Flooding from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina can devastate a community.
Flooding from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina can devastate a community.

Natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and tornados can devastate a home building business. In fact, 25% of companies that experience a disaster never reopen. Recent examples include unprecedented flooding in Houston that affected commerce worldwide, and the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, even three years into the recovery.

It’s imperative for builders across the country to create disaster recovery plans that will help to limit disruption and restore critical services as soon after a disaster as possible. There’s no one-size-fits-all-plan for disaster recovery, but there are some best practices that can guide you in your planning, says Jay Shelton, senior vice president of risk management at Assurance, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based insurance brokerage.

Here, BUILDER talks with Shelton about how to create and implement a plan to safeguard employees and the business itself. 

What should a disaster plan include?
First, a company must understand that a disaster plan is a living document and must be maintained and updated periodically to ensure the plan can be executed when a disaster occurs. The midst of a disaster is not the time to update phone numbers and other essential information. It’s important to clarify the various disasters that can be encountered given the season, location and other outside elements. Some common disasters to be prepared for are fire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flooding or even a cyber-breach.

Creating a comprehensive business continuity plan addresses steps specific to your organization and areas of risk. A few examples include utilities backup, mutual aid, disaster recovery services, data backup, as well as internal and external communication procedures.

What are the top considerations for disaster recovery planning?
A disaster restoration and continuity plan is designed to help get your building process back in order with a clearly laid out strategy. Here are a few recommendations that may help when putting together your continuity plan:
--Set goals for what you want to accomplish within your plan. For example, establishing answers to questions like: “Where do we relocate?” and “Who should I partner with?” is a great start.
--Seek out a reputable disaster restoration company that offers disaster and continuity planning. Set up pre-arranged agreements that outline the priority of service and assessment of emergency equipment needed, so when the restoration company responds, they will have all the necessary equipment and personnel.
--Develop an action plan for each type of disaster. This helps a potential contractor understand what’s needed and how to begin work immediately following a disaster. Many contractors will do a survey of the property and gather information such as number of entrances, exits, elevators and more. They’ll then know what type and how much equipment to bring after a particular catastrophe.
--Ensure everyone involved, from management to maintenance, is familiar with and understands the plan that’s been made.
--Testing is essential to ensuring that the disaster and continuity plan actually works, it’s aligned with current operations and will address all areas of response. The plan should be tested at least annually, but recommended seasonally as cold and hot weather present a wide variety of issues that could be missed.

How can a builder test the plan?
There are several types of tests that should be considered. Each business needs to evaluate which best fits their current situation, but I usually recommend two specific types of tests that should be run in combination with each other.

Tabletop exercise basically walks through a disaster response with all parties involved in a conference room. Each person is responsible for outlining their specific response and how it coordinates with others. During the exercise, the scenarios can be changed or other unexpected issues can be introduced and the response discussed. A major issue with only running tabletop exercises is that it does not reflect real world situations that arise during a disaster, but it is cost effective and can highlight coordination issues.

A physical disaster response drill is time-consuming and costly but it is the closest replication of how the response plan will work. It not only will test operational coordination but also the physical placement and operational capabilities of the equipment. Things like are the hoses long enough will be exposed during this drill.

Why do home builders need a disaster plan?
For many home building businesses, preparing for catastrophes doesn’t always take company precedence. Most owners would agree that disasters and emergencies pose a great risk to their operations, and yet the effort to plan and prepare is an afterthought. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25% of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster. A precautionary conservation program can be applied to minimize equipment breakdown and resulting work stoppage, as well as keep your company in business.