Back in Business

by Nate Hunter

Natural disasters occur in any season in every part of the country. Sophisticated companies have contingency or disaster recovery plans for their operations, technology and facilities — however, what if the business is retail? The ability to return to business is just as critical for retailers. It is not as simple as finding another space for employees to work.

Retailers face two key issues during a disaster: (1) loss of property, products and data; and (2) the timeframe for reopening the store. If the retail space is damaged or destroyed, it is essential to document everything from an insurance and liability standpoint in order to collect insurance money for repairs or rebuilds. Decisions must be made quickly to get the Patrick Lynchstore back in business, which is why architects are vital in assisting retail management with assessing damage and determining a course of action for rebuilding or remodeling. Developing a disaster recovery plan before a disaster occurs and assembling a disaster recovery team in advance allows retailers to act immediately when catastrophes occur.

The Team

Pre-planning is vital and the time to prepare is long before a catastrophic event. First, identify qualified members of the disaster recovery team and arrange for a team meeting either in person or via conference calls to develop the components of the plan. Ensure that members understand their roles. Have plans in place for the team to mobilize as soon as possible after the disaster, or, if there is advance warning of the disaster (e.g., a hurricane), consider bringing the entire team to a nearby location before the hurricane arrives. In 2008, the day before Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc in Houston, Texas, a Macy’s disaster recovery team flew into San Antonio. The team’s proximity before the Macys Galleriahurricane hit enabled it to survey the damaged stores as soon as it was safe to travel to Houston. Imagine how much precious time would have been lost if the company had to scramble to build a team and arrange to bring it onsite after the occurrence of a disaster.

Key members of a disaster recovery team and their responsibilities include:

  • Architects coordinate all the team members.
  • Structural engineers assess structural damage.
  • Industrial hygienists examine mold issues.
  • Vertical transportation consultants investigate escalators and elevators.
  • Roofing consultants determine if roof damage is repairable or if the roof must be replaced.
  • Engineers inspect the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
  • IT/data retrieval specialists recover data and check computers and other equipment.
  • Additionally, the client can provide valuable insight into the company’s desire for either rebuilding or closing the store during the development of the plan and after a disaster. Finally, insurance company representatives can explain any intricacies of the client’s policy as it relates to either rebuilding or demolishing the store.

After a Disaster

Macys West elevationFollowing a catastrophic occurrence, the disaster recovery team implements the recovery plan. The plan includes surveying the retail establishment to prepare a detailed report describing the nature and extent of the damage supported by photographic documentation. The report also recommends courses of remedial action to repair the building and is used to submit insurance claims. Here are a few tips to assist in executing the disaster recovery plan:

 • Secure the store as much as possible if there is advance warning of the disaster. The disaster recovery plan also should include details on protecting the property after an event, including having security personnel in place immediately afterwards to avoid further loss from theft or looting.

• Mold remediation is a priority. Work with the insurance provider to determine if the presence of mold can be thoroughly documented and immediately dealt with or if the insurance agent will have to examine the building before cleanup. Also, recognize that mold may not be present right away.

• Assume that local contractors and materials, such as glass, roofing and plywood, will be in short supply. In fact, many times local contractors are overwhelmed with handling damage to their personal and business properties. Address this in the disaster recovery plan to ensure that alternate supply sources are available.

• Ensure a supply or availability of gasoline, diesel or electricity to operate recovery equipment. The plan should also account for lodging, food and rental cars for disaster recovery team members and contractors, since these vital necessities may be in short supply. The experience of the previously mentioned Macy’s disaster recovery team shows the importance of supply preparedness. The team rented a pickup truck in San Antonio and stocked it with full gas cans to operate other vehicles and equipment. Aware of the possibility that power and running water might be unavailable, the team brought its own non-perishable food and water along with other necessary equipment.

Thorough planning is the key to smoothly and effectively implementing a disaster recovery plan.

The Architect’s Role

There are many advantages to having an architect on the disaster recovery team. Architects understand what is required to secure the site immediately to prevent further damage and injuries to team members and contractors. In addition to directing activities and coordinating the contractors, architects can assess the structural damage with the engineers, look for evidence of mold, photograph all damages and evaluate what is necessary to prepare drawings for rebuilding or remodeling. Architects create and manage all drawings and consultants during the rebuilding process. If the architect has been directly involved in the initial evaluation and therefore has firsthand knowledge of the damage, it will be quicker to create the repair documents and reopen the store. Finally, architects know and understand building codes, which change continually. An older damaged building may need to be brought up to code during repairs. An architect can assist the client in deciding whether to quickly replace the retail structure or retrofit it to meet new regulations.

By developing responses for unforeseeable events, a disaster recovery plan will help retailers prepare for the unknown. Including an architect on the team allows for detailed pre-planning before the event and expert understanding of the extent of the damage afterward. This is the best way to provide management with complete information enabling it to make the right decisions for recovery. Being proactive by creating strategies for disasters can make the difference between the lengthy closure of the retail establishment or its rapid return to profitable business.

— Andrew McQuilkin, FRDI, is the international president at Retail Design Institute and the retail leader for BHDP Architecture. Patrick Lynch is project architect for BHDP Architecture, headquartered in Cincinnati. For more information, visit

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