The topic of severe weather and its devastating impacts continues to dominate the news headlines. Prior to forecasts and potential destructive weather patterns, companies should evaluate scenario-specific response plans in order to be prepared for naturally occurring threats. Severe weather, including derechos (powerful and extended straight line wind storms), flash-flooding, hail, tornadoes, and tropical storms can be destructive for typical business operations. Scenario-specific response plans, in conjunction with a business continuity plan, can ensure the safety of employees and company viability in the aftermath of severe storms.
When assessing risk and activation of a plan, the facility supervisor must be informed of the type of severe weather, forecasted possibilities, and potential timing of impact. If ample time is allotted, implementation of a plan may begin with activation phases. This allows for basic facility preparations to occur prior to being susceptible to weather hazard(s). Facilities should not institute exterior preparations once severe weather is imminent. If thunder is heard or lightning is seen, outdoor activities should be terminated and employees moved to safety immediately. According to The National Weather Service the following terminology is used to describe the potential forecast and/or timeline:
- Special Weather Statement: Designed to provide critical short-term hazardous weather information. The time frame of this information is six hours or less.
- Watch: Significant weather is possible within 48 hours, but not imminent.
- Advisory: Significant weather event is likely to occur in a specified area, or imminent. An advisory may be the time frame between a watch and a warning.
- Warnings: Significant weather is occurring, imminent, or likely, and is a potential threat to life and property.
Both large and small businesses can benefit from instituting mitigation measures and training efforts prior to the high-risk months. Possible planning and mitigation efforts include, but are not limited to:
- Pertinent site-specific policies and procedures should be reviewed for applicability and effectiveness.
- Obtain materials to secure windows and brace doors, if necessary. (If lumber is necessary, pre-cut wood to size, mark each panel/piece to identify location).
- Prune tree limbs from hanging over rooftops and clear gutters/downpipes
- Verify employee contact information, alternate contact information, and list potential evacuation locations.
- Develop methods for employees to receive pertinent corporate information if evacuation is conducted.
- Establish recovery contracts with suppliers.
- Routinely verify contact information and equipment availability with response resources.
- Assign and train employees on severe storm related preparedness, response, and recovery tasks.
A simple checklist can be incorporated into severe weather plans that minimize the impacts of these events.
- Monitor news and weather reports on smart phone, television, or battery operated radio
- Alert employees or others on-site that severe weather is approaching and communicate expectations (i.e. shelter in place, evacuate, facility closure)
- Review shutdown procedures and evacuation routes
- Identify structural integrity of building(s) to withstand forecasted winds
- Be aware of the dangers posed by airborne debris, equipment, and facility structures. Mitigate and secure, if possible
- Be aware of potential for product release posed by containment failures (I.e. tanks, piping, pipelines, process equipment)
- Contract tree removal services or obtain the necessary equipment to remove potential debris
- Ensure that vehicles have a full tank of gas and are functioning properly
- Obtain emergency equipment, such as generators, battery-operated radios, flashlights, lighting and additional batteries. Be prepared to acquire additional fuel if necessary, and time permits.
- Monitor tanks, buildings, or other equipment for potential damage or failure
- Obtain generators, if necessary to re-power facilities
- Establish and maintain communication with personnel in remote areas
- Communicate potential severe weather to facility personnel
- Identify secure shelter location(s) within the facility (i.e. underground shelters, interior room without windows)
- Conduct drills to ensure employees can locate and mobilize to designated shelter location(s)
- Consider limiting vehicle traffic
- Notify supervisors if facility(s) looses power, experiences storm related damage, any injuries, or if operations must be terminated
- Develop an emergency communication plan to relay specific expectations and responsibilities during the aftermath
- Identify product release dangers and shutdown procedures
- Identify data backup procedures
- Identify essential business records, backup procedures, and recover plans
- If evacuating the facility, locate and pack critical documentation (e.g. insurance, financial, legal and identification documents) in a portable waterproof container
- Identify and procure potential alternate location options and necessities for conducting critical business processes off-site.
Establishing strategies to help cope with natural disasters, such as severe storms, can limit harm, financial losses, maintain business continuity, and enable a timely recovery.