Is your company prepared for a weather catastrophe? 

One of my cousins is a weather aficionado.

He had a weather-only radio growing up, can give you the definition of barometric pressure, and he really goes off the charts with enthusiasm when watches and warnings are issued in northern Illinois. I’m fairly sure he can call up a weather map on his smartphone in less than two seconds.

These last few years, his hobby has kept him busy. In the last two years here in suburban Chicago we’ve seen a 20-plus-inch snow event, near 60° readings in January and an unusually hot summer.

I experienced my own weather craziness in my travels this year for Supply House Times with a tornado near miss in Dallas and a tropical storm that brushed Panama City Beach, Fla., but hit other areas of the state much harder.

There was no near miss with Hurricane Sandy in late October. The super storm unleashed a path of destruction that folks in the New York-New Jersey area still are recovering from.

Several wholesalers I spoke with in the New York metropolitan area experienced varying degrees of damage and interruption of business. Recent Ferguson acquisition Davis & Warshow took on approximately four feet of water in its Queens distribution center and offices and closed for a week due to widespread area power outages.

Great Neck, N.Y.-based master distributor Kolson closed at lunchtime the Monday of the storm due to loss of power and did not officially reopen until the following Sunday. Kolson is located on the north shore of Long Island and was not hit nearly as hard as south shore areas.

Bayport, N.Y.-based Blackman also closed the Monday of the storm, but reopened late the next day.

“We were very fortunate all our locations remained sound, none of our inventory was compromised and most of our locations had power,”Blackman’sKevin Gordonnoted.

A storm of this magnitude brings into focus the importance of having emergency contingencies in place in the event of a natural disaster. Davis & Warshow’s technology plan enabled communication from branch to branch and Internet access was restored once its IT infrastructure relocated to an alternate company facility, helping most branches resume operations the following Monday.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Ferguson’s resources behind us,”Davis & WarshowCOODavid Finkelwrote in an email. “We could not have resumed business as quickly without their help. They have truly shown what a partnership means.”

Kolson, which still helped showroom customers via the use of flashlights (and had one customer leave a deposit on an order), taped all glass in its showroom beforehand and took comfort in its computer system being backed up to three different offsite locations.

“If something were to ever happen to the computer, we’re back up and running again,”Kolson’sDale Landysaid. “Our problem was we needed electricity to run the computer.”

Gordon noted Blackman’s Bayport headquarters is equipped with a generator in case of emergencies and employs a full-time licensed electrician who came in handy in this situation. He added Blackman’s purchasing division made provisions in advance to procure storm equipment. “All 20 of our wholesale counters were able to service the unprecedented demand that ensued,” he said.

Beaumont, Texas-basedCoburn Supply, our 2012 Supply House of the Year, is no stranger to hurricanes, having endured catastrophic ones in recent years. It created a redundant site in Longview, Texas, that houses a company-wide data backup and can act as an operations center in the event of an emergency. Coburn’s performs an annual test run at the site.

Thanks to the hard work of dedicated employees, key assistance from manufacturers and other partners, and having viable disaster recovery plans in place, companies such as Davis & Warshow, Blackman and Kolson have been able to get back to doing what they do best - helping customers.

“It’s a full three weeks after the storm,” Finkel said in mid-November. “Considering the scope of the damage, it’s a lot faster than many of us thought possible.”

With Sandy still fresh in our minds, now is the perfect time to assess your company’s preparedness in the event of a natural disaster. How prepared are you?