How to Prepare Your Business and Technology for a Storm

What are the biggest risks that a storm can bring?

  • Water damage from flooding or leaks
  • Electrical damage from surges or lightning
  • Power outages
  • Structural damage from wind and rain
  • Interference with team members being able to make it to work

Risk Analysis

One useful way to review this is through doing a risk analysis, which shows the impact and threat on a graduated scale. Here is an example that is applicable to South Georgia and North Florida businesses.

EventLikelihood (0-5)Impact (0-5)Overall Threat (0-10)
Hurricane050-no likelihood*
Tropical Storm146
Lightning Storm538

In the above example, the Hurricane threat would seem to be a 5, 0 likelihood +5 impact, but remains 0 since the impact is not relevant if there is no chance of it occurring. Hurricanes always have downgraded to tropical storms by the time they hit South Georgia. If your business is on the coast, you would change the likelihood to maybe a 4-5.

Note: We used to say that the likelihood of a hurricane hitting South Georgia was a 0, but in light of recent events, such as Hurricane Michael, we would now suggest changing the likelihood to a 3.

By reviewing the above chart, you can see that the biggest threats are:

  1. Lightning Storms at 8
  2. Hurricanes (edited) at 8
  3. Tornadoes at 7
  4. Tropical Storms at 6

This allows you to prioritize which of these events needs your greatest attention. From the above example, you would focus first on lightning since it has the biggest impact potential.

It is worth noting that risk is not an actuality but a potential. In most lightning storms, your business will not be damaged, however, in most lightning storms some businesses will get damaged, and if the lightning is close enough, that damage can be devastating.

Risk Mitigation

The next step is use the analysis to determine how to reduce risk as much as possible.  It is important to note that risk cannot be eliminated –ever.  Also, risk reduction must be cost justifiable. It doesn’t make sense to spend $10,000 to reduce a $1,000 risk.  In many cases the risk mitigation may be too expensive to execute.  If that’s the case, just note that in your plan.  This is important when you review the plan later, usually annually, since the price of the mitigation step may come down in time. Lastly, risk mitigation must be practical.  You have to consider the impact that the mitigation will have on work flow.  You cannot create a risk reduction that creates a significant negative work performance impact.  Let’s take lightning as an example.  

How Can We Reduce the Risk of a Lightning Strike?

  • Identify and block the common sources that lightning uses to damage a business.  Lightning typically comes in through a cable, such as your phone, CTV or power lines.  Installation of surge suppressors on each of these lines greatly reduces the risk of significant impact from a surge caused by an indirect lightning strike. Nothing practical can stop a direct strike.
    • Install phone line suppressors on all CO lines coming in to business.
    • Install cable suppressors on CTV lines feeding cable TV and internet.
    • Install surge protectors in front of all sensitive electronics power cables.
    • Consider whole building surge suppression of the power cable where possible.  Often this has already been done by your utility provider.
  • Do not use copper network cable outdoors since this serves as a type of lightning rod. Instead use nonconductive fiber optic network cabling.
  • During a severe storm unplug sensitive equipment from any exposed cables.
  • Power off equipment to reduce the risk of data loss that can be caused from a loss of power due to an outage.

Annual Review

Review your plans at least once a year to adjust both the risk impact and your plan for mitigation. Your business situation and needs change with time, and need to be reflected in your current plan.  Also, technology and products change. Something that could lower your risk, but was too expensive or impractical last year might be a better fit this year and should be reconsidered.