Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preparing for a storm surge


Preparing for a storm surge


There has been some recent discussion about storm surges and the BMA making plans for how to manage such an event for Bangkok and surrounding areas. There have actually been a number of recent situations in which storm surges have created significant damage and longer-term problems than the wind that normally causes these events.

Typically, with the exception of the storm surge linked with Cyclone Nargis in Burma recently, the national or local government will provide emergency services and relief to the citizens affected by such an event. The extent of this assistance will depend on financial and planning preparations made prior to the event occurring. In many cases, international NGOs will provide further assistance to help meet any shortfalls of the affected government services.

This assistance will normally focus on saving lives, providing food, water and shelter. This is followed by cleanups and reconnection of essential services such as electricity, telecommunications and water that are all often affected during a storm surge event.

From the business perspective, government and NGO assistance will rarely help specific companies restore operations and recover. Business operators are normally left to fend for themselves, which often results in a very slow recovery or, in many cases, complete failure or closure of the business.So what should the business owner/manager do if affected by a storm surge?

To answer this we should first consider the process by which a storm surge may occur and what can be done to combat the effects.

Storm surge process: A storm surge is different from other disaster events such a fire, earthquake or bomb in that normally they are associated with a major storm event such as a hurricane or typhoon. This means that normally a warning of 24 hours or more (sometimes one week) may be provided. The owner/manager is therefore able to take some steps to prevent damage to staff and other assets, and critically - to prepare for recovery after.

A storm surge is also different from a flood or tsunami. The difference from a flood is that normally a flood rises slowly and without significant force in mainly flat countries such as Thailand - closeness to rivers normally increases the force of a flood in the early stages. A tsunami typically delivers an enormous destructive force unannounced.

A storm surge will normally be delivered in waves (up to one metre) with significant but not enormous force, and normally from the offshore direction. Accompanying winds (not present during a tsunami) typically complicate the ability to stay and fight, so water will inundate many areas with some speed and response delivery will normally be undertaken after the passing of the storm.

Preparing beforehand: Once a warning is issued, business owners should immediately start an assessment of what assets are most valuable or difficult to replace, and which ones contribute more to the business process. The assets should then be prioritised and starting with the highest priority should be either moved or protected.

Safety of staff should be paramount and therefore prompt closing of business sites may be needed. This then raises the issue of security, protection of unmovable and valuable assets, and also communication to customers, suppliers and staff - many customers may not be affected by the storm surge (especially if they are in another country) so early notification can assist their expectations to your benefit.

The next step will be to make plans for moving operations to alternative locations if it is anticipated the water will remain for long periods (not so common in storm surge situations) or for gaining access to the affected sites. Once back on site, damage assessment and recovery planning can begin.

It is also wise to call in your insurance provider as early as possible to assist with the recovery plans as they will assist with speed of recovery and payouts - which may be critical to your cash flow. Who you have available to assist will be critical as some key staff living nearby may not be able to work as normal while restoring their own houses or those of their families.

The recovery actions then need to be undertaken as quickly as possible to get the business back to profitability, and always remember to thank all those who assist during these stressful times after the operations are back up and running.

Of course the best approach would be to have in place a Business Continuity Plan for a storm surge or any other disaster, which would normally be exercised by the management team and staff on a regular basis, which makes the implementation smoother and faster during this or any type of disaster.

Andrew Durieux is a director of Coverage Ltd, a local consultancy. He has provided business continuity planning services to clients on four continents and across many different industries and for companies of different sizes. He is qualified by the Business Continuity Organisation in the UK ( Coverage Ltd can be contacted at 0-2261-8485.

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