In the Spotlight: Disaster Readiness

Discussing disaster planning were, left to right, Dan Ryan, General Growth; Gregg Beatty, embc; and Justen Noakes, director of emergency preparedness, H-E-B.

The increased severity and frequency of storms and other catastrophic events has put a white-hot spotlight on disaster planning. No retailer can afford to be unprepared. Three disaster readiness experts shared insights on how retailers can best avoid catastrophe before it happens during the SPECS workshop session, “Disaster Zone — Before the Storm.”

Moderator Gregg Beatty, president of embc, kicked things off by reviewing the “three Rs” of dealing with a disaster — readiness, response and recovery.

“The hardest is recovery and the easiest is response,” Beatty said. “Response time is limited because the length of time the problem occurs is finite. Recovery can go on for decades, like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or Hurricane Sandy in New York. However, retailers must think about readiness.”

According to Beatty, readiness encompasses the who, what, when, where, why and how of preparing for an emergency. This includes who is responsible, what you are planning for and when the problem will happen.

“For natural disasters, you can often get some perspective for your routine,” said Beatty. “You know that hurricane season lasts from June to November. But an active shooter can’t be predicted.”

In addition, Beatty said “where” includes the location of the disaster, “why” includes the reason for readiness — such as meeting federal regulations or insurance requirements — and “how” includes readiness drills and exercises as well as cooperating with local first responders, preferably through advance planning.

“Things that can never happen, do happen,” Beatty advised the audience, relating the story of a client that suffered severe flood damage from a river that had not flooded over in modern times.

Panelist Justen Noakes, director of emergency preparedness at H-E-B Grocery, said hurricane preparedness is a big part of his com-pany’s disaster readiness initiative because many of its stores are located on the Texas coastline where hurricanes are common.

Noakes said each company must establish its own priorities, as well as its No. 1 priority, for disaster readiness. For H-E-B , Noakes said top priorities are retail stores, manufacturing plants, transportation, IT, community and employees.

“There can only be one No. 1 priority,” stated Noakes. “At H-E-B, the employee is No. 1. Above and beyond, the employees are taken care of.”

Panelist Dan Ryan, senior director of corporate security at General Growth Properties (GGP), touched upon the need to review and prepare for emergencies.

“In order of importance, we review and prepare to protect life and safety, property, reputation and business resumption,” Ryan said. “We have reference materials from recognized agencies and resources, and case studies based on real-world events.”

Ryan said GGP uses these assets to create a disaster-response template that is confirmed and combined with the expertise of local police and fire personnel, so the template is made site-specific. First responders are given site maps that include markings for noteworthy features, such as standpipes and hazardous materials. This eliminates the need to spend time reviewing site details when emergency personnel first arrive on site during a disaster.

GGP also uses these locally optimized templates and site maps for its own internal preparations.

“For example, we check roof drains before a rainstorm,” Ryan noted. “A hurricane can create heavy rain across the country.”

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