Overcoming natural disasters

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ANTONIO CUBACUB

ANTONIO CUBACUB

When Typhoon Ketsana (local name Ondoy) hit the Philippines in 2009, it left in its wake damage amounting to P11 billion and it paralyzed the country’s central business district. Four years later, Super Typhoon Haiyan (local: Yolanda) turned out to be one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, devastating portions of Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines. To this day, we’re still in the painstaking process of rebuilding and recovering from the P571.1 billion destruction and losses wrought by that Super Typhoon.

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Natural disasters, unpredictable and powerful as they are, have the potential to cause lasting damage. From a business standpoint, companies should take an “all-hazard” approach that considers the destructive power of natural disasters, their business continuity plans, and their proactive planning and integrated business and community preparations in order to survive the crisis and bounce back quickly to restore normalcy.

Deloitte’s Center for Crisis Management recently issued a primer – “Focus on: Overcoming natural disasters” – that provides companies with innovative ideas on how to prepare for and deal with natural disasters.

Regardless of the kind of “acts of God” that your organization could be facing, natural disasters disable your capacity to conduct business and threaten the community that you serve. These disasters disrupt your ability to function normally. The challenge, therefore, is to restore stability and order, preserve lives and properties, and quickly move toward normalcy. But because these disasters can be unpredictable and geographically widespread, affecting not just organizations but entire communities, there is a tendency to lose focus amid all the confusion and chaos.

Recognize mutual dependency. Even before a disaster hits, consider forming partnerships with other organizations that you can work with to build disaster resiliency, such as your local government unit or other private enterprises. The value of these relationships flows both ways: when a disaster hits, your company may become a valuable and critical element in a broader community response, especially if your company oversees vital assets such as roads or power infrastructure. Similarly, your business partners may play a key role in helping you recover from such a disaster. What’s important is that these partnerships help you become more agile and resilient.

Resilience is a discipline. The difficulty with building disaster resiliency is few people feel the need to work on it when it’s sunny outside, but that’s precisely when you should start planning for THAT DAY. On a normal day, people just want to attend to their businesses as usual, so organizational leaders have to be committed to preparation and they must ensure that there is an organization-wide buy-in. Preparation can take the form of scenario planning to take the surprise out of these unexpected natural calamities; 24/7 monitoring; or simulation exercises that increase the likelihood that an organization’s crisis response will be executed in real life the way it was intended to be on paper.

Document everything. After a disaster, one of the priorities is to restore normalcy and preserve order. An organization can recover much faster if its business processes are well documented. Keep an exhaustive record of your assets and receivables, of your inventories, even of your employees and their families. Have a strong central data repository governed by secured permissions so that the right people have access to the information they need in order to respond quickly during a crisis.

Plan today the demands you’ll make of others tomorrow. Leaders who have gone through large-scale disasters say – the longer after an event you wait to request the needed resources and action, the less likely you will get it since people will have returned to the business-as-usual mindset. So think carefully now about what you will need to get you through six months or a year after a crisis. If and when that crisis hits, you’ll be prepared with your “big asks” just when people are still receptive to them.

This is no time to stop delegating. Even before a crisis hits, make sure people within the organization are aware of their responsibilities and are ready to act quickly and intelligently. A leader will need many capable, trusted deputies during a time of crisis. And these deputies must be able to make independent calls in the heat of the moment, instead of waiting for permission to flow up and down the command chain.

Late last month, our local weather bureau announced the start of the rainy season, and because of the La Niña phenomenon, we face the threat of more and stronger typhoons, especially during the last quarter of the year. Add to that, we are still bracing for the “big one,” or the mega quake that many say is due to happen soon and could strike the capital, where many of the country’s biggest businesses are located. Now is the time to ask yourself if your organization is prepared for these natural disasters. Just as you are passionate in growing your business and making sure it is running well and is profitable, so should you be in ensuring that it can weather a crisis and rise from the ruins much stronger and with greater confidence to face the next one.

The author is a Senior Director with the Enterprise Risk Services group of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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