January’s Winter Storm Jonas was one of the biggest and most disruptive snow storms to hit the East Cost in decades. The storm featured snowfall rates of one to three inches per hour for more than 14 hours in some areas, effectively shutting down airports, interstates, ports and every type of transportation for at least two full days.
Millions of travelers found themselves snowbound at airports, on abandoned stretches of highway, or simply in their hotel rooms. People from Florida to Maine were literally stuck as the harsh and heavy snowstorm continued to pour frozen moisture up and down the Eastern seaboard.
For the first time in history, the mayor of New York City issued a city-wide travel ban, preventing residents from using city streets, subways and buses as the storm dumped more than 30 inches of snow on all five boroughs.
In parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, prolonged blizzard conditions crippled travel and essentially stopped the supply chain in its tracks. Trains, cargo ships, jetliners and trucks were powerless against the might of Winter Storm Jonas as the country’s vital lifeline came temporarily to a screeching halt.
Snow in 31 States
When all was said and done, the storm dropped snow in 31 states, including Florida. At its peak, historically heavy snowfall and heavy winds combined to drop at least a foot of snow in 14 states – with six states reporting snow totals above 30 inches.
The storm pushed back all the way from South Dakota to Massachusetts and even into the Gulf states, creating an unusual and unprecedented weather pattern that affected a large part of the US. Even places like Florida, Alabama, and Georgie reported unusual accumulations of snow.
Long Lead Time
The amount of snow and how long it fell made Winter Storm Jonas an unusual snowstorm. But another thing that sets it apart from other storms was the unprecedented long lead time that residents and businesses had, to get ready for it. As far out as a week away from the start of the storm, meteorologists were preparing the public and industry for the record-setting snowfall, using computer models to predict where and when the worst parts of the storm would hit.
As the storm approached, residents were able to stock up on the supplies they needed to hunker down for extended periods until the storm passed, including bottled water, food, medications, emergency supplies, and in some cases even generators.
School officials took the unprecedented step of cancelling classes at elementary schools, high schools and colleges in advance of the storm’s attack, reducing the risk of people becoming caught in the worst of the storm.
Given the advance notice, many businesses were able to prepare for Winter Storm Jonas. Some cancelled shifts, sending out notifications to workers via automated phone trees, emails, text messages and other communication forms warning them to stay away until the storm had passed. This not only kept workers safe by keeping them out of the dangerous winter weather, but it also limited the liability of some businesses by shutting down production until the danger had passed.
Not every business could afford to shut down. For example, utility companies, emergency services, public agencies, and others that provide services people depend upon had no choice but to keep serving their customers regardless of the weather conditions. Yet many businesses and organizations were able to bring in additional supplies, products and equipment so that they could continue to operate throughout the storm.
In all, the storm killed at least 18 people and caused millions of dollars in damaged property, lost productivity, and downtime. But just about everybody agrees that it could have been much, much worse. Local, state and federal governments had storm plans in place that worked to protect the majority of people, businesses and property.
Businesses that were prepared for this kind of disruptive weather event could rely upon their absence management and emergency action plans to keep workers away and stop production, or prepare to keep going through the worst of the winter weather, depending on their requirements.
Having an absence management system in place before disaster strikes will not only keep your employees and business safe, but also help you minimize your losses and maximize your productivity, regardless of the severe weather conditions.
Careful planning for such things as blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes, tsunamis, violent thunderstorms and other dangerous weather events is essential for today’s successful businesses. While you can’t do anything to change the weather, your business can have a workforce management plan that can do a lot to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
Employee Call-Off Line
Requiring your employees to come to work in dangerous weather conditions isn’t just short-sighted, it also may be illegal. Many businesses today will designate a point person or a team to monitor reports of incoming severe weather. If there is a violent storm, blizzard or other potentially dangerous weather event heading their way, they can implement an emergency action plan that includes an employee call-off line.
This absence management notification system can automatically put into place a series of steps designed to protect both workers and the business, as well as limiting the business’s liability. This can include such things as temporarily cutting production shifts, notifying employees to stay home, and taking steps to protect physical property such as boarding up windows or placing sandbags in areas known to flood.
In emergency weather situations, important decisions need to be made. Many companies will delegate one person or a team to be the go-to decision-makers for the organization. This can be ownership, management , human resources directors, or a combination of all three. Once plans are made quickly and decisively, a communication system is in place to spread the word down the line throughout the organization.
Winter Storm Jonas may have been a historically bad storm, but it’s not the last time extreme weather will threaten the productivity of businesses. Being prepared by having a workforce management plan in place before disaster strikes will only improve your ability to respond to potentially dangerous situations.