As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact and disrupt businesses - and we begin to prepare for hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and wildfires again - businesses are considering what a compound disaster could do to their operations.

A compound disaster refers to two or more catastrophic events leading to increasingly complex response and recovery challenges, as each disaster amplifies the effect of the other.

There’s no playbook for how to respond to a natural disaster in the backdrop of a pandemic. Now is the time to assess and adjust your business preparedness plan accordingly. Use the following checklist to re-evaluate and update your current preparedness plans ahead of a potential compound disaster.

  1. Identify disaster timing when possible and activate contingency plans sooner. With foreseeable events (hurricanes and wildfires), monitor and respond as quickly as you have actionable information. For non-foreseeable events (earthquakes and tornados), make sure you’re as prepared as possible ahead of time. Although not advisable, many have waited until the last minute to evacuate or close a business in years past with storms or wildfires forecasted. COVID-19 is going to present new variables in disaster response not faced previously. Anticipate needing more time.
  2. Register for notifications from additional reliable sources. Sign up for and monitor real-time alerts from federal and global agencies and authorities including FEMA, the CDC, the WHO and the American Red Cross as well as local emergency services, utilities, and local new media. Being able to closely monitor critical information from multiple sources will become increasingly critical in a compound natural disaster and pandemic response environment.
  3. Review your internal emergency communication plans. If everyone is working remotely, or your offices are partially closed, how will your crisis management team need to communicate differently? Ensure you have accurate primary and secondary contact information, addresses and emergency contacts for all employees. Reassess your emergency communications strategy to account for decentralized staff, possible absenteeism, employee illness, or those that no longer have access to childcare. Account for how work-at-home variables will affect your crisis management team’s structure and ability to communicate during a natural disaster.
  4. Anticipate new challenges establishing back-up office space for your operations. In a stand-alone natural disaster scenario, you may temporarily move your operations to a safe secondary location. In a COVID-19 environment your offices may not have been open, or only partially open, and you’ll need to consider the same social distancing requirements, personal protective equipment needs and disinfecting in a temporary location. There may also be added difficulties in identifying and securing a temporary space due to quick surges in demand.
  5. Consider compounding supply chain disruptions. Supply chains and transportation options have already been significantly disrupted by COVID-19. An additional natural disaster will add another dimension that requires reassessment of essential processes, functions and materials. Use your original disaster plans and business continuity plans as a springboard to find potential solutions to the new challenges.
  6. Prepare for longer disruption of essential services. Anticipate and prepare for extended downtimes and longer wait for restoration of services, as essential workers may already be working on adjusted shifts, with smaller crews, or with extended hours for COVID-19 protections. In a compound disaster situation, utility restoration services may be impacted in ways not seen before. Ensure existing back-up systems like generators are functioning properly and disaster kits are fully stocked with food, water and other recommended essentials.
  7. Understand limitations of remediation companies. Even after the compound crisis subsides, anticipate that remediation and renovation businesses will be facing new challenges related to how they can work. Not only will they have the usual disaster-related surge in business, but they may also have pivoted during the pandemic crisis into commercial disinfecting or related office renovations. They may also likely be shorthanded if workers are ill or caring for their families.
  8. Understand your coverage. Talk to your broker and risk services specialist ahead of the upcoming season to find out what coverage you have, and to understand your policy limits and exclusions. Knowing what you are covered for will help you in your disaster planning and when forced to make critical decisions at the height of the compound disaster.

Contact HUB Risk Services to learn how to develop a business continuity plan that will help protect your business and employees from the unexpected. Access HUB’s Crisis Resource Centers to get the latest information and guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other unexpected disasters to help you protect what matters most.