What Sandy Taught Us

December 1, 2012 – In The News
QSR Magazine

As many restaurant operators affected by Hurricane Sandy are slowly cleaning up and reopening for business, they are also realizing the importance of disaster-recovery plans that could have helped them better prepare for the storm.

According to a 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey, most small business have no disaster-recovery plan in place, even though 65 percent of them are in regions at risk for natural disasters.

Operators can take several measures to prepare for storms like Sandy. Carolyn D. Richmond, co-chair of Fox Rothschild LLP's Hospitality Practice Group in New York, says one of the most common complaints that she, as an employment lawyer, heard after Sandy was that businesses could not get payrolls processed.

“Operators should have had a system in place where they could have processed payroll the old-fashioned way,” she says. “Particularly in a time of natural disaster, minimum-wage foodservice employees—many of whom are not working as a result of the disaster—need their paychecks more than ever.”

Richmond says operators should also have more than one method of communication available to be fully prepared for any emergency. During Hurricane Sandy, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint all reported widespread power outrages and damages to lines and towers.

“Too many businesses relied on land lines and cell phones as the only way to communicate with their teams,” she says. “They should have been prepared with off-the-grid communications such as two-way radios.”

Richmond says operators need to put together a team to do a forensic review of how their business faired during the disaster. If systems broke down, she says, the operator should appoint a team to do the review of what went wrong.

“Compiling a valuable and effective critical-incident plan takes input from a lot of areas of a business,” she says. “A plan needs to incorporate operations, IT, human resources, food safety, public relations, and coordination with third parties such as landlords and vendors, who maintain equipment such as walk-ins and POS systems.”

Richmond also instructs operators to look at what went right: What were the strengths of the business and employees? What systems functioned best and were operational?

Lastly, Richmond says, restaurants must develop a comprehensive critical incident plan that needs to be reviewed and updated annually, and, like fire drills, operators need to have mock run-throughs.