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Natural Disaster Preparedness

Effective emergency planning includes suppliers and addresses resources, communications, pricing and implementation before the crisis

The tropical storm you’ve been watching is now headed to shore – as a hurricane; the unusual amount of rainfall in one area is causing rivers to flood; and the summer thunderstorms affecting two states in which you have stores is spawning tornadoes.

Are you, your employees and your suppliers ready to act?

While most FMs will answer that question with “Of course – we have an emergency plan for natural disasters,” the reality is that many of these plans may include a good overview or framework to handle a natural disaster, but lack the resources needed to implement the plan.

“It is critical to have a plan that identifies potential damage in different situations, but it needs to be more than theoretical,” explained Vernon Duty, LEED AP, HCC, BELFOR Property Restoration. “You must identify suppliers by name and have a contract in place that establishes responsibilities, prices and response times.”

The best time to negotiate an emergency services contract is when you are planning a response to an emergency – not when you need emergency services, pointed out Danny Carter CR, LEED AP, HCC, BELFOR Property Restoration. “During an emergency, you don’t have time to obtain bids or negotiate prices, so tying the contract to emergency planning gives you time to interview different suppliers and agree to a price.”

The agreed-upon price provides another benefit that helps FMs handle another often overlooked aspect of emergency planning – budget, said Steve Jurczyk, Director of Facilities for Santander Bank. “You will need to pay for services and supplies, so emergency costs should be built into your annual operating and maintenance budget. If you are just starting to develop an emergency plan or build the budget, review historical disaster response spend as an initial starting point.”

Identifying suppliers who can provide emergency services may differ from retailer to retailer depending on number and geographic location of stores. It is important to evaluate the capabilities of your day-to-day suppliers carefully to determine if they have the resources and capabilities to handle emergency work.

“We generally rely on the same suppliers who provide our regular maintenance and repair work for the stores,” said Brian O’Neill, Site and Fuel Vendor Manager and Manager of Crisis Management for Wawa. “Our contracts clearly spell out our expectations for regular and emergency services upfront.”

“Unfortunately, natural disasters such as hurricanes devastate an entire community, so we are committed to getting up and running as quickly as possible to support first-responders and the community by providing services they need,” explained Harry Peck, Director of Facilities and Store Services for Wawa. “We maintain excellent relationships with suppliers, so we do receive outstanding support from them in times of crisis.”

There are times, however, when even the best supplier can’t respond because the supplier’s location including supplies and equipment were damaged by the event, or the supplier’s employees can’t travel or must take care of their families. “You must build in a redundancy of support into your emergency plan,” said O’Neill. “Having multiple suppliers in different locations that can be mobilized quickly is critical.”

Include suppliers in planning

While negotiating an emergency services contract before it is needed streamlines response to a disaster, communication between a retailer and supplier should not end with the signed contract.

The reality is that if there is an ongoing relationship and continuous communication beyond a contract negotiation and a call during an emergency, suppliers are more likely to prioritize their response to your call, said Duty.

Even if your emergency suppliers are not the same as your day-to-day suppliers, there are several ways to build a relationship related to emergency services.

Including key third-party suppliers in the development of the plan is one way to enhance communication, suggested Jurczyk. Each disaster is unique and will bring a different set of challenges so including everyone’s perspective upfront can produce a plan that accounts for the needs and challenges of different departments and suppliers.

Once the plan is developed, share it with suppliers, suggested Jurczyk. “All internal parties including operations, real estate, information technology, security and legal, as well as key supplier partners – including generator rental suppliers, electricians, HVAC, landscapers, flood clean-up, roofers. It is best to have everyone involved on the same page with expectations.”

Regular tabletop exercises are an important part of emergency preparedness that bring all parties together to run through scenarios of different disasters with various situations. When Hurricane Matthew hit Florida and the east coast in 2016, about 50 Wawa stores were affected. Because the supplier participated in the tabletop exercise with company representatives, there was no delay in response.

“Our supplier did not wait to position people and equipment until the crisis occurred because we had practiced similar scenarios,” explained Peck. Sitting with other members of the emergency team also creates a familiarity and trust with each other that enhances communications during an actual crisis, he added.

Address timing and method of communication

Communications leading up to and during a natural disaster differ according to the disaster, pointed out Carter. “With hurricanes, we know the general area that will be affected by the storm three to four days before the storm hits so we can move people, equipment and supplies into areas so we can move in quickly once the storm passes,” he explained. “The real challenges are sudden, large events such as heavy rainstorms that cause flooding. These events can overload local resources and require time to bring in resources from other areas.”

In either event, Carter recommended that FMs prioritize the locations the supplier should address. “When FMs can communicate which stores must be opened first, suppliers can make the best use of their resources,” he explained.

How to communicate during a disaster must also be addressed in an emergency plan. “Cell towers may be down, which means no cell service,” pointed out Jurczyk. Although text groups can be used to share information when cell service is limited, he also recommended that regular connection times be set to minimize disruption to the crews on the front lines. Having a set meeting time – early morning and later afternoon for example – to get reports from various sites and suppliers, and to share information enables every site to have their plan for the day coordinated with others, required supplies identified and problems addressed, he said.

“Following Hurricane Sandy, we began discussing the purchase of a few satellite phones for use by one or two key people in the field,” said Jurczyk. “This will give them the ability to communicate with corporate offices and resources outside the emergency area.”

After recovery from a disaster, we set up a post-event meeting that includes suppliers and all internal departments involved in the emergency to discuss how the plan worked and what changes should be made for the next event, said O’Neill. Fragmented communications was identified as an opportunity to improve following Hurricane Matthew, he said. Identifying necessary contacts who should be included in communications streamlined communications for the next event, he added.

What is the key to success in emergency preparedness? “Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best,” said Jurczyk. Just because you have a plan, don’t expect things to go as planned, he added. “Curveballs came up throughout the entire event. Be nimble and adapt.” l

“During an emergency, you don’t have time to obtain bids or negotiate prices, so tying the contract to emergency planning gives you time to interview different suppliers and agree to a price.”

Danny Carter CR,

From the Experts: 5 Steps Every Retailer Should Take to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

  • Prioritize throughout the emergency plan

“While detailed information that supports quick implementation is important, be sure to establish priorities and build in broad authority that allows for flexibility,” suggested Vernon Duty, LEED AP, HCC, BELFOR Property Restoration. If people understand priorities they can focus on decisions that reflect quickly changing situations in the field, he explains.

  • Review the emergency plan regularly

“An emergency preparedness plan should be reviewed bi-annually,” said Brian O’Neill, Site And Fuel Vendor Manager And Manager Of Crisis Management for Wawa. “Business models change, number of locations increase, and geographic areas expand, so if the plan is never revisited, it may not be effective.”

  • Take steps to minimize loss prior to event

If flooding and power loss may be a result of the natural disaster, and employees have enough warning prior to the event, be sure they know what to do to minimize subsequent damage. “Retailers can reduce the impact of flooding by elevating stock, communication systems or other equipment one to four feet off the floor,” suggested Danny Carter CR, LEED AP, HCC, BELFOR Property Restoration.

Other tips from Steve Jurczyk, Director of Facilities for Santander Bank, include bringing all loose items such as trash cans, banners and displays inside the store to prevent them from becoming projectiles in high wind events, and cover computers and registers with plastic bags to prevent water damage from roof leaks. “If you have perishables items and frozen goods, put that merchandise in plastic bags prior to closing before a known disaster,” he suggested. “If the store loses power, this will prevent additional damage to freezers if the merchandise melts.”

  • Plan for a lengthy recovery effort

“One of the biggest changes to our emergency plan after Hurricane Sandy was preparation to sustain a high level of engagement over a long period of time,” said Harry Peck, Director of Facilities And Store Services for Wawa. “We had 14 or 15 mobile generators rotated through the area, but we also had a robust refueling plan to keep them running over a sustained period.”

  • Recognize people for their help

“Be sure to give special thanks to all the folks that participate in the response to a disaster,” said Jurczyk. “I’ve seen many folks put their personal lives on hold for their organizations, with many going above and beyond. Give them the recognition they deserve, once all is back to normal.”

By: Sheryl S. Jackson


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