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The devastating impact of Hurricane Florence has led many to examine their organization's disaster preparedness efforts. Aside from the sheer size and scope of this storm, additional factors further complicated preparations.

First, a rapid change in conditions over the past two weeks led to a rapid increase in storm activity—as many as six tropical cyclones were active in the northern hemisphere simultaneously (three of which were in the North Atlantic). Second, as Florence neared landfall, a dramatic shift in the forecasted impact areas prompted a last minute update of contingency plans. These challenges, combined with the trend of slower, more damaging storms, raises the bar for how sophisticated systems need to be in order to manage these risks.

Common Issues

While the need for robust disaster preparedness is currently front of mind, there are several obstacles that can limit business continuity and disaster recovery efforts:

  • Outdated disaster information — waiting for media updates can place your organization one step behind
  • Confusion over who should act— uncertainty over responsibilities in a time of crisis can lead to chaos
  • Shelved disaster plans — if the disaster plan is merely an academic exercise, it will have no meaningful impact
  • Unprepared resources — without the right checks and drills, critical resources may fail to execute

The right RMIS, one of that includes the following two critical components, can address all of these issues.

First Component — Connect your RMIS directly to weather/disaster feeds

Connecting your RMIS to the same feeds that the media uses to report on disasters allows you to react as soon as alerts are issued. Origami Risk allows you to connect directly to the alerts from the National Weather Service, as well as other critical sources such as the GDACS (Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System) feed, the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake feed, the SkyTruth Environmental Alert feed, and the InciWeb U.S. Wildfire feed.

These alerts can serve as triggers whenever your organization’s locations are in the same zip code as a warning. Connecting the alert system with the same location data already used for incident reporting, exposure values collection, and other location-based functionality allows you to set up automatic actions for any location under any type of watch or warning. This feature can handle any number of simultaneous alerts and eliminate the problem of relying on outdated forecasts.

With real-time updates of the feeds, Origami Risk also handles major shifts in the forecast as they occur. Should new locations be placed under an expanded watch or warning, push notifications can update key personnel as soon as the alert is released. Instead of waiting for media sources to “catch up” to the latest updates and report that out, your organization can operate on the most up-to-date information.

Setting location-based triggers

The process of assigning alert triggers using three simple questions can dramatically improve disaster planning. For each type of alert available, ask:

  • What type of impact does this kind of alert signal, and what is the appropriate response?
  • Who needs information to act (keeping in mind those in the affected area may not be able to act)?
  • Where, based on likelihood of occurrence, do specific types of alerts apply?

The flexibility of Origami Risk allows you to tailor triggers based on alert type from basic snow and rain alerts, to severe weather, to natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, environmental disasters, and earthquakes. If there are other feed services that could help protect your organization, they can be added as well.

Make the process real world

The different types of feeds available can spark critical discussions about how to properly mitigate damage from each of these events, what coverages are in place for these events (and if they are sufficient), and who needs to be notified when an alert is triggered. These conversations, examining the “what ifs,” are where the service becomes truly meaningful.

Plan responses for everything. For example, office closures due to inclement weather, moving equipment indoors when severe weather approaches, and large scale continuity/recovery plans when natural disasters impact operations.

Your organization may also consider doing this same exercise for critical suppliers and distributors within your supply chain, and then setting up additional alert triggers for their key locations, as well. Find out what their own preparedness plans are (and how those would potentially affect your organization) and be ready to make shifts or find alternatives if their operations are affected. Origami Risk allows you to create alert notifications for the supply chain threats that differ from those related to organizational locations.

Second Component — Use audit technology to convert plans into actual preparedness

One high-profile example of a disaster plan that was ineffective at the time of a catastrophe was BP’s notoriously flawed disaster plan for the Deepwater Horizon. CBS News reported on the plan's many deficiencies. “While a disaster as devastating as a major oil spill will create some problems that can't be solved in advance, or even foreseen, BP's plans do not anticipate even the most obvious issues, and use mountains of words to dismiss problems that have proven overwhelming.” Effective use of audit technology can prevent your organization from suffering a similar fate.

How to use audits effectively

Properly executed audits allow your organization to answer these questions (on a regular basis):

  • Do the key resources know what to do?
  • Are the plans up to date with current contact info, etc.?
  • Are the plans actionable (can they be easily explained, and followed)?

Scheduling audits (and drills) allows your organization to assess the feasibility of plans. Origami Risk makes it easy to implement audits, monitor progress, and even automatically kick off corrective measures when results are not up to standard. Assessing how these plans will actually work is the first step to preparedness.

The audit process can also be used during a business continuity event to track closures and progress towards re-openings, as Compass Group USA did with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Origami’s mobile audits mean data can keep coming in from the field, even when employees are displaced and facilities are not operational. Sketch technology allows for adding key annotations to images and diagrams, providing better data to decision makers which yields more educated decisions.

Going further with policy analysis

Another potential step is to use the process of setting alerts to ensure that all of the locations identified as susceptible to potential disasters have adequate coverage. Origami Risk has a policy management component that will simplify the process of viewing coverage totals and identifying gaps or overlaps. This step ensures that any risk posed by natural disasters that is not sufficiently mitigated through the disaster plan can be properly addressed through policy coverage.

Despite the widespread damage inflicted by Hurricane Florence, and the human toll taken, a renewed focus on disaster planning can at least be one positive outcome. The key for those looking to improve responses to tomorrow’s natural disasters is to take several key steps today. Connect feeds directly to your RMIS, use those alerts to ask the questions that make it real world, figure out who needs what information in a disaster, and drill and audit until you are properly prepared.

The first step is getting your organization prepared. Contact us if you'd like to talk to someone about stepping up your preparedness.