Recently, Los Angeles County Mayor Michael D. Antonovich requested county departments to report their state of preparedness, response planning, and recovery capabilities for the potential impacts of El Niño. In early September, NOAA released its monthly El Niño forecast, which indicated that this year’s El Niño could be one of the top three on record. “The news is that we now have a strong El Niño with a 95 percent chance El Niño will last through the winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Based on historical records, a strong El Niño has different impacts on various regions. Certain regions, such as southern California, typically receive excess rain and storms, while others will see less. While the forecast of more rain is good for the drought-ridden counties, any excess weather phenomenon can create natural disasters. Companies must ensure emergency preparedness and response measures are up-to-date and effective.
According to NOAA, El Niño typically present the following scenarios:
- Wetter weather to southern California
- Cooler and wetter weather to the southern United States
- Warmer weather to western Canada and southern Alaska
- Drier weather to the Pacific Northwest
- Cooler weather to northern Canada
The Los Angeles County preparedness report will include the status of capacity at the County's flood-control facilities and a plan for maximizing storm water capture and retention. “With a forecasted El Niño season approaching, we will be directing county departments to take every precaution necessary to protect life and property,” Antonovich said.
Countries around the globe are mimicking L.A. County’s lead in preparing for potential El Niño impacts. Individual companies should also follow suit. While the severity of impacts will vary depending on location, emergency management and response protocols should be an ongoing effort.
Severe weather situations, such as those produced by an El Niño phenomenon, can result in the loss or temporary disruption of one or more of the following necessary key business resources:
- IT Applications/Systems
- Supply Chain
Weather-specific planning should be implemented for historically high-risk areas. However, the following general severe weather preparedness measures should be included in an overall emergency management program to prepare or respond to affected operations.
- Establish, verify, and exercise communication plans
- Verify contact details and identify communication procedures with employees, emergency personnel, critical business unit leaders, and contractors
- Establish widely-accessible, yet secure response plans
- Verify availability and viability of communication equipment
- Verify Stormwater drainage compliance, if applicable
- Monitor and determine applicable response procedures based on radio, television, and/or weather reports
- Establish, verify, and exercise resource management and supply chain measures
- Coordinate exercise activities with local and state response agencies
- Evaluate equipment needs and verify availability
- Identify alternate resources and ensure availability for incidents
- Pre-select alternate delivery of critical needs in the event primary suppliers are not able to provide required services such as:
- Electrical power
- Waste Management
- Operations-specific equipment
- Conduct site-specific awareness training, including facility evacuation routes and shelter-in-place procedures
- Establish, verify, and exercise response personnel’s roles and responsibilities
- Identify employees that should remain on-site (if deemed safe), and their responsibilities
- Identify necessary minimum staffing levels and assignments necessary for recovery operations
- Ensure staff, contractors, and suppliers understand their responsibilities and recovery time objectives
- Train employees to recognize, report, and avoid hazardous chemicals impacted by severe weather
- Ensure that key safety and maintenance personnel are thoroughly familiar with all infrastructure systems, such as alarms, utility shutoffs, elevators, etc.
Unfortunately, some natural disasters provide little or no warning. In these instances, prior planning and training is of the utmost importance. While often suppressed in favor of short-term profits, budgets for pertinent emergency management initiatives should be prioritized for long-term corporate sustainability. Companies that prioritize preparedness and planning, especially in severe weather prone areas, are better equipped to minimize impacts on personnel, infrastructure, and the environment.