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Severe Weather Preparedness: Managing Severe Weather Events During Other Crises

Hurricane Michael made its way into North Carolina. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

In a year like no other, first responders, cybersecurity experts, emergency managers, and others in crisis management have had to field numerous threats simultaneously. From locusts in east Africa to rioting in towns large and small, as well as a global pandemic unseen in a century, 2020 has tested the preparations and mettle of individuals and institutions tasked with keeping our communities and businesses safe.

Now, as Louisiana recovers from Hurricane Laura and the drought-ridden West Coast steels itself for another round of record high temperatures, severe weather preparedness is top of mind for many. Their concerns are justified: The likelihood and frequency of weather events such as tornadoes and wildfires will be above normal this year, according to various forecasts.


The Missing Puzzle Piece: An Integrated CEM Platform

Yet too many companies, organizations, and institutions rely on multiple, separate systems for their critical event management (CEM). These silos can spell redundancies in information and processes, data contradictions, and, in worst-case scenarios, greater loss of life and damages. Absent a unifying CEM platform, command centers and security teams can’t respond as quickly and as thoroughly as circumstances warrant, negatively affecting budgets, stakeholder confidence, and employee and customer trust.

With an integrated CEM platform, however, rapid, consolidated responses are more easily coordinated. Emergency response teams and command centers receive threat alerts ahead of time, so they can identify, assess, and locate the risks, affected assets, and appropriate responders. A CEM platform can also automate communications, action plans, and SOPs, so your teams have immediate access to information and can act at lightning speed. Later, analytics pinpoint where bottlenecks and delays surfaced and where they might be avoided in the future.


Strategic Vectors: Where Severe Weather Preparedness Meets CEM

With the duration of the worldwide public health crisis still unknown, planning responses to  severe weather events will continue in tandem with coronavirus risk management. And, as the hurricane and wildfire seasons transition into winter storms and blizzards — all against the background of the pandemic — it’s more important than ever to evaluate the processes, systems, tools, and platforms you have to respond to critical events. These four strategic vectors serve to best mitigate the harm that could result.


Critical Event Management

1. People

Economies worldwide have taken a beating during the pandemic, causing many institutions, governments, and businesses to downsize. Reduced staffing at your organization and at external partners — suppliers and vendors, for example — may mean heavier workloads (and greater burnout rates) but smaller teams. Confirm that the people and roles you’ve relied on in the past are still in place and consider outsourcing to consultants or contractors for any gaps that may arise. You might also move or offload tasks to other teams or regions if your organization has regional or international command centers.

2. Processes

Like staffing in the Covid-19 era, your processes may be similarly affected. Practices like social distancing can alter protocols such as indoor assembly during evacuations, while the rise of telework may distribute colleagues across a wider area. Ensure that remote workers have what they need to be able to respond wherever they may be and that the digital tools you arm them with can be easily accessed and perform well on a standard home Internet connection. Location-specific weather alerts can also provide real-time, hyperlocal information tailored to your coworkers’ distributed workspaces. Keep in mind that even when return to work orders are given post-pandemic, telework is likely to be more common, so establishing these operations now will save time down the road.

Update SOPs accordingly, automate processes whenever possible to save time (an especially precious resource for understaffed teams), and remember that external partners’ protocols may have also changed. Then, validate your updated SOPs by practicing. Use tests and drills to ensure that your new processes will perform without a hitch in a real emergency.

3. Systems and Software

With coronavirus risk management now a constant, systems and software may be unduly burdened and, in some cases, may obstruct or duplicate your efforts. Consolidate assets and risk-monitoring software into a single, map-based system to provide a common operating picture and to eliminate redundancies, simplifying operations and decreasing costs. This centralized system should also be able to audit all your communications, activities, and tasks. And, just like with any changed SOPs, stress test these systems and software.

4. Date and Intelligence

The pandemic lit upon the world swiftly, impacting our way of life seemingly overnight. Where we now work, the facilities and routes that inform our supply chain, how we communicate — all translate into data and intelligence that may need updating. You can engage partners in that intelligence-gathering, as well as access open source intelligence to decrease time-to-know and risk.

Current risk intelligence will only go so far, though, if it can’t be quickly and clearly conveyed to stakeholders. Make sure that the people who need to access to data and intelligence can reach it, and apply role-based permissions to limit access only to those who need it.


Severe weather preparedness

Consider these strategic vectors as you reevaluate your CEM approach, practices, and processes in light of the demands coronavirus risk management has placed on your existing CEM and severe weather preparedness. Having a single CEM platform is paramount to disaster-response plans, which you can find covered in more depth in the white paper “Managing Severe Weather Events During Other Crises,” available for download here.