Hurricane shutters (seen here on a business in Road Town) are just one element of hurricane preparation recommended by experts. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

As businesses ramp up preparations for the height of hurricane season, they need a plan, according to Kristi Creque, disaster management officer for the BVI Red Cross.

This season, she said, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes.

Whether any of them will hit the Virgin Islands is impossible to predict, but that’s why advance preparations are so important, Ms. Creque said.

“Plan early on with a clear, calm mind, because people tend to get flustered, especially during times of emergency, and tend to forget what they need to do, which can result in major losses for your business,” she told business owners during a webinar last week sponsored by the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association, where she outlined a series of steps all businesses should take to prepare.

Just as important, she said, is discussing the plan with the staff to make sure everyone is on the same page. To avoid confusion if a storm hits, everyone should be assigned a specific task, from installing hurricane shutters to servicing vehicles in advance, to monitoring weather alerts when a hurricane is on the way, she advised.

Monitoring storms

In the VI, this monitoring means downloading the Department of Disaster Management app and checking other sites such as the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service and NOAA. Another major tip — and one that hit home for many businesses after the storms of 2017 — is to “check on your insurance,” Ms. Creque said. “How much money are you covered for, and what to do?” she asked. “Hurricanes sometimes are included in typical business insurance policies and sometimes not.”

Some insurance companies will reach out to owners directly, but if they don’t, she recommended reaching out to them. The next step, she said, is assigning staff to back up important data and files offsite far from the main base of operations using both hard copies and Cloud services.

Business premises also must be secured, she added. According to Ms. Creque,
that means installing hurricane shutters, but also making sure impact windows are properly rated, checking that generators and vehicles are fueled and working, and cleaning and securing loose objects that might go flying.

Lack of communication during an emergency can trip up even the best-laid plans, so Ms. Creque suggested implementing strategies like a call tree. During Irma, she said, “We had a lot of issues with our phone networks. … Some areas ended up being a dead zone. So if you establish a call tree, you’re able to call one person and that person may be able to reach another person. And that’s
how you’re able to make sure everyone is in contact with your head office.”

VHF radios and satellite phones are a good investment as well, she said, as is setting a designated time and place in the community for staff to meet up in person if other forms of communication fail.

Continuity of operations

Since employees can’t work if they and their families are not safe and secure first, business owners also should check on staff ’s individual preparations and ensure that their homes are properly stocked with supplies.

“Some companies tend to give out care packages, so if you can afford it you can provide assistance to the staff,” Ms. Creque said.

Finally, she added, businesses should identify options to continue operations in the event of a disaster, even if that means relocating to another office or even another country.

Ms. Creque noted that the Covid-19 crisis allowed many businesses to experiment in this area.

“I think being able to have your Zoom calls while using WebEx or doing other remote functions to operate your business is very essential to continuing operations,” she said. “How many staff ? What staff are essential? What services would be essential in the event of a disaster activity?”

Those plans, she noted, need to be communicated to clients as well.

“You definitely want to make sure that everybody understands the alternate contact in the other country where you’re going to be hosting your staff or operating your business,” she explained.