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By Lance Podell

As the CEO of a small-to-midsized marketing services company with a big office in Buffalo, NY, snow is quite a familiar site. But admittedly, the record-breaking storm that unexpectedly dumped two and a half feet of unseasonable snow on the city last October 12 caught us by complete surprise.

It all began with a trip to our Buffalo office for a meeting of all managers. We had planned to fly back to New York on Thursday, but the weather changed our plans. With the snow mounting and the airport closing, we were luck enough to find a hotel room on Thursday night. As the local news began to report on the freak storm and began to talk about office closings, we knew we needed to decide before 5 am if it was going to be safe for employees to come into the office.

The power in our hotel went out at about 3 am, which meant we lost the television – our only communication link. We had cell phones and BlackBerries but wanted to preserve the battery life. In the hours that followed, we quickly learned the storm had knocked out power, immobilized traffic, grounded planes and knocked over 50 percent of the area's trees. A driving ban was put into place.

While the storm didn’t make major national headlines, it did make a significant impact on local businesses. In the weeks that have followed, I continue to hear stories of how the storm impacted other local businesses. Looking back, I will never forget my storm experience and the important lessons we learned.

Employee Safety First: With the power out and a driving ban in place, our top first priority was to establish a way to update employees about the situation. The last thing we wanted was for people to risk their safety coming into an office without power. More importantly, we wanted to know that employees wouldn’t be penalized for staying home. By taking care of the people who care about your business, you have taken the first step to getting the business back on track.

In a Digital World, You Need Hard Copy Back-up: With the internal network down, we couldn’t access the company directory to call employees. For the future, we’re going to be more prepared and have armed managers with a hard copy of the company directory that not only includes cell and home phone number, but emergency contacts for every employee as well. This goes for managers in our Buffalo, Manhattan and Florida offices. We’ve also set up an official companywide telephone chain to be used in the event of emergency.

Communicate Early and Often: To ensure we had a communication link with employees, we set up a hotline with recorded information on the storm. We dedicated a section of our company Web site to update employees on the situation (http://www.seevast.com/information.html). I sent a companywide e-mail on a regular basis with status updates and to see if we could assist with personal needs.

The Right Phone System is Key to Continuity: After several severe hurricane seasons in Florida, we decided to implement a new phone system that allowed for automatic call forwarding to our other offices. This way in the event of an emergency, all phone calls would be routed to another office.

On Friday morning, we were able to forward all calls to the New York City office. Customers calling our Buffalo office were able to reach a live person, making the situation almost transparent to customers. Employees who called the office were directed to the Seevast hotline.

Customers Have Compassion: Without calls being rerouted to our New York based-office, we knew our customers were being taken care of. However, we quickly found that once our customers were informed of the situation, most were quick to request that we need not worry and that their request was not urgent.

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Lance Podell is the CEO of Seevast.
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