Tropical Storm Bill made landfall this past Tuesday and Houstonians felt the full gamut of storm emergency hype from overreaching stories flooding Facebook feeds to a viral television news story of reporter John Fenoglio getting a surprise visit by a snake in Clear Lake, TX.
At one point, Houston was predicted to receive 8-12 inches of rain in some areas. In reality, the Texas metropolis only received a few inches. Many Houstonians were disappointed in the media hype, but it was more frustrating for businesses that had operations interrupted across the city over a measly couple of inches of rain. With Memorial Day weekend still fresh in the minds of citizens, it’s no wonder why thousands of workers stayed home and most school districts were closed. So, what did we learn from this past week?
You never know.
You really don’t. Many Houston workers avoided work altogether on Tuesday, June 16, only to find that the rainfall was minimal. But, who can blame them for taking precautions? Just over Memorial Day weekend, unexpected flooding wreaked havoc across Texas. Let’s not forget other major storms that affected the Houston area such as Tropical Storm Allison (2001) and Hurricane Ike (2008).
If meteorologists with Ph.Ds. can’t accurately predict the weather, then how can you expect to take the appropriate action when the time comes? There’s only one safeguard against inaccurate weather predictions and that is storm preparation and disaster recovery plans for your home and business. Make sure that your emergency plan is in place at work and that you have proper supplies at home. Establish check points for co-workers and family members, and disseminate updated contact information frequently.
The weatherman is usually wrong.
Can we really blame the weatherman for the weather? I suppose not. Even with all of the advanced technology that meteorologists use to predict weather patterns, they can at times be highly inaccurate. Bringham Young University released an article describing how “atmospheric internal waves” are unpredictable and affect how the weather develops and moves over time.
Even Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger recognizes that predicted rainfall is speculative at best. As he puts it, “I have taken pains to explain that while a tropical system was approaching the Texas coast it was impossible to predict where the heaviest rains would fall,”. Although weathermen are usually wrong, they aren’t always that far off, and you’ve got to appreciate the fact that they sometimes put themselves in harm’s way in order to cover a story or do research.
Get your shopping done as early as possible.
Despite only a couple inches of rain for most of Houston, citizens flocked to their local Kroger, H-E-B, Randall’s, and Walmart to stock up on canned foods, cereal, ice, batteries, flashlights, and other supplies to last them and their families for weeks. If you didn’t know there was a tropical storm coming, you’d think that people were preparing for a nuclear fallout. Grocery store shelves of water and other basic household food items were emptied within hours.
Even if you were just trying to pick up some dinner from the store, you couldn’t. So, just make sure you get to the grocery store as soon as possible. I can attest to this philosophy; during Hurricane Ike, my family and I went without power for over a month, and quickly ran out of regular household items. But moments before a storm is not the time to buy groceries. Stock up on non-perishables in advance, so that you’ll be prepared when a storm hits and avoid the grocery store chaos that ensues after a storm warning is issued.
Get a Business Continuity Plan.
Operations can come to a screeching halt when a storm warning is announced on the news, as it did in Houston this past week. Employees may be delayed or stranded due to flooding, dense rain, or high winds or may flat out refuse to go to work out of fear caused by the media hype. If a storm is coming, and your team is in the middle of their work day, you’ll need to quickly get everyone up to speed and to a place in their work where they can securely leave it and easily return to it after the storm.
Communicate appropriate storm policies to the staff. You or your HR team needs to let everyone know what precautions to take for their own safety and to ensure continued security of your client’s assets. Act quickly. Don’t hesitate if you think you should send your employees home before a storm. If a storm is coming within hours, that’s not the time to start drafting your business continuity or disaster recovery plan. It’s already too late. That’s why you should create and institute these plans during calm weather and non-emergency times.
In your business continuity plan, you should include methods of redundancies, information security, and information on the off-site storage facility you use to back up and store your data. Before you choose an off-site storage facility, make sure that they have safeguards against flooding, especially if you’re in the Houston area. To get more details on how to implement a business continuity plan and how to secure your records and data, contact us today.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take precautions far in advance of an emergency or natural disaster. For example, VeriTrust maintains various emergency preparedness standards including facility and vehicle standards, fire prevention standards, security standards, information technology standards, insurance standards, and business continuity protocol standards. We examine two types of business disruptions: the risk of internal disruptions (i.e., a fire) and the risk of external disruptions (i.e., a hurricane, terrorist attack, or flood). Make sure you identify all of your critical systems operations and document them.
Which operations are absolutely critical in order for your business to stay afloat during a disaster? You’ll want to be sure to check out some of our other tips on how to protect your records against a hurricane. In addition, you’ll need to have lists of contacts, emergency procedures, building layouts with escape routes, lists of equipment and materials, and guidelines for procedures post-disaster. Make these lists available to all staff members, and make sure it’s accessible to offsite employees as well.
Your company should have specific protocols in place in order to properly respond to an emergency. Some of these include setting up alternate locations for your critical staff, equipment, and resources. Research and establish the appropriate travel routes for vehicles and the operations required for moving client assets if necessary. Ensuring that back-up communication systems are in place can make or break business continuity during and after an emergency.
“Why do we need a communications plan? We’ll just use our cell phones!” If your phone is dead, you’re stranded far from the office, and you have hundreds of clients’ contact information stored in a database at your office, then you won’t be able to easily communicate critical information to them. There are also internal communication systems you have to consider. If you have unique procedures that need to be communicated during an emergency, you’re going to want to have a back-up communications plan in place.
Backing up your company’s data and your customers’ data is critical to business continuity. This separates your business from the rest of the pack, and will ultimately determine how resilient your business is in the face of an emergency.
This is why having an off-site storage facility on your side is critical, and also why we, at VeriTrust, ensure that our solutions are fully utilized at your business. Schedule frequent back-ups of your data internally, and keep another copy at an off-site storage facility. No matter how much preparation you do or how many back-ups you create, there will always be an inherit risk of loss or damage in information management. This is why you should always mitigate this risk with adequate insurance policies.
So, what’s your emergency plan? Don’t forget, the 3 Rs of emergency planning are readiness, response, and recovery. I should point out that these are general concepts when it comes to emergency plans. However, if you need a more detailed and sophisticated plan, you’ll benefit from talking to an information management professionals like the ones at VeriTrust. When you talk to your off-site information management professional, ensure that you receive a copy of their Business Continuity Plan or Emergency Response plan. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need help with your information management and business continuity plan.
But let’s be honest, those piles of paper on your desk aren’t getting any smaller, and sooner or later, you’ll be called upon to find some files or documents, and you won’t be able to. Once it’s gotten to the point of no return, finding a document is like looking for a needle in a haystack. How does your current system affect productivity? How can you clean up your records and find what you need? How do you keep it from happening again?
Unclog Productivity Pipes
Productivity is surely to suffer in a labyrinth of unorganized files and documents. Your documents get sucked deep down into the muck, and there it festers and clogs your productivity pipes. When you go and try to use the faucet, a tiny stream comes out. As your team compiles operations processes, fulfills client orders, launches campaigns, and the like, you will begin to find that those buried records start to become a hindrance to your productivity.
When a record is missing, you’ll get pulled away from whatever you’re doing to embark on a winding scavenger hunt with only a hazy paper trail of clues. Finally, if the record is never found, then (if possible) a reproduction of it is necessary, further taking time away from core functions. Worse yet, if you lose a client’s document you could stand to lose that client and tarnish your company’s reputation. So it’s important to take action, and stop putting off the inevitable.
Needle in a Haystack
I hope you’re ready to get your hands dirty. If not, then slip on your jeans, boots, gloves, and grab a pitchfork. It’s time to sift through the haystacks or papers that are now taller than your office building. Treading through the jungle of documents in your office can be a daunting task. But it need not be so dramatic and overbearing. Get the buy in of your entire team and superiors on this project. The more people you have on board, the easier it will be.
Take baby steps. Ensuring that your team is organizing files, little by little and day by day, will yield extraordinary results in the long run. Sending out reminders on clean desk policies, can also encourage employees to file away their documents properly. Just be sure they aren’t sweeping documents under the rug, as this is just hiding disorganized records.
Hold a brief meeting reminding employees how to properly label, organize, and file records, and do a walk-through before you have guests or clients on site. As the day to day paper clutter is whittled down, you’ll find that employees will begin to slowly chip away at older piles of documents. Consistency is important, so once your company starts to see results, it’s time to revamp your efforts.
Prevention is Key
Once you’ve got your internal records in check, it may be a good idea to find ways to prevent the mess from reoccurring. Having an offsite records management center is probably one of the best investments you can make when it comes to keeping your records organized and keeping work flow highly productive and efficient. A Records Management Company like VeriTrust can streamline and schedule pick-ups and drop-offs of specific files and documents and media.
Also, a content management system can help you find what you need quickly. Which is why scanning and document management systems are one of the many things that a professional records management company can do for your business. Bringing in information management professionals can also give you a glimpse into how you can increase productivity via information management solutions. There may be some key issues that can skyrocket your company’s productivity, and experts, like the ones at VeriTrust, can walk you through some of those information management techniques.
Although the busy season is year round, you can begin the process of turning each season into a productive one. Getting your records organized can be a drag at first, but once you get it moving, you’ll see higher productivity. So, don’t avoid it, attack it head on. Don’t let it get to the point where you’ve jeopardized your business because of disruptions in work flow. Reevaluate your current systems, get buy in from your team, incorporate a clean office lifestyle, and utilize professional information management solutions form a company like VeriTrust.
David and Goliath
First, off, I’d like to dispel the myth that there’s not much you can do anyway. I mean, you can’t beat a hurricane, right? Well, you can’t stop a hurricane, but you can take some measures that can help protect your records and media tapes. With technology changing, the options to protect, back-up and restore your data are endless. For example, VeriTrust offers offsite data storage and management, but did you know that you can also scan and store your documents on an ECM system with us? Also, you should regularly back up your data on media tapes at an offsite location, and have it tracked and managed by a company like VeriTrust. But you don’t necessarily need technology to keep your documents safe. So where do you start? Easy. Start simple.
Get to higher ground
Houston is notorious for flooding. Being only about 47 feet above sea level and adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, your business location in Houston has an inherit propensity for flooding. If you can move your records to at least 6 inches above the ground floor as recommended by the United Nations, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you can move them higher, then do so. How high is too high? Well, that all depends on your building permits and local fire codes. Contact your city’s permitting department for more details on high pile storage permits. When you choose a safe offsite records storage facility like VeriTrust to manage your records, these precautions are already taken into consideration. VeriTrust’s facility is on the northwest side of Houston, putting it at about 75 feet above sea level, higher than the average altitude for Houston. The building is elevated 4 feet off the ground, and each of the racking units is an additional 9 inches off the warehouse floor.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
Keep your records in a well-built regularly-maintained building made from strong reinforcing materials. I’m sorry to say that a cheaply made storage unit out in the boonies is not going to hold up against strong winds from a hurricane. And if a tornado pops up, you can say “so long” to your records. What if you do have a well-built facility? Well, that’s great news! But, where are your windows? Do windows line each wall of your building? If so, then you’ve got more risk, especially if your records and other valuable information data is near those windows. If you have records at your office, make sure you move them to a well ventilated (but not leaky) room with no windows. Don’t forget that humidity can wreck your documents in the long run, so make sure the temperature is kept within a reasonable range.
As much as you like fires and explosions in the movies or on TV, your file room is definitely not a great set for an action sequence that involves pyrotechnics. And no, a sprinkler system near your data tapes or servers is not the best fire extinguishing tool. You can use sprinkler systems in regular office areas and some storage areas, but when it comes to electronic equipment, a fire suppression system is the way to go. That’s why we use 3m Novec 1230 fire suppression system provided by FireLock in our media tape vault. In addition, our vault has high temperature insulation panels constructed from spun ceramic material capable of withstanding temperatures well above 2000° F.
So, don’t feel helpless against a goliath storm like a hurricane. There are things you can do like moving data to higher ground, moving data away from windows and to a center room that’s well-ventilated, and by making sure that fire prevention equipment is installed in your building. Most importantly, ensure that your data and records are backed up, stored, and managed at an off-site storage facility like VeriTrust.
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In the show, Michael shares an inside look the VeriTrust story and recent growth.
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