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  • Writer's pictureJamie Leeper

Natural disaster preparation for multi-site retailers

Unfortunately, floods, wildfire, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes have all played a very damaging part across the US in recent years, with 2017 being especially bad. From the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Houston and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, to the California wildfires, Mother Nature once again flexed her muscles to show us all who is the boss!

Royal Services retail maintenance can help in the event of a natural disaster
Natural disaster preparation is key when hurricanes strike

These disasters cause problems for people in all areas of life, but here we are going to focus on the impact these events have on multi-site retail brands, and the steps that can be taken ahead of time to minimize damage.

Due to the number of events in 2017, and the catastrophic damage that they caused, one of the main sessions at last year's PRSM National Conference focused on natural disaster preparation. The panel session during breakfast on the second day of the conference saw Shana Santoni (VP Global Membership) pose questions to facility maintenance managers representing Ross Stores, Charlotte Russe, and Tailored Brands. Here are some highlights of the ideas they shared:

  1. Record events - In 2017 we experienced sixteen billion dollar disasters which is the joint highest in history with 2011.

  2. Priorities - The safety of customers and associates is always the number one priority

  3. Technology - Improvements in technology are allowing us to minimize damage and reduce store downtime. Things such as satellite phones, high-efficiency generators, and drones are allowing people to communicate to overcome the impact of natural disasters quicker than ever before.

  4. Be proactive - Advice to service providers was to reach out proactively instead of waiting for service to be requested. Contact your clients before they contact you. They have enough things to worry about and having a supportive partner at their side is critical in moments of need.

  5. Advice to associates: "Grab your binders and communication and get out!"

  6. In the aftermath of a disaster - technology is being used to expedite the remediation process with things such as Infrared sensing being used to detect mold.

  7. Security - The need for security guards to prevent looting is something that many people forget to plan for.

  8. Prevention is better than cure - Preparation vs. response

  9. Risk management - ensure your company has a recovery manual with best practices for associates to refer to during these times.

  10. After the event - Have a reentry checklist ready to go so that you can get back online ASAP

  11. Preseason planning - what can you do ahead of time to mitigate damage and reduce downtime? Have a plan in place and make sure all team members are on the same page.

  12. Lessons learned - Never stop learning. There are constant improvements being made to the way that these events can be handled.

As a retail facility maintenance professional there are many steps that you can take to minimize casualties, but if a storm is going to hit, there is nothing that you can do to stop it. However, as soon as the storm has hit, your work truly begins. Here is a checklist of 10 items that you need to consider in the immediate aftermath of a storm hitting your stores:

(1) Employees: Is everyone safe? Are you able to communicate with them and confirm that everyone survived?

(2) The store - What damage did you experience? Is it a simple clean up with some new fixtures and carpet, or does your store need a complete overhaul?

Construction crew ready to clean up after natural disaster
A key aspect of natural disaster preparation is having the right partners in place ready to go.

(3) Merchandise - Do you actually have product to sell to your customers? If not, what is the lead time on getting the merchandise that you need?

(4) Customers - How is your company communicating with your patrons? Are they kept up to date with the latest happenings at their local store? Can they make online purchases while your store is being cleaned?

(5) Lease terms - How much longer will you be in the building for? Does it make sense to bring the store back online or should it remain dark until the term expires?

(6) Preparation for future events - Natural disasters tend to be very specific from a geographical standpoint. We know that hurricanes will typically impact the Eastern seaboard and Gulf States, Tornadoes will hit Texas and states to the north including Oklahoma, Missouri, and our home state of Kansas, and wildfires are prevalent in California. With this in mind, it's never a bad idea to start preparing for the next potential disaster. Even though you are still coming to terms with what has already happened, the next event could be just around the corner, so it is critical to be prepared and keep an eye on the weather forecast for potential events.

(7) Controlling costs - Unfortunately, natural disasters tend to impact huge geographic areas which creates high demand for labor and materials. Many local contractors will try to take advantage of this by charging premium prices due to your need to get your space back up and running.

(8) Security - It's a very sad thing to discuss, but unfortunately there are some people who will knock you while you are down. One of the biggest threats after a natural disaster, is the risk of looting. Work with your loss prevention team to make sure that you do everything possible to protect your assets in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

(9) Insurance claims - This is often something that is handled through the corporate office, but there is a strong chance that some responsibility will fall on your shoulders. Try to document all inventory ahead of time so that you have evidence to back up the claims that you are making. This will significantly expedite the process and will also reduce your workload and stress levels during the rebuilding and reopening phase.

(10) Lessons Learned - Once everything has been and gone, now you are responsible for evaluating your preparation and clean up efforts as well as looking at lessons learned. What could be done better next time? What materials can you have in place ahead of time to minimize damage? Are there more efficient and reliable ways of communicating available?

Here are some other great resources with suggestions of things to do before and after your space has been impacted by a natural event:

Ready - Planning Ahead for Disasters

The Huffington Post - Disaster Preparation Month and Tips

Medline Plus - Preparation Checklist and Recovery Tips

FEMA - There is no better resource when it comes to these challenges

PRSM - Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association's guide to dealing with natural disasters

Natural Disaster Damage survey tool - Track the cost of the impact from natural disasters. (courtesy of Connex).

We would love to hear about any other tips, tricks or resources that can be of value in trying to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters. Please share your comments in the box below, and let us know your lessons learned from when disaster struck.

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