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    Tips for Hurricane Survival

    Despite mild hurricane forecast, marketing agency provides advice to retailers.

    BOSTON -- A new report by marketing firm Loomis Group reveals retailers' physical assets are not the only things at risk when it comes to hurricane damage.

    Protecting the company's reputation is also a necessary precaution in a disaster recovery plan, according to the agency.

    "When a hurricane hits, public relations is probably the last thing on the mind of most business people," Nicole Gustin, director of crisis communications at Loomis Group, said in a statement. "Everyone is busy dealing with the aftermath of the storm, but a company’s reputation can quickly take a hit if you aren’t prepared."

    She recommended having a crisis communications plan in place to quickly execute in times of disaster. Some elements of the plan include:

    -- Develop a crisis communications plan with a public relations strategy in times of disaster. Executing the plan can protect a company’s reputation, and could make it stronger, if a local community is affected by a storm.

    -- Talk to customers and know how to reach them. Alert customers if stores are open for business, or when they will re-open. The firm also recommended online social media which provides instant communication.

    -- Publicize "good Samaritan" efforts, such as donations of supplies or aid to others in need.

    -- Prepare now. Don’t wait until a storm approaches.

    Meanwhile, forecasters for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season is most likely for this year, but they still warned about the need to remain prepared for the possibility of a storm.

    And for convenience retailers that sell fuel it is more important than ever to have a well-thought-out plan and strategy for weathering shortages, and the attendant price spikes, during hurricane season, according to an analyst with Advantage IQ, a bill payment, auditing and reporting firm based here.

    "Risk management is as important in a mild hurricane season as in an active one," said Melody Swanson, manger of energy procurement services for Advantage, who added retailers shouldn’t get lulled by the modest storm forecast. "It only takes one hurricane—or even the threat of one—to cause major fluctuations in the price of fuel."

    In its initial outlook for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, which started June 1, and runs through November, NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center calls for a 50 percent probability of a near-normal season, a 25 percent probability of an above-normal season and a 25 percent probability of a below-normal season. Global weather patterns are imposing a greater uncertainty in the 2009 hurricane season outlook than in recent years, said forecasters, who added there is a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes of Category 3, 4 or 5 intensity.

    While prices have declined considerably from last year’s levels at this time, fuel costs have already started rising. "With a high likelihood that prices will go up further, now is a reasonable time to look at taking a fixed position to offset the risk of future price spikes,” Swanson told CSNews Online. Swanson, who works with a number of convenience store retailers, was quick to add each retailer should set a strategy that works for them and stick to that strategy, rather than try to react to every fluctuation in the oil market.

    Despite the current relatively calm fuel market, oil is a "volatile commodity" whose price can be affected by many factors. "It doesn’t take much to move the needle," noted Swanson.

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