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How Businesses Maintained Continuity of Operations During Sandy

Hurricane Sandy put many companies to the test: Could they withstand a storm that could shut down business for days or even weeks?

Hurricane Sandy put many companies to the test: Could they withstand a storm that could shut down business for days, or even weeks?

With no Internet, phone or power and therefore, no way to communicate with employees or customers, workers were unsure whether to go to work, and customers had no way to contact businesses to find out when they’d reopen, what to do in an emergency and if their various appointments would be kept.

How a business responds to emergency situations reveals much about the company’s management skills and disaster preparedness.

Creating a business continuity plan to stay in touch with both employees and customers in the case of a natural disaster, can save companies the suffering from a storm’s scars — which can often be as harsh as putting a company out of business permanently.

Using a cloud telecom platform to blast text, email and voice messages, the businesses described below successfully executed their plans to communicate with their co-workers and customers within minutes of losing power, and for little or no extra cost.

Bob’s Stores

After years of enduring bad weather and losing most communication between employees, Bob’s Stores, an apparel retailer based in Meriden, Conn., partnered with CallFire in 2011, hoping to strengthen business continuity.

CallFire is a cloud telephony company that uses graphical user interface and application programming interface platforms to offer businesses voice broadcasting, text messaging, call tracking and interactive voice response to reach many people simultaneously.

Before CallFire, when there was a storm, associates had to call in to a switchboard for important messages, and there was no way to reach everyone at once and with the same message, said Rita Bertone, director of purchasing and office services at Bob’s and a member of the company’s business continuity team.

When Sandy hit in October 2012 — shutting down Bob’s for four days — Bertone knew what to do.

With her home Internet connection, Bertone signed onto CallFire’s dashboard, where phone numbers of all Bob’s Stores employees from the 35 locations were saved. She called CallFire’s 800 number and recorded a message that the stores would be closed.

“I hit a button, then all of a sudden you see all these numbers being dialed — over 200 numbers in a matter of minutes,” she said.

One of the selling points for Bertone was that she didn’t have to sign a contract. Instead, she activates the account when needed and pays about 2 cents per phone call, she said. The last time she activated the account, it cost the apparel company $11, Bertone said. “We only use it during emergencies.”

Bertone also activated the service to contact employees during winter storm Nemo in February, when conditions were too dangerous for employees to leave their homes.

“We didn’t want employees coming into work while we had a problem on our roof,” said Bertone about the snow pileup. “We wanted them to stay home and off the road.”

Customer Focus

Liccardi Chrysler Dodge Ram in Green Brook, N.J., is a community-focused business, and that’s why it was important for employees to let customers know as soon as Sandy hit that the dealership would be closed. Liccardi ended up losing power for two weeks.

For the past five to six years, Liccardi had worked with OneCommand, an automation platform that specializes in auto dealers, for marketing purposes, said Robert Ventura, Liccardi service director. The dealership pays $700 to $800 monthly to use OneCommand’s services mostly for automated appointment reminders, holiday wishes and customer appreciation emails, said Ventura.

The company offers multiple communication channels — voice, email, text, direct mail and social media — to cover all bases if one form of communication is unavailable.

When the hurricane hit, Ventura knew OneCommand was the best way to reach a large number of customers at the same time.

“We called them right away,” Ventura said.

OneCommand sent an email and text message update to customers who had left their contact information with the dealership. He also gave his cellphone number in case of emergencies.

“We wanted to know if our customers were OK and let them we were without power for weeks,” Ventura said.

Lawrence Lexus in Lawrenceville, N.J., had a similar experience with OneCommand.

“We really weren’t signed up with them for emergency management,” said Brian Bennett, vice president and general manager of Lawrence Lexus. “Being a car dealership, you don’t think to have something like it.”

But when the power went out with no clear picture of when it would return, the company needed a way to be in touch with customers who had outstanding appointments.

Bennett reached out to the OneCommand team and prepared a recorded voice message to send to all customers’ home phones in the dealership’s database, along with an email saying their service appointments would be canceled.

“They can send 10,000 phone calls in an hour,” Bennett said. Many of the customers don’t leave a cellphone number, but the ones who did received a text message as well.

Consolidating Location Information

When lines of communication are down, companies with multiple locations can be at a loss about how to reach customers around the country. A large bank with more than 300 national locations partnered with Yext, a location-information software company, to inform customers about which branches were still open post-Sandy.

Through Yext, businesses can update any directory, location information or updates via a dashboard that registers across 57 listing sites, including Yelp, MapQuest and (Yellow Pages). 

After Hurricane Sandy hit, the company, which started in 2006, had about 2,300 users logging on to post updates about power outages and closings, said Yext CEO Howard Lerman in a New York Times article.

The bank used the service to update websites with closure information, inform customers that ATM fees would be waived and direct people to customer service staff who were available to assist by phone. 

Lauren Katims previously served as a staff writer and contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.