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Seas of Change
Seas of Change
Planning for resiliency in the wake of a natural disaster

As the Earth's temperature warms, so do the seas.  And, as Coastal Virginians, we need to be prepared.  Long-term sea level rise will affect our resources – from infrastructure and transportation to agriculture, recreation and human health – so, what’s your plan?

If your response is “I don’t have one” or “sea-level rise doesn’t affect me or my business,” keep reading. 

A business continuity plan (BCP) is essential to any business.  The plan provides practical strategies to follow in a crisis.  It’s also a plan that needs to be reviewed on a regular basis.  Just putting together a plan and storing it on the shelf won’t cut it.  Like the tide (pun intended), plans should be continually changing in response to factors within – and out of – your control.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea level is rising at an increased rate and isn’t giving in anytime soon. With the majority of Americans living and working in coastal states, rising water levels can have potentially large impacts.

Here’s why:

  • Flooding causes more damage to businesses than any other natural disaster.
  • Rising sea levels will likely impact waterfront hotels, restaurants and resort areas.
  • Low-lying areas are more likely to be inundated with some neighborhoods being completely underwater.
  • Coastal building, infrastructure and military facilities are at particular risk due to the intensity of hurricanes and accompanying storm surge.
  • Locations that are at elevations of less than five feet, such as military bases, could be regularly submerged.

So, if you haven’t thought about a business continuity plan, it’s time to develop one or review your current plan.  Either way, make sure it includes a flood resilience action plan. 

As you’re reviewing or developing your plan, keep these five key components in mind:

  1. Resource identification – What resources do you have at your disposal to deal with disasters? List some alternative options to continue business, including the advantages and disadvantages of each as well as the cost for each option.
  2. Documentation Management - Make sure you have organized versions of your records both digitally and hard copy; have them updated regularly and kept offsite.  Consider cloud storage for your electronic records.
  3. Collaboration– Conduct a coordinated drill with other business owners and share plans and best practices with your stakeholders.
  4. Social media plan – Plan to leverage social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to communicate your status.  In some instances this may be the only way you’re able to send or receive communication to customers, stakeholders and employees.
  5. Communication and review process – Make sure you communicate to your employees and key stakeholders that you have a plan and practice it on a regular basis – just like the old fashioned fire drill.  The more you practice it, the smoother the process will be should an emergency actually occur.

If you’re still not sure your business needs a BCP, keep this in mind - 57% of small businesses have NO disaster recovery plan.  And for those that do, 90% percent of businesses spend less than one day per month reviewing and maintaining them.  Twenty-five percent of small to mid-sized businesses do not reopen following a major disaster and the median cost of downtime is $3,000 per day.  Is that something your business can afford or be willing to risk?  

Once businesses accept rising sea levels as a real threat like any other natural disaster and build a plan around its potential effects, it will increase their ability to be resilient.

So while it might sound like a daunting task and require additional resources to develop, businesses can’t afford not to invest in a BCP that addresses the changing climate and its effects on operations.  To get started on your plan - or for a refresher on your current plan – check out the free online resources at and  Now is the time to take action.

Bert Conley, a 25 year veteran of the USAF Reserves and former police officer, is the regional director of Security, Risk and Safety for Cox Communications Virginia.  Bert holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is a graduate of the FBI Command Institute for Law Enforcement Executives at Princeton University.  You may contact Bert at for additional BCP information and resources.

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