US adds more billion-dollar disasters to 2011 list

A story from Miguel Llanos at shares the facts that 2011 was one of the costliest weather-related disaster years on history with at least 9 events topping $1 billion in damages each. The current tally is 12 weather-related disasters totaling $52 billion for the year — and the year is not yet over!

Just last August the federal officials who track weather disasters said 2011 would go down as a record year with 9 events topping $1 billion in damages. On Wednesday, those same authorities upped the number to 12 events — totaling $52 billion in damages –and said there’s still a chance for one or two more to be added to the list.

“In my weather career spanning four decades, I’ve never seen a year quite like 2011 … record-breaking extremes of nearly every conceivable type of weather,” National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said in a statement accompanying the new figures.

The National Climatic Data Center said more detailed accounting led to these newcomers:

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona wildfires (Spring-summer-fall). These had been incorporated into a broader disaster category in the August report (See below under Southern Plains/Southwest drought), but were pulled out when damages exceeded $1 billion, with five deaths.

Midwest / Southeast tornadoes (June 18-22). New numbers now put damages at $1.3 billion, with three deaths from an estimated 81 twisters.

And two other events are nearing that mark:

Northeast pre-Halloween storm (Fall). This “has a 50/50 chance of exceeding $1 billion,” center forecaster Adam Smith tells “It may be a stretch to indicate that this winter storm is ‘likely’ to surpass the mark. But we will have an update on this in next month’s update.”

East Coast Tropical Storm Lee (Fall). “At this point, the data suggest that the damage from Tropical Storm Lee has an unlikely (less than 50/50) chance to reach the $1 billion mark,” Smith added.

The events followed a report last August that listed 9 events topping $1 billion for the year. A few days later, Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, causing $7.3 billion in damages, claiming 45 lives, and bringing the total to 10 events.

The old record was 9 events, set in 2008.

Moreover, the annual average has gone way up. In the 1980s, the U.S. averaged just over one weather disaster a year, the center stated. In the 1990s, the average was 3.8 a year — and that jumped to 4.6 in the 2000s and 7.5 in the past two years.

When the August report was released, Hayes called the rising frequency and cost of extreme weather a “new reality.”

The higher costs are due partly to a rising population, with more people and more buildings in environmentally vulnerable areas, such as coastal regions, Hayes told reporters.

Asked if global warming was to blame for the rising frequency of wild weather, Hayes called that “a research question” and that it would be difficult to link any one severe season to overall climate change.

But by Wednesday, he was ready to consider a bigger picture. “With our changing climate, the nation must be prepared for more frequent extreme weather in the future,” he said in a video statement that was part of an “Extreme Weather 2011” website.

August report on billion-dollar disasters

Wednesday’s report also updated figures for the earlier 9 events:

Upper Midwest flooding (Summer). Losses exceeded $2 billion, with at least 5 deaths.

Mississippi River flooding (Spring-summer). $3-4 billion in damage, 2 deaths.

Southern Plains/Southwest drought, heat wave (Spring-summer). Total direct losses are near $10 billion.

Midwest/Southeast tornadoes (May 22-27). An estimated 180 tornadoes caused 177 deaths, most in Joplin, Mo., and $9.1 billion in damage.

Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest tornadoes (April 25-30). An estimated 305 tornadoes left 327 dead and caused $10.2 billion in damage.

Midwest/Southeast tornadoes (April 14-16). An estimated 160 tornadoes killed 38 people and caused $2.1 billion in damage.

Southeast/Midwest tornadoes (April 8-11). An estimated 59 tornadoes caused $2.2 billion in damage.

Midwest/Southeast tornadoes (April 4-5). An estimated 46 tornadoes left 9 dead and caused $2.8 billion in damage.

Central/East Groundhog Day Blizzard (Jan. 29-Feb. 3). The storm was tied to 36 deaths and caused $1.8 billion in damage.


Emergency Communications

“Who ya gonna call?” is a well-known line from a popular 80’s movie about hunting for ghosts in New York City, but if that movie were re-made today it would be more appropriate to ask the question, “HOW’re ya gonna call?”

The first inbound toll-free phone numbers were introduced in the late-1960’s and that technology dramatically changed the way that businesses focused on the importance of communications with their customers. As the technology evolved so did the businesses’ dependence upon instantaneous communications as an integral part of their need to remain in direct contact with their customers and staff.

During a time of emergency it is easy to focus on dealing with the incident and to overlook communications with the rest of the staff, the senior management, and the outside world. It is also common to presume that the normal channels for communication (land line telephones, wireless phones, and Email) will be up and running. Sadly most of the breakdowns in business continuity plans are the direct result of communications failures.

In the early days of emergency management, telephone call trees were considered to be the mainstay of communications plans. However the call tree system has several basic flaws:

  • Assumption that all individuals will be contacted in a timely fashion
  • Assumption that all individuals will have access to a working telephone
  • Assumption that contact phone numbers are current and correct
  • Assumption that all individuals will receive exactly the same message

Thanks to advances in technology, the classic call tree is now being replaced by more sophisticated and reliable auto-notification applications. These new forms of communication employ a “one-to-many” contact system which allows a single user to simultaneously broadcast the same message to all members of a pre-specified list of recipients using multiple forms of communication. A voice message can be sent to an individual’s office phone, cell phone, home phone, as well as a text message sent to their cellphone and multiple Email accounts. Many of these new systems can also register successful receipt of the message as well as a short response from the recipient.

The past several years have brought disasters of every type and size to all corners of the country including major hurricanes in the Gulf coast region, severe winter storms in the Northeast, sweltering heatwaves throughout the Deep South, tornados and flash flooding in the Midwest, massive wildfires and seismic activity on the West Coast, as well as a host of man-made disasters including cyber-attacks, power outages, structural fires, supply chain disruptions, and workplace violence. Each incident has reminded our clients to ask questions about the resiliency of their communications networks and crisis response options.

Effective disaster readiness plans need to be evaluated and tested before an actual emergency situation. One of the most important elements within that plan is a company’s ability to communicate with their disaster management team, their employees, their customers, their stakeholders, their business partners, and the media during, and immediately following, a time of crisis.

How will you run your business if your phone system is inoperable because of a power disruption or a fire within your facility? Or perhaps something on a larger scale results in ‘network busy’ signals instead of connected phone calls? Or even a major regional event knocks out the entire telecommunications infrastructure? What alternatives do you have in place, and have they been tested for effectiveness?

When considering communications alternatives, today’s businesses have numerous emergency communications options available to them with a full range of capabilities and a wide variety of price points. The following list will detail some of those choices:

Live-Operator Call Handling Service: Many businesses use a live-operator service to handle after-hours and overflow telephone calls during the normal business day. This same service could be easily adapted to handle calls during an emergency and provide a business with centralized message collection, out-calling of messages to cellphones or an alternate worksite, and a means for your employees to call in and leave information as to their whereabouts and their personal situations. Many of these services will allow text messaging to cellphones in the event that cellular traffic is disrupted, and some offer a web interface to retrieve messages and update call handling procedures.

Pre-recorded Hotlines: A seldom-used phone number (preferably toll-free) could be configured through your phone carrier to play a recorded announcement – generally made by a senior company official to give status updates on your physical facility and overall business operations. Many times, companies will have an “internal” hotline for their employees and a second “external” hotline for customers and vendors. These recorded announcements should not reside within your premise phone system, but rather be hosted through your network provider. The communications officer within your company can update the information on these announcements several times a day, as needed.

Call Redirection Services: Another popular option for voice communications is to redirect the inbound calls within your phone carrier’s network (“the cloud”) and then use a call redirection service to forward the phone calls to pre-determined locations and numbers. This technique guarantees that the inbound calls will reach a live representative from your company or be directed into a voice mailbox for later callback. These services are very effective so long as the business configures the options well-prior to the emergency situation.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): As the technology improves, more companies are moving away from traditional facilities-based PBX systems with hard-wire connections to telephone desksets. Instead they are utilizing IP-based phone systems which direct the voice call to a physical IP address which can be configured to ring to an alternate deskset, a cellphone, or even a remote call center. The entire IP phone switch can be housed off-site within a data hosting and storage facility, thus removing the vulnerability of a traditional on-site PBX phone system.

Smart Phones: The ubiquitous nature of Apple, Android, Blackberry, and other such multi-function devices offers one more alternative for making and receiving voice calls, text messaging, and accessing Email, business applications, and social media sites. Once again, this configuration is heavily dependent upon signal availability, remote server access and battery power for the portable devices.

Text Messaging Services: Most of us watch in amazement as teenagers furiously type text messages to each other on their cellphones without pausing to realize that this same technology provides a very effective means for emergency communications. Reliable text messaging notification systems have become a very popular way to send and confirm receipt of critical alerts to selected individuals, small groups, and entire organizations. The text messages are sent as short message “blasts”, and the message will reach the user even when normal cellular voice channels are congested. The popularity of the “one-to-many” text messaging service has provided a new favorite among emergency managers.

Satellite Phone Communications: By far the most reliable emergency voice communication service is portable satellite telephones, however the price point may prove impractical for most companies. The equipment is priced at several hundred dollars per handset, and the service fees can run up to $1 per minute of talk time. For larger corporations and critical emergency operations teams satellite phones are a good choice to add to your emergency communications arsenal.

Email communications: If you are able to access your Email server from a remote location, and if your employees have both power and a solid internet connection, then you can utilize Email as a way of maintaining contact with your customers and your employees. This solution will rely upon the development of pre-planning strategies for server access, remote computer facilities, and Email access. It also depends heavily upon having both power and an internet connection – whether wired or wireless. This configuration can also allow access to your users into core business applications while they work from a remote location. Larger corporations may also wish to investigate services which run a mirrored copy of your Email service on remote servers, and therefore provide guaranteed connectivity to corporate Email during a time of crisis.

Social Media: Consider the power of social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. While these channels are primarily known for their entertainment value, they do provide another means of transmitting non-secure information to a closed user-group.

SharePoint:  Microsoft’s SharePoint service allows for secure on-line storage of files, and closed user-group access to that same material. This collaboration tool has become a popular venue for building and storing in-house business continuity and disaster recovery plans – and the homepage “News” updates provides an alternative means of communication with your in-house staff.

Web Communications: One additional option is the abundance of web communications channels now available. Free Email services, web logs (blogs), and simple webpage configurations will allow for the transfer of non-secure information and files during a time of crisis.

Announcement Services through Local Broadcast Media: Should you need to reach a large number of people within a certain geographic area in a timely fashion (such as school closures or major facilities shutdowns) then you might wish to consider an announcement service through the local Radio and Television stations.

Conclusions: Advances in technology are blazing the way for newer, faster, and more secure means of communication. Obviously the “best” emergency communications solution for any company would be built around a blend of alternatives, and it would be tested and refined regularly. Use the 3-step process of Plan, Respond, and Recover to cope with business disruptions, and make sure that you pre-plan your emergency communications strategy before you need to depend upon its success.

Governor Scott supports shrinking Florida’s hurricane fund


Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he supports shrinking Florida’s hurricane insurance backup fund even though that would raise premiums.

Scott also said he sees no need to abolish the state’s mandatory no-fault automobile insurance system, which has been riddled with massive fraud. Scott said he’s confident lawmakers can find a way to fix the system.

The governor and Florida Cabinet took no action after listening to a proposal for downsizing the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to eliminate a potential $3.2 billion shortfall.

Later though, Scott said he supported the idea.

“It’s shrunk already,” Scott said. “We can’t borrow the money. … I want to spend more time on that proposal, but I think we do need to reduce the size of the ‘Cat Fund.'”

Cat Fund chief operating officer Jack Nicholson told Scott and the three Cabinet members that due to volatility in the world finance markets, the state would be unable to find investors willing and able to buy enough bonds to help meet its coverage goal of $18.4 billion.

Insurers including the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. can get reinsurance through the Cat Fund at lower rates than in the private market.

The fund, though, has only $7.1 billion in cash. That’s expected to increase to $8.4 billion if Florida finishes the year without getting hit by a hurricane.

To make up the difference, the fund would have to borrow the rest, but Nicholson said it no longer can expect to find buyers for the full amount, hence the estimated $3.2 billion shortfall.

Nicholson said the fund probably could sell no more than $7 billion in bonds. He recommended that the Cat Fund’s coverage goal be reduced by $5 billion, which would require legislative action.

“The state is taking a risk today that it doesn’t need to take,” Nicholson said. “You’ve got a private insurance market. It has the capacity today to
take that risk.”

Private reinsurance, though, would cost more. A preliminary analysis shows the down-sizing proposal would increase premiums for homeowners, businesses and other consumers by 10 percent over seven years, Nicholson said.

Scott said higher rates would be worth the trade-off.

“Consumers actually want real insurance,” Scott said. “They don’t want to have insurance that they know that no one can write the check. And basically right now if the Cat Fund can’t bond, then people are buying insurance believing that they’re going to get paid when they’re not.”

The Cat Fund repays its bonds through special assessments on almost all insurance policies sold in the state, including auto.

Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater held a news conference to urge the passage of legislation that would stop auto insurance fraud they say is costing Florida insurers and motorists $900 million a year.

They did not, however, offer specific suggestions. One option lawmakers are considering is to abolish what’s known as Personal Injury Protection, or PIP coverage, but Scott said he doesn’t think that’s necessary.

“We’ll see what comes through the Legislature,” Scott said. “Right now I believe it can be fixed.”

Motorists now must buy PIP insurance that provides $10,000 in coverage for injuries suffered in traffic accidents regardless of who is at fault.

Officials say the system is being abused through staged accidents as well as claims for nneeded health care services. They also blame lawyers who often seek fees more than the $10,000 limit even though no-fault was supposed to eliminate or reduce the need for litigation.

Crisis Management Lessons from the Penn State Press Conference

Author: Shari Schmidt

It was painful to watch the Penn State University Board of Trustees at last night’s press conference. From the awkward set-up to the clipped
responses, it was a case study in how not to handle a crisis. How can you avoid making the same mistakes? Here are three lessons to learn.

1. Put your most prepared person at the microphone. The entire press conference lasted about 20 minutes, yet the spokesperson continually looked at his watch. He seemed frustrated at times that “We feel this is in the best interest of the University” wasn’t blindly accepted as the answer to many questions. He did stay on message, but it was his body language and tone of voice that needed some coaching.

2. Show some compassion. Perhaps the most interesting part of the press conference was the board’s inability to appear connected. If you’re going to fire a long-time, beloved member of your institution, you need to have the information and compassion to back-up the action. Most of the answers were along the lines of “we looked at the information available at this time and thought this was in the best interest of the university.” Sometimes leaders have to make hard decisions, but it always helps to show compassion while delivering the news. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Still, there is no reason to look like you’re rushing to judgment when you don’t have all the facts and sounding like you’re not sure you’ve made the right decision.

3. Look at the big picture. This event was broadcast live, so the picture was as important as the message. What did we see? Multiple older, grey-haired white men in grey suits. Since the time of the Kennedy/Nixon debates, public relations experts have known that grey, rumpled suits don’t show well on television. It wasn’t until the camera took a long shot that we saw a person of color and a couple of females sitting with the group. Were they on the board? We didn’t know, but if they were, they shouldn’t have been seated on the fringe.

Also, make sure whoever is sitting behind the speaker has some media training. A man in the second row reacted to a few questions by contorting his face. It wasn’t often, but he was right behind the speaker so it was obvious. Several men in the back row started making comments to each other after certain questions were asked. It was clear they weren’t pleased with the questions, but they shouldn’t have shown it during the press conference. Most of the time, they all looked bored. It didn’t give the impression of a thoughtful, engaged group who just made a difficult decision.

Your crisis might not receive the same world-wide visibility of the Penn State situation, but it will be just as important to your business. Now is
the time to learn from this situation so you don’t make the same mistakes.

Crisis Communications / Public Relations Nightmare

Sex scandal at a major University! Sexual harassment allegations against a US Presidential candidate! A large regional power company answering charges that they may have been negligent in their handling of the power outages following the October 29th snow storm! A major theme park discussing how one of their trainers was killed by one of their key show animals! A multi-national petrochemical firm explaining the consequences of an oil leak of unimaginable proportions in the Gulf of Mexico!

Each of these seemingly unrelated incidents have one major element in common — a Public Relations Nightmare in the making.

How would your organization handle these types of scandals? Who would speak on behalf of the organization? What would they say? Who would help them craft the appropriate message, and then give them guidance to field the tough questions which would inevitably follow the initial remarks?

Take the time to follow these stories in the news, and learn from their mistakes. Ask yourself what you would be doing differently, and then make the effort to put some appropriate plans in place.

At any given point in time an executive member of the staff must be prepared to speak on behalf of the organization. In that critical moment, who will take that lead role? Have they been trained?

Just some things to consider as you watch these stories being played out in the media and the court of public opinion…

How to use enterprise risk management to address risks faced by your organization

Mike Corbin, Director of Internal Audit and Risk Management at Nichols, Cauley & Associates, has written an interesting article about how to approach the enterprise risk management process to assess and address various hazards and vulnerabilities which may impact your organization.

Corbin states, “Today’s businesses face a rapidly changing regulatory environment, increased economic pressure, political uncertainty and a changing global marketplace, making it more important than ever to take steps to assess and address the risks faced by your organization.”

“ERM begins with an enterprise risk assessment. Formulate a series of survey questions that are designed to measure corporate culture, the organization’s appetite for risk, knowledge of risks within the organization and existing control design and effectiveness.”

“The survey should be conducted by cross-functional disciplines and should provide a detailed evaluation of the organization’s vulnerability and exposure to environmental conditions. We are in a new era of increasing governmental regulations and the increased need for internal audit and related skill sets. This will also necessitate a change in the internal auditor’s role to better understand risk exposure and mitigation.”

For more information about the enterprise risk management model, and how to apply the key elements to your organization, please click the link below to read the remainder of the article:

How to use enterprise risk management to address risks faced by your organization | Smart Business.

Supply Chain Disruptions

Earlier this year the earthquake, tsunami, and radiological leaks reeked havoc on the residents of northern Japan. These same natural disasters impacted many manufacturing facilities for automotive parts and electronics – in effect, shutting down supply chain routes for many international corporations.

About two weeks ago major flooding in Thailand ravaged thousands of factories and parts manufacturers in the suburbs north of Bangkok. Companies such as Seagate announced that their factory which produces disk drives is underwater; while Canon’s printer-related factory is also submerged. Automotive companies such as Honda, Toyota and various car makers from India get components, transmissions and engines from subcontractors in that same flooded region of Thailand. While electronics manufacturers are also heavily dependent upon production from manufacturers in that area. Nikon Corporation’s Thailand plant produces low- to mid-range single-lens reflex cameras, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s SLR camera production. Sony Corp. manufactures all of its digital SLR cameras in the same region.

Closer to home, this past weekend saw a massive snowstorm blanket the northeastern United States, knocking out power to millions, and once again disrupting supply chain channels to thousands and thousands of companies.

Based on all of this news, have you stopped to examine your organization’s supply chain? Do you know where your company’s raw materials are manufactured, and have you considered contracting a secondary manufacturer as a backup? Have you asked your manufacturers to provide you with a copy of their business contingency plan? How will they support you if you have a disastrous incident, and equally important how will they support you if THEY have a disastrous incident?

Supply chain mapping and understanding where your goods and services are produced or are run from are an important part of the business continuity manager’s role. Take the time now to understand your supply chain and to have alternate plans in place — proactive planning will save your company from the impacts of a third-party disaster.

2011 Cost of Cyber Crime Study

Despite widespread awareness of the impact of cyber crime, new research indicates that cyber attacks continue to occur frequently and result in serious financial consequences for businesses and government institutions. The study found that recovery and detection are the most costly internal activities, highlighting a significant cost-reduction opportunity for organizations that are able to automate detection and recovery through enabling security technologies.

This year’s 2011 Cost of Cyber Crime Study from Ponemon Institute is based on a representative sample of 50 organizations in various industry sectors. While the research focused on organizations located in the United States, many are multinational corporations. Key takeaways from this report include:

  • Cyber crimes can do serious harm to an organization’s bottom line. We found that the median annualized cost of cyber crime for 50 organizations in our study is $5.9 million per year, with a range of $1.5 million to $36.5 million each year per company. This represents an increase in median cost of 56 percent from our first cyber cost study published last year.
  • Cyber attacks have become common occurrences. The companies in this study experienced 72 successful attacks per week and more than one successful attack per company per week. This represents an increase of 44 percent from last year’s successful attack experience.
  • The most costly cyber crimes are those caused by malicious code, denial of service, stolen devices and web-based attacks. Mitigation of such attacks requires enabling technologies such as SIEM and enterprise governance, risk management and compliance (GRC) solutions.

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.

Twitter Becoming Critical Tool For Crisis Communications

A recent article written by Camrick Clark spotlights the need to explore new forms of electronic communications, and consider adding them into your organization’s crisis communications mix. Camrick advises that organizations should study their communications options, and then take action before the tweet hits the fan!

As any firefighter will tell you, the best way to put out a fire is to prevent it. But when something does catch on fire, a quick first response can help keep things from going up in flames.

Using Twitter for crisis communications is fast becoming a critical component in any company’s strategy. Twitter is as much about preventing an isolated issue from becoming a full-blown crisis as it is about communicating quickly to key stakeholders and the public once a crisis has happened.

Crisis communication is a public relations activity that, with careful planning, rarely needs to be implemented. Still, it’s very important to have a plan in place when an emergency rears its ugly head. When a product fails, an accident occurs, financial crisis arises or natural disasters happen, whatever the case may be, crisis communication plans keep the peace and give direction to chaos.

Social media has changed the landscape for the development of crises and offers a critical communications channel to address and abate a crisis. Social media can blow up a situation in a matter of minutes. When a story breaks, people are actively looking for answers, and more people than ever are turning to Twitter for those answers.

As in all business communications, Twitter needs to be part of a broader strategy, and one of a variety of channels you use to listen and share with your employees, customers, clients, and industry. This is true both when it comes to prevention and when it is time to react.

How to use twitter for crisis communications:

  1. Educate – Bring yourself and your staff up to speed on how Twitter works and the social norms of the platform.
  1. Plan – What will you do when something bad happens? Identify and plan for crises you can foresee, and those you’d never expect. Think about thinks that could happen to you – disasters, etc., and crises that are self-inflicted – product recalls, hazardous materials spills, etc. Who will be the one to speak on behalf of your company? Answer these questions and more by creating a crisis communications plan.
  1. Listen – Good communicators are always good listeners first. In other words, you won’t know what’s happening unless you’re actually listening. If you’re not on Twitter, then you won’t know who’s talking about your brand in that space, much less take part in that conversation. You shouldn’t join Twitter just to react to an issue. Creating a presence pre-crisis helps develop a network you know shares an interest in you and what you do.
  1. Be Active – Become part of the online community. Don’t wait for the building to be burning down around you to engage your public. Prevention is always better than reaction. There are also many great free tools for tracking what happens on Twitter. Use those to preemptively ease into the conversation before a crisis even hits.