Consider this scenario: Last year, your hurricane evacuation plan was to head to Atlanta and wait the storm out in a hotel room. This year, the hotel has been converted to a COVID-19 treatment facility. Your business, already struggling to remain viable during the COVID-19 shutdown, simultaneously experiences a cyber-attack. Employees could be stranded for days during a wildfire instead of hours if first responders are stretched thin, answering both COVID-19 calls and wildfire-related rescues.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact and disrupt businesses - and we head into hurricane and wildfire season - it has become increasingly important for business owners and operators to anticipate the potential of a compound disaster.

A compound disaster refers to two or more disaster events creating additional and increasingly complex response and recovery challenges as each disaster amplifies the effect of the other. Unfortunately, natural disasters and human-caused crises are unlikely to decrease in frequency during a pandemic.

Compound Disaster Business Considerations

In the midst of this “new normal” it has never been more important to assess and adjust your business preparedness plan, anticipating new ways of responding to compound events. Remote, decentralized work forces, financial constraints and supply chain disruption are just a few variables important to consider when recalibrating preparedness planning. Consider the following issues complicating compound disaster scenarios:

  • Overwhelmed disaster management support. Familiar federal and provincial government responses may be limited due to lack of availability or resources during a compound disaster. Government agencies, emergency service providers and healthcare systems already struggling to keep up with the global pandemic will be further strained and therefore, response times could be unusually high. Natural disaster response efforts require a large mobilization and coordination of teams of people and volunteers, which will include new and difficult challenges in a compound disaster response environment. An added challenge will be protecting first responders and those affected by the disaster from COVID-19.
  • Evacuation and temporary shelter challenges. During large-scale natural disaster evacuations, temporary shelters may be the only option for many people. However, options that may have been available previously may no longer be viable due to physical distancing requirements and COVID-19 risk. Businesses will need to review and amend their evacuation and continuity plans accordingly and consider any possible options for establishing a new meeting place. Consider how a compound disaster and COVID-19 will affect your supply chain and transportation as well.
  • Technology-related challenges. Many organizations have rapidly transitioned their employees from office-based to home-based. Having a decentralized workforce will have both pros and cons in the event of a natural disaster. While the likelihood of your entire remote staff being impacted by a single, localized event may be lower, utility outages could disconnect critical staff for an extended period of time should their homes lose power. Consider your options in this scenario. Is there a way to make these employees and their technology more resilient in the face of a natural disaster? Another important aspect to consider is the recent rise in cyber incidents. A decentralized staff has made many business networks more vulnerable.

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 Centres to get the latest information and guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other unexpected disasters to help you protect what matters most.