Business Monday

Planning, preparation are keys to disaster recovery, CEOs say

Coral Gables streets were lined with downed trees after Hurricane Irma passed.
Coral Gables streets were lined with downed trees after Hurricane Irma passed.

This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: What was the most important lesson your company learned from Hurricane Irma?


It’s not only important to have a disaster recovery plan for your company, but you need to regularly review it and keep it up to date. When you are faced with a hurricane or any other potential disaster, your team should be able to refer to the plan with the knowledge and confidence that it contains the most current and accurate information.

Ron Antevy, president and CEO, e-Builder


Mother Nature is still the Boss … but effective public services, open communication, and the indomitable human spirit can soften the blows. Our team came together like it always does in difficult times.

Maria Arizmendi, behavior analyst and president, Progressive Behavioral Science

Being a Florida native, I have learned to never underestimate Mother Nature. Hurricane Irma was an important reminder. With projects throughout Florida on both the East and West coasts, preparation plans jumped into action with securing construction sites, preparing offices to work remotely while allowing our team members to secure their personal residences. A lesson we learned many hurricanes ago is to expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.

Noah Breakstone, founder and managing partner, BTI Partners


How a company reacts to a natural disaster such as Irma has a tremendous impact upon the good will of staff toward the company. Making sure that staff has adequate paid time-off to take care of advance preparations is critical. A little extra help getting through natural disasters also goes a long way. For example, we provided non-attorney staff with a modest hurricane bonus to help with incidental expenses such as stocking hurricane supplies, travel out of town, post-hurricane replenishment of spoiled food and clean-up. The reaction was overwhelming. We received hundreds of heartfelt thanks from staff for this unexpected assistance. We also established a fund to help with catastrophic losses suffered by staff. Nothing is more important than our staff, and the staff’s well-being and good will toward the firm is of paramount concern to us.

Bowman Brown, partner and chairman of the Executive Committee and the Financial Services Practice Group of Shutts & Bowen


The heart and soul of a successful business is its policies and procedures manual! It should cover what would happen in the event of a hurricane. The procedures should spell out: When the office will close, who is expected to work from home, will the employees get paid while the business closed, when will the customers be notified that the business is open, and more. Thankfully, our policies and procedures covered what would happen in the event of a hurricane. Management and support staff followed the instructions making it easier for us weather the storm as a business.

Patricia Elizee, managing partner, Elizee Law Firm


At Miami Jewish Health, we had more than 1,300 people on our main campus before, during, and after Hurricane Irma — all of whom were kept safe and secure. The storm reaffirmed our position that being fully prepared with supplies and back-up power, running numerous drills, and following protocols would keep us in a good place. Our team was fully prepared and did their jobs fluidly. Our focus always was on providing a safe, secure environment for the primarily frail, elderly individuals we serve.

Jeffrey Freimark, president and CEO, Miami Jewish Health


That it’s absolutely critical to be prepared and maintain clear communication with staff, before, during and after a crisis. We have a dedicated volunteer employee safety committee at The Children’s Trust that coordinates emergency plan efforts for any type of catastrophic event; they make sure that every staff member is accounted for and informed. Taking care of your team so that they’re better able to return to and focus on their work, that’s essential. We also maintain memos of understanding with other organizations, which allow us to utilize some of their workspace should our office sustain damage, and vice versa. In fact, we hosted several staff members from another agency after the hurricane.

James Haj, president and CEO, The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County


The most important lesson that The Youth Fair & Exposition learned was that our solid hurricane emergency plan met our expectations of providing guidance to our employees at a time when adrenaline was at full throttle and sleep deprivation was the norm. Our well-thought-out plan directed employees on all aspects, from individual obligations to protecting the physical plant and assets in advance of the storm. Our team did a magnificent job executing our plan. Coupled with this, it is critically important to be cognizant that one is dealing with very fluid circumstances and that the plan and the team must be flexible while ensuring the safety, security and welfare of people first and then property.

Bob Hohenstein, president and CEO, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition


The main lesson we learned from this storm was that communication and preparation are key – there’s no such thing as being “over” prepared. Also, making sure we had secondary or temporary office space to use in case of a power outage was critical. As a business owner, knowing how to balance employees’ personal lives with the businesses of our customers and clients is also important.

David Martin, president and co-founder, Terra


Our team was working around the clock to prepare the marina for a week before Hurricane Irma reached Florida. A marina is a customer service business, so we were constantly keeping our clients updated on the storm’s track and our preparations on-site. In the end, our marina didn’t lose a single vessel and we suffered no structural damage. We executed a carefully-constructed plan and benefited from being on the leeward side of Virginia Key, facing west, allowing us to avoid the brunt of the surge. Irma was a reminder that successfully weathering a storm takes a lot of sound judgment, preparation and, of course, a little luck.

Aabad Melwani, president, Rickenbacker Marina and managing principal, Marina PARC


Hurricane Irma was a great reminder that Housing Trust Group is more than just a developer. We are also responsible for the health and welfare of the thousands of families and seniors who live in our communities. Many seniors, and in particular low-income seniors, are often not easily able to provide for themselves before, during and after a storm. That is why communication is essential during a natural disaster. Once the roads were marginally safe to travel, our staff immediately mobilized to deliver ice, food and other essential supplies to the residents living in our properties who were still without electricity and other necessary essentials.

Matthew Rieger, president and CEO, Housing Trust Group



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