Always Investigating

Business disaster plans can help ease recovery period

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Before hurricane season, KHON2 aired a special report called "Ready for Disaster.”

Now, in the wake of a string of destructive events, we're examining what it takes to be “Ready for Recovery," in a series of special reports all this week.

This installment has more on how businesses in particular can pick up the pieces.

Hawaii businesses and organizations have to prepare for disasters, just like families, but there are many more important steps companies and employees have to take to improve their odds of recovery.

The months-long lava flow into communities this year on Hawaii Island threatened or buried industrial and farm operations, companies and organizations large and small.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says the count of homes lost topped 700, but “we did not put in the number of farms. We did not put in the number of ranches,” he said.

Many business owners are hoping to revive somewhere somehow. Those not directly hit are awaiting an economic rebound for the island, but many companies may never come back. The mayor tells of a decades-old flower company with 20 to 30 employees run by an older couple.

“They're not going to start all over, I don't care if loans are available. They're not going to start all over,” Kim said.

Always Investigating asked, what about all of their employees?

“The consequence of that, thanks for bringing that up, it's just multiple,” Kim said. “When people see the number of one home or nursery, they don't do what you just did, multiply it by the fact of who all is affected.”

Business disaster readiness and recovery is something emergency management agencies want owners and employees to think about, just as much as your own family and home safety plan. The company plan should include having alternate places to do work.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Executive Officer Luke Meyers offered examples: “If you have a business that's in a flood zone, where could you potentially relocate to for the response, and where could you relocate for potential long-term providing services?” 

HiEMA also advises, see if your company can afford business interruption insurance.

“We'll see very large corporations that have the resources that do that.,” Meyers said, “but a lot of the small mom and pops it's just not practical.”

Also be sure to have a disaster communication plan with staff. Plan alternatives for impacts to your services or disruptions that could hit your key vendors and suppliers.

“We have seen that when the ports close there is a cascading effect across the islands,” Meyers said. “Usually the outer islands will be impacted first, but then here even on Oahu, we tend to see direct impacts on the just-in-time services that we have here.”

Employees should ask:

  • How will my boss reach me?
  • Will I need to get to work immediately, and how?
  • What is the disaster information plan at work for getting the latest updates?
  • Find out if there is a company disaster plan, and practice it.

“You can have a Saturday and pretend that you have an incident that's going to be ongoing whether it's a flood, an earthquake or a tsunami ,” Meyers said, “and just test your lines of communication, whether  it's an email distribution list or over the phone. We definitely see more advanced drills where you do building evacuation or even business resumption, maybe relocating to an alternate facility.”

Honolulu Waldorf School had to do just that within days of an unexpected storm in April that caused massive flooding and damage across East Oahu. They opened at a rented satellite facility to finish the school year.

"They had two days off with us. What do we do? And we immediately started school two days later,” said Hillary Godwise of Honolulu Waldorf School. “They just got back to business over there. They were so thankful when we got back here in August to start their school year.”

Waldorf’s recovery process is a reminder to any organization or business just how long it can take to get back to normal.

“It goes on a long time, and you just have to be adaptable and work around whatever you have,” Godwise said. “Knowing your insurance policies, having documentation of all your assets is huge. You have to make sure you have receipts and pictures of all your items, and who does that every time they buy something for their classroom?”

Businesses and organizations who have faced disasters on all islands this year say some of the heaviest impact is the emotional toll

“I think still people have that PTSD thing going on where they go to look for something they realize it was in the flood, “ Godwise said.

Be prepared for the emotional toll the collective loss can take on people within an organization, and the impact of destruction of things that carry immense sentimental value.

“The seniors had lost their artwork,” Godwise said, “and that was something of four years of effort that went into creating these portfolios.”

Coming up this week on Always Investigating, our recovery series continues with a look at schools and shelters, and also the latest lessons for individual and family recovery.

Related Link: Red Cross business disaster planning and recovery resources


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