Designing in the Eye of the Storm

Storm on the horizon with many lightning bolts scattering downward.
How a Natural Disaster Affects Digital Industries

It’s passé to say that the digital work world never stops, but it is true…even in a hurricane. In all likelihood, for a digital workforce, such as a design and marketing firm like ours, it is even more critical to keep going, keep working and communicating through a disaster. With hurricane season just behind us, we felt the need to share what we learned.

When It Rains, It Pours

As Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and Hurricane Irma swallowed up the state of Florida, most people hunkered down or escaped, knowing that local businesses were closed, but what about those industries that work beyond the brick-and-mortar, maintaining a service that is online, 24/7 and on a national scale?

Hurricane from SpaceFor us in the digital world, like graphic designers, social media planners and online marketers, the world doesn’t stop when a natural disaster affects you, and the role we play can grow to be more important, especially for clients within the storm’s path.

Your family may be evacuating, but a client still needs livery or a logo designed for their upcoming event. You may be boarding up your father’s house, but the website is still set to launch on a specific day. We could go on and on.

Watching from Afar

On the other end of that spectrum are clients who may not be anywhere near the storm, their lives continue regularly and business doesn’t stop, yet they still require the digital service you provide. They will certainly understand your situation, but will expect you to have a backup plan to put into place; they are paying you and you must deliver.

So, while disasters bring devastation and uncertainty, it is our job as designers, marketers, what have you, to be prepared (within reason, of course).

No Internet, No Problem

So what does a designer do if the house has lost power, the internet is down and the computer is about to run out of battery? You can’t just jog to a Starbucks in 100mph wind with palm fronds and roofing shingles flying at your head. We prepare in advance, we communicate our plan and stay in contact.

Prepare!

  1. Having a plan set out with your clients ahead of schedule is crucial. No one expects for a disaster to happen to them, but they do and they will. The best thing you can do is be ready.
  2. Have your client files housed in an offsite locations so that you can access files remotely. Automated cloud storage is a perfect fail safe in these cases.
  3. Have backup internet. Expecting cable modems and DSL to work after a storm is no guarantee. Your next best option is your cell phone and using it as a hotspot. Speak to your cell phone provider about your options. Being able to get out an email may be the difference between an understanding client and an upset one.
  4. Have power. Battery packs and generators may seem like a luxury, but they are a necessity if you work in an online world and they aren’t as expensive as you think. Make sure to have enough juice to power your cell phone and/or laptop for a couple of days.
  5. Get out of dodge. While finding safer ground may not work for everyone, a digital business must plan to have some people available and online, so speak to your staff about who can reasonably get out of the disaster area and to a place where they can work.

Communicate

An iphone being held by the hands of a man. Don’t wait for the last minute to write that email or make that calling explaining the plan for when the inevitable disaster strikes. Build a file of pre-written correspondence, ready for when you get the news that a storm may be barrel down upon your state, county or city. That way you copy and paste, hit send, letting clients and/or customers that you are doing your best and will touch base with them as soon as you can. Clients will be reasonable if you keep them in the loop.

Other communiqué you can have ready:

  • We are safe.
  • You will be hearing from us soon.
  • We will be back in the office tomorrow (or Monday, etc).
  • Sorry for the delay, but we had to evacuate.
  • Stay tuned for more information.

The Aftermath

Major weather events bring unseen work-related considerations, but the end of the hurricane doesn’t necessarily mean the office is immediately back open. In the aftermath of a storm there’s always a struggle over missed work days, because no one ever thinks of the freelance graphic designer who just had to evacuate her West Palm Beach apartment.

It is our job to help our clients realize their promise, help organizations codify their ideas, and give that emotional charge even in times of crisis (on our end).

Since we opened this article with a cliche, we will close it with one. It is important to stay ahead of the storm. Also, this article was written during a hurricane evacuation.

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