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Winter Weather Woes

Iola, Juno, Octavia. There’s no doubt about it. Mother Nature has been very busy lately, wreaking havoc all across the country. And, with Winter Storm Pandora now trekking toward the South, Midwest and Northeast, she’s nowhere near being finished with us yet.

Whether you’re in the Texas panhandle, where a rare foot of snow fell in January, or enduring over 96 inches of the “white stuff” in Boston, odds are you’ve experienced Mother Nature’s wrath in some way this winter. Just this week, Tennessee received two inches of ice, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency. And, today, wind chill advisories and freeze warnings are posted as far south as West Palm Beach, Florida.

Even people in warm and sunny Southern California are feeling the effects of these brutal weather conditions, as air travel continues to be hindered nationwide with thousands of flights delayed or cancelled almost daily.

In areas where winter weather only happens once every few years, its effects can be monumental. Take Atlanta in January 2014, when a storm left thousands stranded on area interstates, children marooned overnight at school, and 4,000 flights delayed with another 2,300 cancelled.

When snow, sleet, or freezing rain are in the forecast (or on the ground), employers, in particular, often have a hard time coping with the situation or finding workarounds. Even if the electricity remains on, employees may not be able to get into work. Or, get home. The government may even issue a mandate for people to stay off the roadways, forcing offices to close for days at a time. Do you know how you will notify employees of the changes in your office schedule? Are your employees prepared to work from home, if that is an option?

And what about places that do expect winter weather? Unlike states in the South and Midwest, places like Boston can pretty much count on having some major snowfalls every season. When you know that your business is going to be disrupted by the weather, how can you make sure that those hiccups are as smooth as possible?

When it comes to the harsh effects of winter weather, you know that your business may be impacted. Here are some tips for keeping those effects minimal:

• Have an emergency response team in place that is prepared to respond to weather-related crises. As part of your business continuity plan, make sure that their roles are clearly defined so that swift action can be taken in emergencies. Give the team the tools that they need to handle the emergency, starting with a reliable way to communicate when traditional phone lines may be down. Implement a notification service that leverages all modalities, e.g., phone, email, and SMS, to increase the odds that communication can be established.

• Make sure that your employees know how you will be notifying them of changes to your office schedule or location. Should they watch the news? Check your website? Wait for a phone call? Check their email? Get everybody on the same page before the storm. In addition to your notifications, provide a phone number for a message board ahead of time so that employees can call in to receive the latest information at their convenience, and even offer responses to your messages via two-way communication so that you can know their status at any given point in time.

• Don’t be silent. If a winter storm has affected your city, but you still expect employees to report to work, make sure they know that ahead of time. If not, you might get the response, “I never heard from you so I assumed that since it was so bad out there that no one was working today.” Even if your business is planning to operate like normal, let employees know. Don’t let them assume what your plan is. Inform them.

• Know where your employees are and where the storm is headed. You may not need to notify your employees in Seattle of an approaching storm in Virginia. Use a system that allows geo-mapping for your notifications if you need to target a specific region in your message.

• Don’t wait until the storm hits to get emergency contact information from your employees. Have all current contact information uploaded into your notification system ahead of time so that you can communicate quickly when needed. Use your notification vendor’s API (Application Programming Interface) to seamlessly extract data from your HR database or other source. And, consider using a Self-Registration Portal so that employees can upload this information directly into the system themselves.

• Make sure that employees have the equipment that they need to work from home if it is an option. Prepare them with instructions on how to access your servers and their email accounts remotely, as employees who rarely work from home may not understand how to access this vital information.

• Conduct severe weather preparedness drills and exercises at least twice each year. This includes activating your emergency notification system. And, of course, make any changes to improve your organization’s readiness.

Having a weather-related event affect your business is not an uncertainty. Sure, you may not know when or how, but at some point, whether snow or ice or tornado or flooding or earthquake or other event, the weather will jeopardize the continuity of your business and potentially the safety of its employees. Plan ahead so that your organization isn’t caught off guard by dear old Mother Nature.

For more information about communication during weather-related events, download the free ebook, “Seven Severe Weather Communication Mistakes That Can Negatively Impact Your Business Resilience”.