As a health club operator, it’s likely you have a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for a number of scenarios, such as a member getting injured, a tornado or snowstorm.
But what if your business is at risk of being in the path of a hurricane? In that case, it’s vital for your club to have a SOP that covers exactly what needs to happen before, during and after the storm.
Recently, O2 Fitness’ hurricane SOP was put into place when Hurricane Michael hit North Carolina and South Carolina earlier this month.
According to Shawn Stewart, the COO of O2 Fitness, a number of their clubs experienced damage from the storm and flooding. But most importantly, all of their team members were OK.
“In the case of a hurricane, if you’ve never been in one, it’s scary,” said Stewart. “First and foremost, it’s about safety. The physical plant and the physical things can always be rebuilt and replaced, so it’s always better to plan around the team members’ and the members’ safety.”
In the case of this most recent hurricane, “Everyone came out OK, so it could’ve been a lot worse,” added Stewart.
Here, Stewart shared five important steps that are included in their hurricane SOP that other clubs can learn from.
STEP ONE: PLAN AHEAD
“The good thing about a hurricane is typically you have a week’s notice before it actually arrives,” said Stewart. “Other storms, they just pop up.”
As a result, there’s no excuse but to ensure you plan ahead. For O2 Fitness, this starts with identifying a point person — the individual who is responsible for making all decisions and communicating updates to the team. “Typically it would be the general manager of a club, or if it’s an entire area, it would be the area director,” said Stewart.
Next is physically preparing your club for the hurricane’s arrival. This could include boarding up windows or placing sandbags in areas at risk of flooding. “We have a SOP for the facilities team — they know a few days ahead of time to get the sandbags ready, get the physical property ready, and they just go through their checklist and prepare the clubs as much as they can for the least amount of physical damage and flooding,” explained Stewart.
The plan ahead step also includes a communication plan, for both members and employees. What channels should members and staff be keeping an eye on for updates?
“When it comes to communication, set check-in times are important,” added Stewart. “That’s one of the things we learned from our last debriefing, is we never knew when we should expect to hear from the area director. And so next time, ahead of time, we will have set check-in times.”
Stewart explained set check-in times make things easier for the area director as well, so they’re not getting peppered with dozens of questions from multiple people. It also allows the area director to focus, especially after the hurricane, when they may be putting together a damage report.
Stewart’s last tip for planning ahead? “Contact the insurance adjuster ahead of time and make sure he runs through all of his checklists,” he said. “Having done that on this last one has been a big help.”
STEP TWO: EVALUATION
According to Stewart, step two of the hurricane SOP includes evaluation during the storm. “This mainly is about updates on the weather conditions, safety of the team members and members,” he said. “Most importantly is evaluating when it’s safe to travel.”
STEP THREE: POST-STORM EVALUATION
After the storm, the first step is evaluating any damage. O2 Fitness uses an audit list that involves checking the roof, outside signs, fixtures and more for damage. “Contact the insurance agent right away — because the sooner you can the easier it is,” he said. “Especially because they’re going to want to know an estimate of some quotes on everything, and if you’re not first in line you’re going to be way down the list of people’s priorities, and it could delay getting back up and running.”
The fourth step is recovery. During this stage, O2 Fitness begins the process of getting back up and running as soon as possible.
In addition, an emphasis is placed on helping the community recover as well. “For example in Wilmington, we had one club that got power back relatively soon, quicker than most of the other Wilmington community,” said Stewart. “So before we were ready to open to be a gym, we were at least able to open to give the community access to the showers and electricity, or just to come grab a cup of coffee.”
The last step — and according to Stewart, the most important — is holding a debrief meeting, where team members share what went well, what they’d do differently, and decide what updates need to be made to the SOP manual.
“Once it’s all said and done, get everyone who was involved together and do a debrief,” said Stewart. “What worked, what didn’t work? What did we learn? What would we do different next time? What do we wish we had known at the time, that we later had to find out? And then put together a playbook — or if you have a playbook, add to it. That’s what we’ve been able to do over the years is create one and then every single time we are adding to it and adjusting to it.”
After all, there’s nothing worse than repeating mistakes — especially during a scenario like a hurricane, where lives can be at risk.
“There is a great quote that says, ‘Wise people learn from their mistakes — successful people learn from other people’s mistakes and don’t make them to begin with,’” said Stewart. “I think this is a good example of that.”
Here are more hurricane prep and recovery tips, courtesy of Stewart:
On why a point person is so vital: “Give one person the autonomy and the authority to make the decisions such as when to close, when to send team members home, what changes need to be made to schedules. I think the biggest reason why this is so important is the fear that decisions are not being made at all if there isn’t one point person. The second fear would be misinformation, or conflicting information or decisions. Everyone needs to know there is a leader who is there who knows what’s going on and has the ability to make the final say.”
On the importance of documentation: “Take before and after photos as soon as you can. Take photos when everything is running normally — things like flooring, outside signage, roofs. Get a general take of where you started.”