It’s hard to fathom a hurricane happening on top of a pandemic, but with hurricane season in full swing now until late November, businesses should be prepared for possible weather disruptions, including to vital communications with employees.
In fact, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center foresees a 60% chance of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.
Given companies still have many remote employees, they should have a plan in place to account for power outages and loss of connectivity from major storms at employees’ homes, experts say.
“If people can admit we live in a hurricane zone and power and connectivity isn’t as reliable as it can be and take the time and energy to plan for disruptions, then they’ll be much better prepared,” says Jason Aptekar, a Westbury-based executive adviser, technology strategist and speaker.
He says businesses were forced to change mindsets and how they operated with COVID, but “they haven’t wrapped their brain around all the ingredients of this new recipe for business.” They may have employees working remotely, but haven’t addressed all the critical issues, such as what happens if an employee loses connectivity at their house.
The business has to decide how far they want to go in providing resources and determining the obligation of employees to adapt, improvise and get the job done, Aptekar says.
“It’s a conversation each company needs to have and many aren’t having it,” he says.
For one, COVID is still top of mind over hurricanes.
Emergency work space
“People have the best intentions and try to plan for what could happen but they’re always so busy dealing with what is happening,” says Gregory Tellone, CEO of American Business Continuity Centers in Woodbury.
He has 40,000 square feet of space in Woodbury that companies subscribe to use in case they need workspace and “hundreds of thousands of square footage” accessible nationwide. Typically companies buy an advance subscription for three years.
During COVID, clients frequently used the space — socially distanced, deep-cleaned and with temperature checks — to house employees who normally commuted to Manhattan.
Since COVID, he’s seen an uptick in companies subscribing to the Center’s cloud hosting, cloud backup and network security services, given enhanced threats to company data as more employees worked from home.
These type of cloud-based services could also prove helpful during a hurricane if physical servers are down, Tellone says.
Andrew Ruditser, co-founder of MAXBURST, Inc., a Farmingdale-based digital agency specializing in web design and marketing, learned the importance of moving his data to the cloud after 2012 Superstorm Sandy left his facility without power.
“Sandy was a wake-up call to get our servers out of our local offices and into the cloud,” he says. That way, if power’s out in their building, they can still access their data through the cloud virtually.
They completed that transition three years before COVID and now everything from data to email is cloud-based, which also helped when employees worked remotely off-site during COVID.
He said the firm’s 33 full-time employees still opt to be 100% virtual even though the office is open, which is why they’re now deciding what to do with their 6,500-square-feet of space on Long Island and 2,000-square feet in Manhattan.
“We have a lot more space than we need right now,” Ruditser says.
Keeping networks secure
Beyond considering cloud-based services, it’s also critical to find secure ways for employees to access data, says Michael Maser, CTO at Plainview-based UOTech.co, which provides business continuity consulting services and IT managed services.
Companies should have a VPN (virtual private network), which provides a secure network for data over a public Internet connection so if employees decamp to public spaces, the data is encrypted and secure, he says.
You might also consider using softphones, which extends your office phone system by allowing users to make telephone calls through the Internet via their computer or smartphone if normal service is down.
Also have a plan identifying who is making decisions in case of a disruption, such as a disaster recovery leader and facilities, leader, Maser says.
The key is planning ahead.
Vikram Rajan — co-founder of Kings Park-based phoneBlogger.net, which ghostwrites blogs for attorneys and CPAs, and Videosocials.net, a platform for video blogging — says you never know when a disruption will happen.
His six employees are entirely remote and this past February a key employee in Texas lost power and Internet connectivity for several days with the massive power outage there.
She was the host/moderator of videoblogging clubs they hold for members. They host two to three clubs daily via Zoom. With her offline, they had to scramble.
Rajan has since put protocols in place including 30-minute pre-check-ins with the host, and every club now has a backup tech host in addition to the primary one. His employees are in different locations so there’s now always backup to the main host, Rajan says.
The 2021 forecast probability of hurricane impact in Nassau County is 8% and 12% in Suffolk County. The 2021 forecast probability of a named storm impact (a named storm includes tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes) in Nassau is 23% and in Suffolk is 30%.
Source: Tropical Meteorology Project in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (https://tropical.colostate.edu/resources.html)