What Can You Do About the Weather?

As I write this post, many people in South Florida and the Caribbean are focused on the track of Hurricane Rina. Which way will she turn? What is the likelihood that she will strengthen into a major hurricane? Should I activate my company’s severe weather plan? Where can I get current weather information to help me make the right decisions?

Mike Thomson, Senior Manager, Client Services & Business Continuity Programs for ImpactWeather in Houston has written a terrific article regarding site-specific weather monitoring & alerting service options which I’ve reprinted below with his permission.

Mark Twain once said “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it!” Why? Weather affects every business and organization – large and small, public and private. Whether it is employee safety, potential facility damage or driving risks to vehicles, weather impacts everyone to some degree and is a real risk to mitigate and plan for. Excessive heat, lightning or tornadoes affect employees. Snow accumulation, hurricanes and flooding can damage and destroy equipment and facilities. Freezing precipitation, blizzards and high winds can impact vehicle fleets and product distribution. Some businesses may even need to plan their commercial operations to coincide with
severe weather – pre-position stock for sale, alter retail staffing to match customer demands or open earlier or late. Whatever the potential impacts of weather on organizations, they are as varied as the organizations themselves, but weather leaves no one untouched.

According  to Forrester Research, weather is the leading business disruption facing companies today. When you consider that most power failures and attendant communications outages (the second leading cause) are also the result of weather (heat, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.), a resilient business needs the ability to monitor and be alerted to severe weather that will specifically impact their operations. Yet most businesses do not include a weather service solution in their preparedness planning.

During a recent Continuity Insights conference in Atlanta, less than 10% of companies attending had a dedicated weather service and instead relied on non-specific, general public information available in the media, on the internet and from the National Weather Service (NWS) to deal with the severe weather threat. By law, NWS can only provide the general public, not private businesses, site-specific weather information. As a result, NWS forecasts and alerts cover broad geographic areas, not company specific locations. In turn, the broadcast media and web-based weather service repackage the generalized NWS information. Not only is weather is the leading cause of major business interruptions worldwide (2010 Business Continuity Institute Study), severe weather disruptions are up 29% from last year, and the United States has more severe weather events than any other country on the planet.

On average, Americans cope with 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,000 tornadoes, and two deadly hurricanes every year. This is in addition to winter storms, intense summer heat, high winds, wild fires and other deadly weather incidents. Losses are staggering and increasing. In the first 9 months of 2011, there have been eleven $1 billion+ severe weather events in the US (Mississippi river floods, Alabama and Missouri tornado outbreaks, Texas drought, wildfires, Indiana state fair wind stage collapses, etc). Severe weather comprises about 90% of all FEMA Declared Disasters, causes $14 billion in damage, and results in the deaths of more than 500 people every year. Five years ago, the National Weather Service (NWS) set business losses from flooding at nearly $4 billion alone while tornadoes accounted for only $759 million.

Weather is also the primary contributor to power outages – a major challenge for today’s technology-driven, power-dependent economies and business. Over the past 10 years, on average, over 55% of most major power outages (those affecting > 1 million people) were weather related with the range being 33-75% each year. The 2003 Northeast power outage alone cost $10 billion according to most estimates, and ICF calculates the economic impact of power outages at 100 times the price per Kw hour or roughly $4 per outage hour times the number of people affected! In a model simulation for a power outage affecting Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon estimated that basic resiliency measures would save 86% of the estimated $20.5 billion loss.

Your company cannot prevent severe weather, but you can mitigate the impact with a dedicated weather service solution just like you buy accident insurance. Like most things in life, not all weather service solutions are equal, and you generally get what you pay for. Companies need to determine which solution works best for them – public/media, internet-based, an in-house meteorologist or a dedicated weather service provider.  While the NWS is free and available 24x7x365, other no-cost media and web-based weather solutions lack site-specific monitoring, have limited capabilities and availability, come with advertising as well as a nominal cost and may not provide both full domestic & international coverage. Having a resident meteorologist is the most costly option and cannot provide around-the-clock alerting, any time anywhere help, integrated contingency planning services or a “single pain of glass” all-hazards situational picture and lack capabilities like a branded, direct access website, video production, crisis web-conferencing, full-range alert messaging and site specific trigger reports keyed to company emergency response plans. A dedicated weather service provider can and should be able to provide companies the following severe weather monitoring and alerting capabilities:

  • Available 24x7x365
  • Site-specific domestic & international coverage
  • All weather services – severe, tropical & marine
  • Customized alerts & forecasts
  • Any time, live help
  • An on-site meteorologist when needed
  • Imbedded “call to action” statements in alerts
  • Integrated business continuity planning services
  • Certified crisis experts on-call
  • Branded, direct access weather website
  • All-hazards data feeds and severe weather alerting
  • “Single pane of glass” operational picture for weather
  • All clear notices when severe weather passes
  • Full-range alert communications (email, text, video, web)
  • Web & teleconferencing to support crisis events & incident management
  • Daily branded weather forecasts, advisories and alerts both pushed to & pulled by users
  • Site-specific, all-hazards alerting and plan-specific trigger reports for emergency response plans
  • Educational seminars, webinars, research papers & white papers
  • Delivery to any mobile device, smart phone or computer with internet access
  • Cost less than $15/day or 60¢ per hour

Following Hurricane Ike, over 70% of the 75+ Texas companies surveyed in an Association of Contingency Planners (ACP) research study had, used and rated their dedicated weather services (not the media or NWS) as “highly effective”.  Businesses without a dedicated weather service felt impeded and less effective in their response and recovery efforts. Companies reported that more targeted and effective operational decisions were possible with dedicated weather services than with the media or public weather forecasting (NWS), e.g. office closures, re-openings, evacuations, employee releases and shut-downs/shut-ins. They also reported that dedicated weather services provided more specific and localized alerts and weather data (wind fields, storm surge, timing, duration, etc) than generalized data available to the public.

In selecting a dedicated weather service insist on things like 24/7 alerting (including “all clear” notices) and access to trained meteorologists for
consultations and conference calls, domestic and international coverage of both tropical and non-tropical severe weather, and web-based weather briefings for key personnel. Information should be both “pushed” to users in email, text, and text-to-voice calls to mobile and other communications devices and also available to be “pulled” from sites accessible from any internet browser in both text and video formats. Dedicated weather service provider fees can vary from about $500 per year with restricted alerting/forecasting to less than $15/day or 60¢ per hour for full-service 24x7x365 coverage per site. Companies that have switched to a dedicated weather service have reported a return on those investments ranging from 170 – 450% and $105,000 to $1.3M per year.

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