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Winter Weather Preparedness: Considerations for Keeping Your Firm and Employees Operational This Winter

By Matt Donahue | Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Anyone who lives in a region that regularly receives snow knows (and expects) that every winter brings the potential for experiencing disruption, delays, cancellations and closures to roads, buses, trains, boats and subways that transport people to and from work. (If you’re in the Boston area, you’re experiencing this today with the MBTA shutting down all rail service to clean up from more than 70 inches of snow in the last three weeks.) Snow storms don’t just affect transportation though; weather events can cause power outages, force evacuations, impact deliveries, and as we saw recently with Winter Storm Juno, can cause entire states to ban travel.

Impacts of Heavy Snow

Let’s consider some of the issues firms can face even if a travel ban isn’t in place and employees must attempt to make their way to the office.

Most people who commute to work know that adverse weather can have a major impact on their travel to and from the office. Regardless of the manner of transportation (car, rail, subway, boat, bus, etc.), all will most likely experience delays and present challenges for commuters during a snow storm. Delays, breakdowns, cancellations, and longer commuting times are very common throughout a storm and can still impact travel days after a storm concludes, leaving employees largely unable to work effectively if at all.

For a firm where most employees drive to the office, employees and management should be aware of some statistics taken from the federal highway administration over a 10-year period of time involving driving incidents during poor weather conditions. Choosing to drive in adverse weather for commuters can be risky; for some employers it may be worth considering alternative work options for those employees.

Weather-related*

1,311,970 crashes

23% of vehicle crashes

430,338 persons injured

20% of crash injuries

6,253 persons killed

17% of crash fatalities

* "Weather-Related" crashes are those that occur in the presence of adverse weather and/or slick pavement conditions. (Source: US Dept of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration)

Working Remotely

It isn’t uncommon for firms to allow employees to work remotely during weather-related events. But before the decision to work from home is made, you want to ensure employees have the resources they need (i.e., computer or laptop, strong Internet connection, instructions for accessing data, Help Desk contact information, etc.), and test!  We strongly encourage firms to validate employees’ home setups before logging in during a storm event. This will ensure employee can spend their time focusing on work tasks instead of troubleshooting technology problems.

Technical Factors: Licenses, Access and Power Outages

Even for firms that allow employees to work remotely, issues can arise if the number of licenses purchased is not enough to cover the entire firm. Even in established companies there can be issues with connectivity and access for employees. If your firm doesn’t have IT personnel on staff, make sure you have up-to-date contact information for your IT provider so you can quickly contact them if any issues are experienced.

In most heavy snow/blizzard conditions, power outages are also common. It’s important to preplan and, in some cases, purchase items that will allow employees to continue working - think wireless Internet accessories or battery backup sources/alternative power sources.

Personal Factors: Family Responsibilities and Distractions

During the recent Juno Storm, many Northeast states announced a travel ban for non-emergency service personnel, forcing employees and their families to remain at home.  This can be troublesome for parents expected to work while home with children who require supervision. It’s important for managers to realize there may not be easy solutions for these parents during this type of scenario and to set realistic workload expectations for their employees.

Communications

Maintaining communications is vital to every business, especially during a weather-related event. Being able to seamlessly continue communications even while remote or out of the office is important. A little planning can go a long way in this effort. Having critical business contacts stored on a mobile device or an accessible shared drive can help firms keep clients, partners, and vendors in the loop during any type of disruption. A call forwarding service is also an option to consider implementing so that any calls that would go to an office phone are redirected to a home phone or cellphone.

Working at the Office

If you or employees in your office do manage to make into the office during a storm, you should consider assigning a point person to ensure everything stays operational and can report outages to the appropriate contacts (i.e., senior manager, building management, etc.).

In addition, you might want to reconsider outdoor evacuation sites during and after the storm. It is important to be aware of the impact of the snow piles left from plows or shoveling on the preplanned evacuation sites. If your firm’s building or offices are being evacuated, ensure employees have a safe location (preferably indoors) at which to gather and account for staff. Depending on your firm’s size you may consider having multiple alternate locations, such a department store or coffee shop for smaller firms or a hotel lobby or a nearby parking structure.  

In conclusion, some of the impacts of snow storms are unavoidable. Most employees are subject to the same issues when trying to commute to work during these situations. However good planning and a little investment can make a difference for your employees and your firm’s business continuity.  

DR/BCP Guidebook

To read more about winter weather preparedness, check out these articles:

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