By Dave Gorham, Senior Meteorologist, StormGeo
A major disaster can catch any business off guard. Even worse, while many manage to recover in the aftermath, an estimated 25 percent aren’t as fortunate. Now, imagine that one of those businesses was a financial institution.
When crises hit, people need access to cash—easy and fast cash from their local branch offices or ATMs. Even after stashing a few hundred bucks at home, those who are in disaster zones rely on banks to remain open as long as possible and resume operations as soon as the threat has passed. With electricity out and travel difficult, disaster zones become cash-only zones; cash needs to be available, and it needs to be convenient. But there are stark differences between an ice storm and a hurricane disaster zone. One often leaves an office temporarily inaccessible, while the other floods—and possibly destroys—a branch. In either scenario, there are fine lines between having enough, too little and too much money on hand.
Like branch offices, ATMs outside the disaster zone and along evacuation routes need to be stocked and restocked to accommodate the unusual number of people withdrawing funds from their accounts. That’s why it’s so critical for decision-makers to do dry runs of all disaster scenarios well before the threat of an actual storm. You must know what to do when disaster strikes in the middle of the night, destroys a number of offices, or temporarily wipes out supply routes.
Weathering almost any storm.
Do you know how much lead-time you need to initiate disaster plans? Have you established any criteria for when it’s safe to return to work? What about communications? Do you have systems in place to effectively communicate before, during and after the storm—no matter when the storm hits? What’s more, are you getting reliable, accurate weather forecasts? Many people don’t realize that television weather services’ primary objective is public safety, while the accuracy of the forecast is relegated to second place. To keep the greatest number of people safe, it’s better to warn of a widespread storm than attempt to pinpoint its exact and ever-changing location.
For your business, site-specific forecasting is critical for keeping operations “business as usual”—or at least keeping the doors open as long as possible prior to a storm. While different banks around the world experience different weather threats, there are things you can do to ensure your branch is prepared, no matter what the threat. The following can help:
- Have a process already in place. From hurricanes to blizzards or bomb threats to active shooters, a business-continuity plan ensures employees know what actions to take before, during and after an emergency. Make sure key staff members familiarize themselves with the plan. Confirm that all employees know where to find information to carry out emergency tasks or how to conduct everyday procedures under new conditions—such as with backup power or no Internet. Schedule drills at least once a year to keep everyone sharp.
- Don’t leave the cupboard bare. Does your facility have the necessary supplies to weather any storm? Stock up on water, nonperishable foods and snacks. Buy blankets, fans, flashlights and extra batteries. Consider picking up a few air mattresses in the event that people must stay overnight.
- Be ready to go remote. Being unprepared at home can leave employees distracted at work. It can also keep them from returning to work in a timely fashion. Encourage staff members in preparedness techniques and strategies so their homes and families are prepared before inclement weather is likely to strike. Show employees how to make conference calls to crisis-management teams from work and home. Do the same with mass-notification calls, and remind them that texts can often go through when voice calls can’t.
- Read between the lines. A light dusting of snow won’t close the office, but what about a six-inch accumulation? Will storm-force winds close the office, or are you waiting for the hurricane landfall to be 72 hours away before closing? Decide in advance what will close your branch, and determine what actions will need to be taken in order to keep operations running. A professional weather service can help you understand the difference between four inches of heavy, wet snow and a foot of dry, light snow, as well as understanding why waiting until a predetermined time before landfall is not as sound as it seems.
- Invest in the best technology. When the worst-case scenario is on your bank’s doorstep, look beyond your local TV meteorologist. A commercial weather-forecast service homes in on a specific area and lets you isolate conditions on the basis of those surroundings. This kind of focused data can help executives determine which branch, if any, needs to close, which ones need reinforcements, and when services can resume.
For instance, let’s say you have one bank in a flood zone and situated on an evacuation route. Commercial weather data can show you that you should prepare the second one for additional business, while the flood-zone facility is likely to close in the future. That software shows you that preparing both options at once makes no sense. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to potential weather-related outages, get distinct with each of your unique branches. It will ultimately lead to less-frenzied preparation.
Avoid the fallout
Closing down a bank impacts more than a single location: Each facility, its customers and its suppliers are all affected. An unexpected closure keeps clientele from making vital transactions at one branch, which can lead to overload at others. Closing without all relevant information has harmful—and in some cases, dangerous—side effects to other parts of the operation. When disastrous or disruptive weather is on the horizon, your bank and its staff must be prepared. A contingency plan should be enacted, not just to keep operations moving, but also to ensure the safety of your staff and customers.
When hazardous weather approaches, don’t get caught off guard. After all, when it comes to emergencies, you often have just one chance to get it right.