Business Continuity Planning In New Orleans

On May 12, water from street flooding seeped into Meyer The Hatter’s first floor showroom on St. Charles Avenue near Canal St. The Meyer family has operated their hat shop in the first block of St. Charles Ave. since 1894.  Like many families in business, the Meyers communicate quickly, so brothers Cedric and Chris Meyer inventoried the damage, broke down water-soaked boxes and scrubbed terrazzo floors on Mother’s Day. Their father, Paul Meyer, is sure the shop at 120 St. Charles Ave. has flooded exactly three times: in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, on August 5, 2018, and May, 2019.  A previous location of the business, in this same block, likely flooded in 1927.

New Orleans' business owners have plenty of experience with unexpected interruptions.  Formalizing practices into what's called a business continuity plan, however, allows businesses to remain up and running with minimal financial disruption during/after natural or manmade events.  

Disruptions In New Orleans?  We’ve Got This

When taking on business continuity planning, business owners should prepare to create a set of procedures that instruct how their business will carry out functions when a disruption occurs.  The template can be specific, drilling down to details such as naming a staff position tasked with performing a post-disruption activity. This increases the likelihood that team members are aware of the next steps to remain operational.

Many business owners think they’ve already prepared their business for interruption, be it a property loss,  power failure, supply chain disruption, or other external event. Consider, however, that in 2015, when 60 local, independent businesses on commercial corridors throughout New Orleans were surveyed, just 40% of businesses had emergency plans with 72% having a communication plan in place to contact employees in case of an emergency.  Only 33% had a written business continuity plan that fully addresses avoiding further loss and protecting the brand throughout the disruption.

Small businesses by most definitions have lean operations.  Maybe yours has segmented administrative jobs into one staff role, or contracts out some primary operations.  Maybe your business thrives when it services a select portion of the GNO area.

These same characteristics that enable you to successfully manage your daily business operations, however,  may make your business prone to greater loss if disruption occurs.

As for the Meyers?  Certain they won’t leave their location, they plan to put out sandbags more often when weather predictions warrant.  Inventory is kept on the building’s upper floors, and electrical outlets on the first floor were moved up the walls after Katrina.  “We are fortunate to know everyone in our supply chain very well,” says Chris Meyer. “We have great relationships with our vendors so a several-day interruption is not traumatic.  At least, not yet.”

Business Continuity Planning in 10 Steps

To get started, take these 10 steps toward completing continuity planning for your business:

Step 1

Take stock of what plans you already have in place by reviewing the policies and procedures among your files.  

Step 2

Communicate.  If you do have a continuity communications plan in place to contact employees, make it as robust as possible.  Does it name a staff member as Communications Coordinator? Take the time to draft broadcast business interruption texts to employees and create sample posts that you’d publish on social media during interruption.

Step 3

Inventory Inventory Inventory.  Inventory your worksite(s) floorplans so you know what spaces contain people, empty space, store goods, exterior doors, etc.  Inventory what emergency systems are in place-- everything from physical keys and alarms to which employees have access to what password protected software.  And of course, keep the inventory of your business assets up to date.

Step 4

Assemble a team and set a deadline to write a shelter in place procedure to be used at the  workplace should employees be present when an unforeseen or even violent incident occurs. If you are a lease holder, share your shelter in place procedure with the building management or owner.

Step 5

Be certain that your insurance coverage is sufficient.  Flood insurance, business income coverage, contingent business interruption, and supply chain disruption insurance are all policy types to consider.  A customizable SBA template for isolating your business’ critical functions is available here.

Step 6

Write a telecommuting policy now so you have the option to institute a remote workforce when you need it.  Gain insight from your IT staff or consultant about the capacity of your current systems, and what, if any, equipment or security upgrades are recommended if you temporarily switch to a remote workforce.

Step 7

Institute good tech habits to increase your level of cyber security.  Several federal departments collaborate on CyberSecure My Business, where you’ll find suggested ways to, for example, better understand the terms of your cloud storage service, or the importance of paying for domains with very similar names to your business’ domain.  

Step 8

Learn from others by reading StayLocal’s case studies from local businesses which have planned for continuity and successfully protected property.  Published in the New Orleans Business Continuity Guide, case studies paint a full picture of how New Orleans’ business owners have successfully faced past challenges.

Step 9

Become familiar with StayLocal’s resources page where we link to guides to building retrofitting and a road construction toolkit. The Urban Conservancy offers tips and a glossary for effective water management on private property here.

Step 10

When you have your basic plan together, test it.  Schedule a test of the shelter in place plan, or schedule a work from home day as an exercise.  If your staff is large enough, task a staff member with scheduling continuity planning updates for the entire team.