4 business continuity lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy

5 years ago

Guest post by Nicola Harrison, Sage One Business Operations Manager.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about Hurricane Sandy but I wanted to share with you my experience as I was there with my family when it hit New York.

Nicola and her husband Andy in NYC before Hurricaine Sandy hit the city
Nicola and her husband Andy in NYC before Hurricaine Sandy hit the city

We got there a couple of days before the hurricane hit New York so managed to pack quite a lot in those days and did as much as we could outside. We then had to change our plans once we knew it would definitely hit New York.

Thankfully, we did make it home safe and sound, and we were keenly aware that not everyone was so lucky. Our thoughts are with the families of those who died or were terribly affected by the hurricane.

Tourists rely on local businesses

Being tourists, we relied on businesses – our hotel, local restaurants, taxi companies – to look after us, and it was amazing to see how they responded in unpredictable circumstances. “Business continuity” is a term that refers to how you keep your business running in an emergency or disruptive situation.

From what I observed in NYC over the days when Hurricane Sandy really impacted the city, there are 4 lessons that you can take away.

1. Preparation is crucial

I’ve never been in a hurricane situation before but the thing that gave me comfort was how the city just got on and started to prepare for it coming. Extra line workers were drafted in as they knew power would go down and it would take a lot of man power to get it back up and running.

Emergency services were on standby and they knew the subway would flood so they started to prepare for that and announced when it would shut down.

What I didn’t realise (it was my first time in NYC) was that a lot of the people working in New York needed the subway and the bridges to get home. Shops and businesses started to shut early to let staff get home safely.

What really touched me was that most shops, bars and restaurants that had shut put notices in their windows to explain to their customers why they weren’t open, when they expected to be open again and urging their customers to stay safe. There were some that did stay open. One bar had a great notice which said “We’re open ’till we’re forced to shut!” I thought that showed great courage and spirit.

As soon as you are aware of a situation that’s going to impact your business, think about what the impacts will be and what you can do to mitigate them. Is there another location you could work from? Will you need to make your customers aware of any changes to your opening hours or service level? The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to weather the storm, so to speak, with your business in good shape.

2. Internet services are super-useful!

We were very lucky as Sandy didn’t really impact where we were staying. There was damage but nothing like it was in some areas. We’d made sure our mobile phones and iPad were charged up so if we had no power we still had some way of contacting the outside world.

Internet access did go down in our hotel but we found a shop with free WiFi so we were able to go and check our flight details and text home to let everyone know we were ok. If you use online services to manage your business, or to back up important documents, then you will still be able to access them, no matter where you’re working from.

As was reported, many websites with servers based in the affected areas went down. Here at Sage One, we use a company called Rackspace for our hosting solutions. In the event of an emergency, we have ‘Disaster Recovery’ procedures in place so if the worst should happen, we’d simply switch to a different server, maintaining a full Sage One service.

3. Be honest with your customers – they’ll appreciate where you’re coming from

We went out to explore the morning after Sandy and managed to find somewhere open for breakfast. It was packed but the waitress said we’d have a table in 10 minutes and we did! When the waiter took our order, it turned out that they’d run out of what we wanted.

The waiter explained very apologetically that they hadn’t has their normal delivery due to the storm. We stopped him saying we completely understood and we’d just order something else. I knew some of the staff had been impacted by the storm as we’d heard them talking about it when we were waiting but I was amazed at how apologetic the waiter was when he couldn’t deliver what we’d asked for and the high level of customer service he provided in such strained circumstances.

4. Customer Service is king

We were very fortunate and our original flight home on the Wednesday wasn’t cancelled. On the way to the airport Manhattan was gridlocked with traffic as New York started to slowly get back to life. Thankfully our driver knew how to best avoid the traffic jams and, knowing that we had a plane to catch, got us to the airport quickly.

When we got to the airport it was eerily quiet. We found our check in desk and we were met by a very friendly lady who guided us to the right desk. The lady had to put us through the booking system manually and after a few minutes apologised for keeping us waiting.

As we waited her colleague came over and she started to talk about her son saying to her that if they didn’t have power at home by Sunday he was going to stay with his aunt. It then struck me that this lady and her colleague had both been impacted by the hurricane yet were still here giving a fantastic service and apologising for keeping us waiting for no more than about 10 minutes. She then amazed us even further by saying she’d upgraded our seats!

What the New York spirit has taught me

As Operations Manager for Sage One, it’s my responsibility to ensure that we have systems and processes in place to provide an excellent level of customer service at all times. I’ll never forget the sense of community spirit we felt in New York, the service we received and how prepared they were for what would happen. They just got on and dealt with it.

Although our holiday in New York didn’t go as we’d planned we had a fantastic time. I’d certainly go back to New York. We have to – we need to visit all the places we didn’t manage to this time!

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