Businesses Batten Down The Hatches For Sandy

Nov 2, 2012

Just as many households prepared for the worst of Hurricane Sandy, so too did employers. But what’s the evidence that businesses have learned anything from the natural disasters Connecticut experienced last year? WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

The disruption caused by an event like this throws up multiple dilemmas for any company, and especially one with employees. David Lewis provides human resources services for small and mid size companies through his Norwalk based business, Operations Inc. He says companies are negotiating tricky decisions right now.

“What are you telling your clients? What contingency plans have you put in place? Are you able to have your workforce work remotely in some fashion – and that’s assuming they still have power, they still have Internet connectivity.”

But haven’t we been through all of this before? The days without power, the perishable inventory lost, the customers turning elsewhere. It’s just like 2011 all over again.

“I think people, as much as you would expect them to say, ‘ok, well now we were forced to prepare and deal with an issue like this and have a plan,’ I don’t sense that a lot of companies have actually done that.”

Lewis says his company received an increasing number of calls from client businesses last week, and not all had a continuity plan in place.

“Unfortunately what I’m seeing is that the lessons have not been learned to the extent that they probably should be at this stage.”

Mark Soycher at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association agrees. He says far too many companies treated Irene and the October snowstorm as freak, one-off events.

“I think the typical company doesn’t regroup after a situation like this and say, ‘let’s talk about this as if it were going to occur again next week – what’s fallen through the cracks and what do we need to put in place?’”

And Soycher says while some companies may have a limited contingency plan for a power outage, one of the problems this time around is the sheer geographical size of this event.

“Typically they don’t have something on a more regionwide basis, when it’s not just the company’s facility or neighborhood that’s down because of a downed power line, but a larger regional problem.”

The CBIA is advising companies at a minimum to have an accessible and up to date contact list for employees, suppliers and key clients, to put safety above all other concerns, and to have a plan in place for remote working where it’s possible. He says some companies will have to have key employees on site in any case, even when the power fails.

“To secure property, to avoid any hazardous situations with machinery or materials that might arise, as well as to respond to inquiries from customers who may be located outside the Northeast.”

Even when the immediate event is over, HR consultant David Lewis says the financial dilemmas don’t end for businesses affected by the hurricane.

“What companies also miss, and have to contemplate, is what to do with the time that’s missed. Is it a vacation day, is it sick day, is it personal day, or is it just a day the company has to eat?”

The threat many businesses face in Connecticut is not theoretical. According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, some 25 percent of businesses hit by a disaster subsequently go bust.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.