Stampsco plans for the inevitable in Tornado Alley

The Oklahoma company survived two recent twisters but wants contingencies in place to better help customers in the future
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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY—When your business is located in Tornado Alley, it pays to have a contingency plan, a fire and life safety company here has concluded after two F5 tornadoes roared through the vicinity in May.

Rodney Stamps, president and CEO of Stampsco, said that his company didn’t take a direct hit from the May 20 tornado that devastated nearby Moore, Okla. or from the May 31 tornado that tore through this city—which at 2.6 miles wide was the widest tornado ever recorded.

But he said the business was affected indirectly because some customers had their buildings destroyed and others lost service because of lightning strikes and power outages. Also, Stamps said, some Stampsco techs on the road had to shelter in convenient basements during the May 20 event and office employees headed to the company’s storm shelter during the May 31 storm, in which the death toll ended up exceeding 20 people.

Now, Stamps told Security Systems News in early July: “I can guarantee we’re going to have to have better contingency plans in place for disasters, because when something like that happens the service can pile up so fast and everybody needs response. And it’s not necessarily in the area that’s devastated” because such a major storm can affect the whole electrical grid.

Stampsco, founded in 2002 and with annual revenues of more than $2 million, has been named one of this city’s fastest-growing companies. It has 20 employees but services about 1,000 mostly commercial customers, so such devastating storms can put a lot of demand on staff, Stamps said.

Oklahoma is a part of the swath of the country known as Tornado Alley because such storms are frequent there. And this year’s tornado season was one of the worst, Stamps said. “To have two F5s in a matter of a couple of weeks, that is almost unheard of,” he said.

What kind of contingency plan will Stampsco put in place for such future emergencies?

“That’s a great question, especially if you have limited resources,” Stamps told SSN. “That’s what we’re actually debating right now is what we can do.”

He said initial steps include forming alliances with subcontractors and perhaps keeping more stock so destroyed equipment can quickly be replaced.

“One thing we have done is we’ve formed some strategic partnerships with subcontractors, so we can have them available if something happens,” Stamps said. “[In the event of an impending storm or other emergency], we can start making phone calls and getting the subcontractors ready to help us service the accounts.”

Some fire panels were knocked out during the storms, Stamps said, and experiences like that are now making Stampsco take a look at how much stock it should have.

“We usually try to stock enough supply to at least take care of each type of system but when you have a storm like that [it can create more demand]. So another part of our contingency plan is how much stock do we want to keep and how fast can we get everything here,” Stamps said. “Some of the access control in some of the high-profile facilities that went down, we had to overnight [deliver] all the equipment. As long as the manufacturer can get it to us in time, that’s OK, but if they couldn’t, that would be a problem.”

Also, he added, “If a fire panel is down too long, we have to call in a fire watch in, so it’s in everybody’s best interest to get that up and running quick.”

Techs in the field during a storm all have smartphones complete with a severe weather app to help protect themselves from tornadoes. “You bring it up and it will tell you exactly what’s happening and where it’s coming and it takes you to a live video feed from the news stations,” Stamps said.

The company also put in an underground tornado shelter at its office here about two years ago, he said.

“We didn’t use it during the May 20 tornado, but the May 31 one we did,” Stamps said. “It was starting to pick up and hail and it was coming our way so we were standing right next to [the shelter] ready to dive in. Half of the staff went in because they didn’t want to risk it, and the other half likes to stand outside and look around. That’s how it works. Around here you want to see the tornadoes but curiosity killed the cat. You’ve got to be careful.”