After Hurricane-Related Disasters, Florida Firms Prepare for Business Continuity

More Jacksonville, Fla., firms better prepared for disasters, but not enough say statistics

Power outages during the last hurricane wreaked financial havoc on Publix. The Lakeland-based grocery chain lost abut $60 million in frozen foods and perishables that spoiled following hurricane-related blackouts last year.

To prevent a repeat, Publix is investing about $100 million to buy 400 heavy duty generators for stores in hurricane-prone areas, spokesman Dwaine Stevens said.

Each of the 500-kilowatt generators is powerful enough to keep the freezers running for up to 72 hours. The generators will help stores recover from a hurricane quicker and limit losses from spoiled food, Stevens said.

None of Publix's 41 First Coast stores will have the generators, because the region is not considered high risk for hurricanes.

4. Have a plan to maintain operations if the company's location is heavily damaged.

W&O's Jacksonville headquarters is located in a metal building, making it susceptible to hurricanes. "If we get hit with a Category 2 [hurricane] here, we're going down," said CFO Peter Osterman.

To counter that, W&O last month transferred its critical communications infrastructure -- computer and phone systems -- to a downtown building that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

W&O has 13 distribution centers at major port cities across the country. So, if one warehouse is damaged by a hurricane or other disaster, the others can pick up the slack and try to get product to customers. W&O's inventory and sales orders are in a central database accessible to all distribution centers.

Blue Cross has access to mobile workstation units -- essentially trailers equipped with desks and computers -- that employees can use in case their offices are uninhabitable.

5. Have mobile and satellite phones in case land-line telephone connections fail.

Following Katrina, W&O overnighted fax machines, laptop computers and cell phones to its half-dozen salespeople in the Gulf Coast area so they could stay in touch with customers and continue doing business from their homes. W&O also has an Internet-based telephone system which allows the company to make calls over the Internet using a high-speed T1 line -- providing a back up in case a hurricane knocks out telephone lines.

6. Reduce the vulnerability of the company's physical buildings by implementing mitigation measures.

JEA has invested about $500,000 in metal shutters and other measures to protect its facilities from wind and water damage following a hurricane. Last year, the utility spent about $200,000 in a window-reinforcing technology at its downtown headquarters and at a nearby customer service building. The technology attaches heavy-gauge window film to each glass pane -- and then secures the film to the window's frame -- creating an anchored system that prevents the glass from shattering or from coming off the building.

"Our hope is that [the technology] minimizes the damage [from strong winds] to windows and to the interior of the building," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said.

7. Reach out to employees after a disaster

W&O has a toll-free telephone number its 165 employees can call to let the company know they are OK after a disaster like a hurricane. The company also has a "phone tree" -- a system where employees are responsible for calling three other colleagues to help quickly account for the workforce's whereabouts following a disaster.


Preparedness on the Web

Many helpful Web sites can aid businesses in disaster planning and provide useful information about how to prepare and protect a business.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security