Meteorologists typically release the first projections of the upcoming winter forecasts in early September. Long-range seasonal predictors are regional generalities based on a combination of historical patterns and current scientific evidence. However, despite the potential season forecast, it only takes one significant winter weather event at your facility to disrupt business operations and affect profitability.
Winter storms cause power outages, dangerously cold temperatures, supply disruptions, safety hazards that endanger the lives of people, and potentially impair access to key infrastructure. In 2011, a snowstorm hit Atlanta during the college football BCS national championship. Some businesses experienced supply chain disruptions, while others had to close altogether. One restaurant /pub owner estimated the storm cost him an estimated $50,000 in losses. The lessons learned included purchasing a generator, securing nearby hotel rooms for staff to eliminate staffing shortages, and evaluating supply chain availability.
Scenario-specific emergency response and business continuity plans can minimize operational downtime in the event of severe winter weather. The ability to identify, prioritize, and respond to natural phenomena is critical for preventing the potential for large financial losses and damage to reputation.
For business continuity planning purposes, a business impact analysis (BIA) should be conducted prior to seasonal risks. A BIA can identify key business process that may be interrupted during a natural disaster. Once these processes are identified, mitigation strategies can be implemented to reduce the potential impact resulting from loss of facilities, infrastructure, personnel, or supply chain.
For predictable naturally occurring events, such as the onslaught of winter weather, planning can be accomplished before the incident occurs. Such planning should include, but not limited to the following:
- Conduct awareness training, including facility evacuation routes and procedures
- Coordinate activities with local and state response agencies
- Communicate recommended Community Evacuation routes
- Procure emergency supplies
- Monitor radio and/or television reports
- Secure facility
- Secure and backup critical electronic files
Understand the following winter storm warning terms:
- Winter weather advisory: expect winter weather conditions to cause inconvenience and hazards.
- Frost/freeze warning: Expect below-freezing temperatures.
- Winter storm watch: Be alert; a storm is likely.
- Winter storm warning: Take action; the storm is in or entering the area.
- Blizzard warning: Seek refuge immediately! Snow and strong winds, near-zero visibility, deep snowdrifts, and life-threatening wind chill.
Business owners and/or response teams should incorporate the following concepts into planning for winter weather:
- Monitor news and weather reports on television or the radio (with battery backup)
- Alert employees or others on-site that severe weather is approaching and communicate expectations
- Be aware of the dangers posed by ice and snow falling from equipment and buildings, mediate if possible
- Identify dangers posed by cold weather on exposed piping (hazardous releases, flooding, etc)
- Prepare and insulate exposed piping
- Contract snow removal services or obtain the necessary equipment (snow shovels, ice scrapers, rock salt, tire chains, etc.)
- Ensure that company vehicles have a full tank of gas and are functioning properly (heater, deicing fluid, antifreeze levels, windshield wipers)
- Ensure flashlights are in proper working order and have additional batteries on site.
- Monitor ice and snow accumulation on any onsite tanks, sheds, or buildings
- Obtain generators, if necessary, to re-power facilities or necessary equipment
- If appropriate, leave water taps slightly open so they drip continuously to prevent pipes from freezing.
- Understand and implement cold weather response techniques for product spills, as released product may flow under ice or snow.
- Establish and maintain communication with personnel
- Consider limiting vehicle traffic
- Maintain building temperature at acceptable levels and understand safety measures if using space heaters.
- Notify supervisors if facility(s) loose power or is otherwise unable to operate