When catastrophe hits, how do we keep our heads above water?

Photo Credit: MOREL/SIMAX/SIPA/Newscom via LiveScience.com

Photo Credit: MOREL/SIMAX/SIPA/Newscom via LiveScience.com


Experts claim Hurricane Irma is the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. Today is day 1 of Irma's impact on the Caribbean Islands, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

When I woke up this morning, I braced myself for the reality that my feed could be populated with stories of lives lost in the Caribbean. Phrases like "storm grows to size unheard of," and "Irma is flattening buildings" showed up in stories, and it was just announced that two lives were lost in St. Barts and St. Martin. This breaks my heart, but also makes me wonder... for a storm this powerful, how have most people remained relatively safe?

As I pondered the answer, I began to draw parallels and couldn't help but reflect on the important lesson Irma could teach us about how we manage catastrophes in business. The damage of the "hurricane" that changes, mergers, PR scandals, and layoffs bring can be mitigated if we are mindful about these four concepts:

1. Plan and Prepare

Authorities in the Caribbean knew what was heading their way, and although they didn't know how much destruction Irma would leave behind, they knew it would be catastrophic. With this knowing, they planned, planned, and planned some more. They were extremely well prepared to take on the worst. In business, there will always be factors out of our control, but in times of stress, it's essential to manage the variables that ARE under our control and that can significantly alter the outcome.

2. Prioritize

The government and police got their priorities straight - to save as many lives as possible. Their people's safety was of utmost importance to them. Buildings can be replaced, people can't; and with this being the topmost priority, they did everything possible to keep people indoors, to set up shelters, and to prevent people from being directly in Irma's way.

3. Communicate

Everyone knew Irma was coming, but sometimes knowing doesn't translate into action. Local police, media, and the community at large kept communication open and frequent. Messages on how to prepare, remain safe, and minimize property damage were crystal clear.

4. Learn from similar experiences

Texas was just hit with Harvey, and people witnessed what happened there. People lost homes and businesses, but they also lost family members. Over 20 people died as a result of Harvey, and this served as a tragic learning experience... but a learning experience it was. They knew Irma was a category 5 hurricane... aka, this was going to be way worse. That learning led them to focus back on point # 1 - plan and prepare.

If we approached business disasters with these basic tactics, I wonder how many lives we could impact. I wonder how many departments and teams we could save, and how much less collateral damage we could do. Something to think about.

My thoughts are with all those affected by Irma. For the communities that are yet to be impacted by the hurricane, I hope and pray no lives are lost.