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Why You Should Expect the Unexpected: Learning from Our Customers’ Disaster Experiences

One of our favorite things about transitioning into a new year is the opportunity to look at our business and life from a fresh perspective.

Hopefully you’ve hit the ground running with your new business plan and are able to ingrain habits that will lead to successful resolutions. The very first thing you probably did after returning to work was to write or audit your disaster recovery plan (DRP) for 2017, right? Kidding aside, this time of year is a great time to check that task off your list, before business starts heating up again and the weeks start ticking by faster than you can count. 

Disasters Have a Way of Sneaking up on You
There has been no shortage of crazy weather and natural disasters in recent years, including 2016. In the first half of 2016 alone, we saw early hurricane activity in the tropics, the record snowstorm “Jonas” in the northeast and deadly flooding in Texas.1 Without a doubt 2017 will include additional weather-related surprises for many parts of the country. And weather is only one consideration in disaster planning. You also need to think about things like pipe breaks and details related to your supply chain, in addition to what would need to happen in the event of a big natural disaster, like an earthquake, hurricane or tornado.

If you’ve never had to navigate your business or organization through a disaster, it can be difficult to understand the urgency of having an up-to-date DRP. That’s why we wanted to share a few examples of real-life disaster scenarios our customers have faced, along with the types of lessons our customers are always learning.

In all these examples, none of the businesses or organizations had magical foresight to know that they would experience a disaster. And as you can imagine, the level of panic is very different when a business has a DRP in place versus when they don’t even know who to call first after a business-stopping event.

Massive Flooding…from a Water Main
Flooding isn’t always caused by nature. Multiple buildings at a major California university were damaged by a massive water main break on campus. The university not only needed to repair buildings, parking structures and athletic facilities, it also needed to move quickly to protect and salvage books and historical documents in various buildings.

Key lesson: Watch out for too much of a good thing and check references. In this case, the university was proactive about its DRP and had pre-loss contracted agreements with four emergency restoration providers. Once the emergency response was underway, it quickly became evident that two of the vendors were unqualified and did subpar work, so they were pulled from the project and the remaining clean-up and restoration was then split between two responders.

Small Fire, Big Cleanup
With modern smoke alarms and suppression systems, fires are often contained before they destroy buildings. Yet they still happen frequently (just consider the stories we heard about batteries in toys and phones catching fire last year). And when they do, even a small fire can involve a weeks-long cleanup effort. For example, the fire suppression system extinguished a fire that broke out in the early morning at a large sporting goods store. Although the actual damage from the fire was minimal, the smoke and soot from the fire damaged the building and more than $2.4 million worth of inventory. While the retailer reopened most of the location after a week with our help, parts of the store had to be contained for several weeks during the cleanup.

Key lesson: See the big picture. For any type of disaster that your business could likely face, it’s important to consider more than just the immediate circumstances of the disaster. Once the smoke is cleared, the water gone, or the dust settled, you will likely still face lots of cleanup work in surrounding areas.

Post-Earthquake Complications
When an earthquake struck an aerospace production facility, it damaged walls, upset heavy equipment and compromised the structural integrity of buildings. As a key part of a complex supply chain, the plant ran 24/7. The plant needed ways to safely restore critical operations as quickly as possible to avoid disrupting the supply chain and potentially millions of dollars in losses.

Key lesson: Every link in the chain matters, and should be considered in your DRP (which is priceless). Because production at this loss site represented a critical link in a complex supply-chain, it was crucial for the client to have plans in place to minimize their business interruption in the face of different types of disaster. The longer their “down-time,” the more disastrous the negative domino effect all along the supply chain.

Wildfire Wind Surprises
Your business or home doesn’t need to be in the path of a wildfire to sustain damage from it. For example, the wind from wildfires in California created havoc for nearby businesses and shopping centers Although many businesses assumed the geographic distance between their buildings and the raging wildfires would protect them for harm; ash and soot travel well beyond fires. Deep layers of ash and soot settled on rooftops of a neighboring shopping center, polluting HVAC airways, with the potential of adversely affecting the health of shoppers and employees. And to ice the cake, the holiday season was fast approaching.

Key lesson: Even a disaster that is over the horizon can affect your business. The potential losses from clean-up, removal, health concerns, loss of customers and business interruption were potentially astronomical, so fast action was essential. The combination of a DRP and existing relationship with a disaster restoration provider helped the shopping center owners minimize the impact of the disaster.

Help Getting Started
Hopefully you now have a much better sense of the randomness of disasters and the importance of disaster recovery planning. If you don’t already have a DRP in place, don’t let the idea of putting one together overwhelm you. You can use our Jump Start Recovery Plan template to start gathering the information you need and making your plans. If you have a plan in place, but haven’t revisited it for a while be sure to read this post on the keys to a successful disaster recovery plan audit. And if you’re looking for expert insights as you go through either process, be sure to drop us a line.

1 16 of the Craziest Weather Events We've Seen So Far in 2016, The Weather Channel, June 2016.

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