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June 3, 2011 / Dave Gorham

What If Half Your Employees Had No Hurricane Experience At All?

[Today, a guest-posting from Mike Thomson, ImpactWeather Manager of Client Services & Business Continuity Programs, which was inspired by an informal yet interesting survey conducted by one of our staff earlier this week.]

Everyone’s heard the numbers – 40% of businesses that experience a disaster never re-open and of those that are forced to shut down for more than five days, over 90% will close shop within three years. Where will a disaster leave your business? The image below says it well, but why doesn’t anyone get it?


The sad reality is that absent the sight of the gallows, most people’s (and companies’) minds do not focus on being prepared.  Last year was the third most active tropical season in recorded history, but without a single landfalling U.S. hurricane, the hurricane threat has fallen off the collective radar.  Unfortunately, in our business of preparedness advocacy, it usually takes one of two things to get people to move – an epiphany (disaster experience) or a mandate (law, regulation or company edict).  Absent one or the other, few people get the need to be prepared until it’s too late and memories are short:  it’s been almost 20 years since Andrew, 10 years since Allison, five since Katrina and two since a real landfalling U.S. storm.  So . . . don’t worry, be happy?

Consider these sobering facts:  according to the Red Cross, only 7% of Americans have taken even basic pr eparedness steps, and Gartner found that only 25% of company contingency plans address personal/employee preparedness.   That means that 93% of the workforce is unprepared and would likely not be available after a disaster, yet 75% of companies have overlooked the problem while falsely assuming their employees will be there to respond and keep the business going.

Mark Mathiesen

We were reminded of these facts this week during a day-long series of Employee Hurricane Preparedness presentations that ImpactWeather’s Mark Mathiesen conducted for several hundred employees of a major international energy conglomerate.  During his presentations, Mark asked for a show of hands in answer to the question, “How many of you were here for Hurricane Ike?”  I.e., how many of you lived here and experienced a sizeable hurricane and its aftermath?  Not exactly a scientific poll . . . but only half indicated that they lived here when Ike struck less than three years ago.  Talk about turnover!  Yet that influx of workers – many of whom don’t know what it’s like to experience such a storm or its aftermath – just exacerbates the need and motivation to be prepared in prime hurricane country.

Mike Thompson


Finally, for professional reasons but also out of personal curiosity, I’ve been informally tracking the lead stories on the Today show since January 1st. Only eight times in the first five months of this year has some type of severe weather/natural disaster not been one of the lead stories (headline news) on that show. The snow, the unusual and widespread cold, the ongoing devastating flooding and continuing tornado events of this winter and spring have certainly gotten people’s attention, but until it affects you directly in your own backyard, few are spurred to act. After two active years (albeit quiet in the U.S.), no one wishes for a busy tropical season or a landfalling tropical system.

But it’s anticipated to be an active Atlantic Hurricane season.  And, unfortunately, it may be the only thing that pushes many people into “preparedness hyper drive.”


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