Surviving Odette: 5 Important Lessons in Disaster Preparedness for Tech BPOs

Last December 16, 2022, a devastating tropical cyclone passed through the Philippines, making 10 landfalls across the central Visayan islands. Typhoon Odette wrought massive damage to the nation’s second-largest urban center, Cebu City, where LegalMatch Philippines centers its base of operations. For nearly a month, residents struggled with the massive shutdown of power, water, and telecommunications. Internet connectivity issues crippled many IT-BPO operations. This in turn resulted in huge income losses and unemployment. 

How did LegalMatch Philippines survive Typhoon Odette? Here are five lessons that we learned in disaster preparedness as a tech BPO. 



1   Prevent Data Loss via Cloud-based Computing and Communications 

As one of the top global destinations for quality professionals for Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing solutions, the Philippines has seen a steady boom of investments in startups and companies in recent years. These companies served clients in the United States, Europe, and Australia, among others. Many handled sensitive or important data for their clients. Tech BPOs took on the development, production, and maintenance of their software solutions and online platforms. Loss of data and work files pose significant impact to client operations. 

In a talk with the LegalMatch Philippines IT systems administrator, he said that it was fortunate that the company had been using Cloud-based data storage and communication channels ever since the pandemic forced them into remote work. By the time Typhoon Odette came through, all the employees had transitioned to working with platforms such as MS Teams and Sharepoint.  


2   Ensure that there is Enough Cash on Hand before the Typhoon Hits 

The super typhoon not only plunged the city into darkness for more than three weeks, it also shuttered many businesses, including banks. Residents lined up at the few ATM machines that were functional for hours on end, at times leaving without cash because it had run out. 

The LegalMatch Philippines finance team faced difficulty in releasing salaries. The typhoon had struck on the day that they were supposed to start processing the payroll. Usually, they just credited amounts to the employees’ bank accounts. But the latter requested that their pay be released in cash. This is because local establishments insisted on accepting only cash. Banks could not cater to the volume of ATM withdrawals daily.  As a disaster preparedness measure, the finance department should ensure that there is enough cash on hand before a potential catastrophe happens.  



3   Explore Options for Power and Internet Connectivity 

The lifeblood of any tech company providing professional services to clients abroad is its employees. But how can employees work without electricity, internet, or even a mobile phone network? For Legalmatch employees in Cebu, this was the scenario in the first two weeks after the storm.  

In less-damaged areas and neighborhoods, remote workers celebrated the return of their mobile network signal, only to discover it gone again in a few hours. Often, the unwitting culprits were government workers clearing fallen trees, posts, wires, and cables.  

LegalMatch Philippines rented out 3 big rooms in a co-working hub that accommodated all of its Cebu-based employees. They were invited to use them up to a month after the disaster. The hub provided fiber internet and individual workstations with electric outlets and ergonomic chairs. To those who were too far from the hub but had access to better telecom signals, portable WIFI modems were purchased and sent.  



4   Give Aid and Support to Staff and their Families 

Aside from the power and connectivity issues that rendered them unable to work, affected employees had to ensure food, drinking water, and other needs of their families. It was especially difficult for those with small children, elderly parents and persons with disabilities. 

Legalmatch Philippines allowed all of its Cebu-based employees, to take paid leaves in the first week after the typhoon to attend to their families. Loans were made available too, ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 pesos per employee. These were payable up to 3-6 months via salary deductions. A 2,000-peso cash gift was also given, which was fitting considering that the storm happened a week before Christmas. 


5   Organize a Disaster Preparedness & Response Committee 

While most company policy manuals contain sections dictating what to do during emergencies, there usually isn’t an internal committee that oversees this. It would be good to organize one, ideally, composed of the leads of departments or work teams. These individuals could assist in expanding or improving the company’s emergency preparedness and response plans, taking into consideration the contexts and needs of their subordinates.  

The Human Resources Department would do well to check if there are employees who have training and experience in first aid and disaster risk reduction management and tap them to lead the committee.  


Planning for Disaster Resilience 

The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. It ranked third in the 2018 World Risk Index and tops the list of the countries most affected by climate change in 2019. In the last decade, no year has gone by without the Philippines suffering the onslaught of Category 4-5 tropical cyclones. Warmer temperatures in the western Pacific Ocean support their formation. 

While rescue and aid are often the focus of counter-disaster planning, time and effort should be invested into disaster preparedness for tech BPOs. The severity of impact is out of our control, but preparing resources, and conducting business continuity planning and training will ensure that we will be disaster-resilient: able to bounce back from the disaster faster, better and stronger than ever. 

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