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    Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

    By Kevin Smith, ImpactWeather

    Nearly three-quarters of businesses that experience a disruption of more than three days will fail, according to the Business Continuity Institute. Would your convenience store(s) survive this type of disruption?

    ImpactWeather Chief Hurricane Forecaster Chris Hebert projects that this year’s hurricane season may only churn out nine named storms, four hurricanes and one category three or greater hurricane, but it just takes one tropical threat to wipe out a business or an entire community.

    Both independently owned stores and global chains face a variety of challenges when severe weather strikes. For many, the ultimate goal is to be the last to close and the first to open. Accomplishing this objective builds brand loyalty with patrons and supports the community’s preparation and recovery efforts.

    According to a team of researchers from Louisiana State University, Texas State University and Tulane University, how a business prepares for and recovers from a natural disaster directly impacts the overall resiliency of a community following the event. For example, if a store takes approximately two hours to close before a hurricane arrives, failure to shut down on time can result in placing customers and employees in danger. On the other hand, unnecessarily closing –- or staying closed longer than is needed -– can result in irritated customers and thousands of dollars in lost sales.

    Safety is also paramount for convenience stores as hurricanes never arrive alone. Destructive winds, storm surge and tornados can reach a location as many as 12 hours prior to a hurricane making landfall, which creates a dangerous environment for both employees and customers.

    Retailers have to delicately juggle between their employees’ schedules to allow them enough time to evacuate, and their customers who need to purchase necessary supplies.

    To make matters worse, store operators must consider the liability issues that surround severe storms. High winds can push loosely tied-down materials into other buildings, storefronts and homes, causing property damage. Flooding and storm surge can destroy equipment and supplies, leaving stores holding the bill when vendors need to be reimbursed.

    Severe Weather Solutions

    There are reliable tools available to c-stores to address the threat of weather-related challenges. A timed-phase approach with each phase activated by a series of objective triggers, such as wind speeds, allows a business to implement a shutdown within a safe and effective timeframe.

    Not too surprising, a common mistake companies make while executing their response plan is to tie in their shutdown phases with a hurricanes’ projected landfall, or when the eye of the storm arrives at their location. While this is routine for a variety of industries, it is especially hazardous because high winds and storm surge can arrive much quicker (up to a full day in some cases) before the body of the storm itself.

    An efficient way to identify a company’s shutdown timeline is by monitoring specific wind fields of the approaching storm, and when those winds could potentially affect the location. For example, if a store must cease operation by the time 35-mile-per-hour (mph) winds reach the destination, it would count down the days from when 35-mph winds are projected to arrive at its front door.

    To get started, below is an outline of three timed phases that can be customized to each location’s specific internal protocols:

    PHASE ONE (four to five days out)

    • Identify resource needs – Identifying the store’s resources is an opportunity to see what employees, products, equipment and supplies the location has available or needs to address prior to shutdown.
    • Schedule fuel deliveries – It’s important to have enough fuel in the tanks when people are evacuating. Being prepared alleviates confusion, frustration and panic.
    • Inventory supplies and products – What do customers need to gird them against the approaching storm? The sooner a store can order additional supplies, the better the chances of customers purchasing from them instead of their competitors.
    • Communicate with key stakeholders – These are employees, vendors, corporate executives and customers who will be affected by the store’s delayed opening and/or closure. 

    PHASE TWO (two to three days out)

    • Confirm contact information – Store managers should have each of their employee’s personal contact information to communicate critical updates during and after the storm.
    • Review corporate policies – Managers should review the corporate policies for paying full-time employees, medical and disability leave and the protocol for storm damage recovery.
    • Continue monitoring the storm – This is the time to review a store’s worst-case-scenario in the event employees must leave early to prepare their homes and families, and possibly evacuate.

    PHASE THREE (less than 48 hours out)

    • Facilitate a walkthrough – Managers can finally close stores, sell last-minute materials and cease operations.
    • Place vendors on standby – This is critical as vendors have multiple clients in the area, and those who have a specific protocol in place will receive services faster than those stores that are unprepared.
    • Evacuate – All employees and management personnel should evacuate and monitor storm conditions from a safe location.

    Every dollar spent on business preparedness saves $7 in recovering disaster-related economic losses, according to the Houston Area Research Center. With so many convenience stores across the country, this could add up to thousands, if not millions, of dollars in economic losses -- or for those who are prepared, profits.

    At the end of the day, the actions of a c-store may help a community bounce back from a natural disaster by supplying food and materials in a timely manner. Don’t you want to be the hero of your community?

    Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

    By Kevin Smith, ImpactWeather
    • About Kevin Smith Kevin Smith is vice president of onshore corporate services for ImpactWeather, a StormGeo company. ImpactWeather (www.ImpactWeather.com) is a full-time weather department for hundreds of corporations globally, providing site-specific forecasting, monitoring, alerting and business continuity tools. For nearly a decade, Smith has directed the company's meteorological operations team. He holds master's and bachelor's degrees in weather technology, and served in the U.S. Air Force for 15 years.
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