To avoid the costly and potentially catastrophic dangers that come with snow, heavy rain and intense winds, businesses should consider a business continuity plan (BCP).
In November, Storm Arwen left domestic and commercial properties without power for more than 10 days. When the ‘Beast from the East’ tore through the UK two years ago, home and business owners made insurance claims totalling £328 million.
The UK experienced 31 extreme weather events between 2018 and 2020, two more than the 29 recorded across the nine previous years. Bad news for companies already struggling to manage costs during the pandemic.
The issue for many businesses – especially SMEs with small FM functions – is that they lack the systems, processes, and capabilities to manage these winters risks effectively, leaving them susceptible to high repair costs, unwelcome downtime, and potentially disastrous reputational and legal damage.
If this message resonates, the first step should be to develop a BCP. Doing this will provide businesses with a prevention and recovery system that keeps personnel and assets safe in the short term and builds broader resilience in the long run.
Strong winds often cause building and structure failure – damage to roofs, doors, windows, external fixtures, such as signage, lighting and fencing may lead to expensive repair work, local noise complaints, injury and even death when these fixtures become high-speed missiles.
Water damage from heavy rain can necessitate costly closures, while small, seemingly inconsequential items, such as tennis balls, and plastic bags, may cause further repair costs.
Property damage can snowball (pardon the pun) into further financial risks, too, including stock loss and loss of trading if there’s no contingency plan for operations to continue uninterrupted when disaster strikes.
A lack of due diligence when sourcing companies for urgent repairs is also likely to lead to high costs, especially if a business has failed to agree set rates.
Preparing to fail
A good BCP begins with a risk assessment to identify the probability of risks to the business and evaluate the outcomes if these risks develop into an emergency. When it comes to property damage in winter, this means assessing all weather events and their potential impact on the facilities, assets, systems, and people – the latter including employees, suppliers, customers, and the public depending on the nature of the business and the function of the property in question.
A retail site that regularly welcomes customers and members of the public, for example, may be more open to media scrutiny and at greater risk of medical emergencies because visitors may be less familiar with the site.
As part of the risk assessment, identifying critical systems and the impact of their downtime is essential.
In food retail environments or wholesale and distribution warehouses, where items must be kept at a set temperature, a storm knocking out the power to a refrigeration unit could potentially spoil those items and affect those who depend on them further down the supply chain.
Managing repair costs
A big problem after extreme winter weather events is high repair costs. A business that can’t afford downtime is more likely to pay through the nose for a supplier to fix the property damage as soon as possible. To make sure this doesn’t happen, a BCP should identify key suppliers for emergency repairs.
Businesses should appoint and upskill a duty manager to oversee the BCP, including its execution, while training everyone who has a role to play in an emergency response. It’s also a good idea to train employees or occupants on emergency procedures should bad weather cause dangerous conditions during operational hours.
Previous property damage from bad weather drives insurance rates up, so keeping a thorough record of all damages ensures that a business can secure its claims. Failing to do this may amount to insurmountable costs.
An invaluable positive from the pandemic is that most organisations have had to develop remote working procedures that can be mobilised in short notice. This skill should be extremely useful in future property-related emergencies, so BCPs must include plans for physical relocation and home working protocols, including cloud-based IT solutions.
Last, but not least, an effective, future ready BCP must take advantage of the latest in property technology. The data from low-cost IoT sensors can help businesses prevent future damage by tracking the physical environment, such as detecting when loft spaces temperatures drop below zero, when refrigeration doesn’t start after a power cut, when windows aren’t secured, and when areas are at risk of flooding.
This winter, the risk of not developing a BCP might just be too high.