How MH Planning Cheated Charley

"If we have a misfortune, it's not our customers' misfortune." That's what Jack Phelan, chairman, Advanced Handling Systems (AHS), told MHM on a bright February day. He was standing outside his newly built world headquarters. Seventy-two degrees. A magnificent frigatebird drifts overhead. Dazzlingly morning light, nearly painful, reflects from the white sides of the building in Lakeland, Florida.

Months pass, September comes, and misfortune is born off the west coast of Africa. It moves west and grows into a tropical depression. Then a tropical storm. It's assigned a number. Then a name. Names carry more emotion than numbers.

Misfortune grows in intensity. Its winds surpass 70 mph. It's assigned a more fearful name. Hurricane Charley. Then came Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Ivan.

As a business owner, you prepare. You watch and wait. You don't stand still. Phelan, and the employees of AHS, had prepared from the day they built their new building. They had, in Phelan's words, a bunker mentality.

"In retrospect," says Scott Tappan, president, "we were almost in the bull's eye. Charley and Frances crossed paths [a couple weeks apart] in the state about 20 miles from our office."

When February turns to September in Florida, the Weather Channel's radar screen becomes your friend and lover. You give it serious, long looks before you turn out the lights at night. You check for mood swings and character changes before your morning coffee.

Now misfortune has its eye on you. You protect your assets, human and material.

"When we built the building," says Tappan, "we designed three interior bunkers. We had to protect historical and current files as well as data servers." AHS, recipient of this year's MHM's Value-Added Award, also backs up all data offsite to its facility in Jacksonville, Florida.

Block and poured-concrete walls were used to create bunker walls and roofs. The building's roof was designed to withstand 130 mph winds.

August 13. Charley moves inland from the southwest with winds of 100 mph.

Because his employees live throughout the Lakeland area, Tappan sent out an email to all employees, offering the office building as a safehouse. Phone-trees were developed for employees to stay in contact. Emergency numbers were sent to customers so that anyone in need of assistance would not be left alone.

Frances, part two of the double whammy, comes in from the southeast on September 1.

"You must have your emergency preparedness plan in place before the disaster strikes," advises Tappan. "When a hurricane hits, your employees' thoughts of survival are of their loved ones, not the company."

September 14. Ivan wanders through the Gulf of Mexico and glances to its right toward Tampa. In Lakeland, the people at AHS watch, but don't flinch. Today it's business as usual.

As is tradition, misfortune's name is retired.

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