Reflections on what we learnt from the recent floods and what we can do to be prepared for next time.
Several major river systems, including the Severn and Trent, reached record-breaking peaks in February with businesses and communities suffering the effects. For many, they were locked in the ‘respond’ phase with three official storms in three weekends and could not realistically begin to recover, never mind think about how to prepare for the next time, whilst still fighting the last flood.
The science indicates that weather and flooding events of this type are on the increase and while you may think that your premises are not at risk of natural flooding, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared – what about a burst pipe or water main in or near your building?
In the town of Ironbridge, the police directed an emergency evacuation of the area. This is an extreme step, but it is the kind of sudden action that can have a major impact upon your business or home life and its use is not limited to flooding events. A major fire or pollution event might also require evacuation, potentially for several days, as illustrated by the fire at the School of Art in Glasgow in 2018.
Businesses may also be affected by staff unavailability either by being unable to travel to work or being required at home to look after their own property or family. There may also be a significant disruption to your supply chain if their premises are affected or if normal transport routes are closed.
The key question is; “Could your business cope with an order from the Police to evacuate immediately?
Would you have your key equipment ready to move, will your data survive, do you have fallback premises, and can you continue to deliver outputs?”
What can you do to prepare yourself for an event that denies you access to your premises?
Have a plan and talk about it.
It might be a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan in the office or perhaps just a few notes at home. Thinking and discussing the worst case over a coffee or via an exercise will increase everyone’s awareness of what might happen and how they can help if it does. Work out whose strengths are best suited to the things that you have to do and make sure they know what they are likely to be asked to do.
Prioritise. What really matters?
In almost all cases the safety of your people (family or employees) are the most important thing. Do not attempt to do anything that could endanger their wellbeing or that of the people that may have to attempt to rescue them. Remember that the emergency services are likely to be extremely stretched during major incidents and cannot be everywhere at once. In terms of material things, it is useful to know what you may need to move in what order – valuable stock before consumables in a business; personal documents before your expensive TV at home.
Do you have a way of letting your staff know that they should stay at home or where they should go? Do all your family members know who they should call or where to go if they can’t get home, are asked to evacuate or can’t get hold of you? Do you have a list of suppliers and customers stored somewhere that you can access it away from your business? The loss of your facility/services will, of course, be your priority but it could impact an organisation that relies on you so keeping them informed is important.
Do you know how to get support in a crisis? Do some research into local resilience partnerships, business & community groups, local authorities and the like. to understand how they can help (and how you can help them or others in the area). A pre-identified alternative site may suit larger organisations but even simple steps such as staff taking laptops home may allow work to continue, albeit at a limited level. If your business requires significant warehousing, then that may be better split between sites to reduce the impact of a loss of premises in one location. Likewise for computer servers and other key infrastructure. Anything you can do to reduce the risk in advance will help manage the crisis. At home you can take other simple steps such as keeping a store of long-life food and bottled water, having things like torches, power-packs, medicines, clothes and bedding available to move at short-notice.
Any disruption will have financial consequences and insurance may be slow to pay or not cover enough. A means of ‘getting by’ for a number of weeks is worth considering in advance – this could be as simple as a credit card or alternative bank account. Loss of your business premises may also impact your ability to pay and administer staff, and to pay your key invoices, so think about those impacts and how you could mitigate them.