible. Then, the floods came. Harrison, her husband and all three of their dogs were rescued from their home by air boat. They spent a few nights in a shelter.

Harrison is satisfied with her preparations, and she says there was a silver lining in the end.

“In working on the cleanup and recovery, I have neighbors who are friends now and we may have never spoken had this not happened,” says Harrison. “You realize how unifying this experience can be.”

Exercising extreme precaution

Elizabeth Fordham, founding principal at Quill & Ink, did not have to evacuate her property. It didn’t suffer any flood damage, either. Still, she was forced to make hurricane and flooding preparations.

She backed up her computer files to external hard drives and brought electronic rechargers. She also made sure her important papers, documents and contact information were stored in waterproof, carry-all containers.

Even though she was not impacted in the same way as many others, she feels the whole experience left a strong impression on her.

“Social media is beyond powerful,” she says. “It played a tremendous role in Hurricane Harvey communications. Initially, social media communicated what was going on and where. As the devastation began to unfold in Houston, we saw firsthand that it would take everyone rolling up their sleeves and getting to work helping others as soon as it was safe to do so.”

To ensure that her business was only minimally interrupted, she called clients before the rains hit.

“I checked to see if anyone needed anything written before we signed off for what we thought would be a few days,” she said. “I was in touch with clients during the storm, primarily to make sure everyone was safe.”

The main business lesson Fordham learned was to be diligent about putting important backups and copies of certain papers and documentation into a safety deposit box. But like Harrison, the larger lesson for her was an even greater appreciation for the “goodness in people and the greatness that is rising from the ashes.”

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: timobrien@timobrienpr.com. Twitter: @OBrienPR.


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