Is Your Business Hurricane Ready?
Weather the Storm and Protect the Environment with a Hurricane Preparedness Plan
With hurricane season in full swing, it’s time to reevaluate your company’s hurricane preparation and response plan. While most businesses have established evacuation and shelter-in-place plans to protect employees, steps to protect the environment are equally essential. Environmental impacts of hurricanes and other severe storms can be far-reaching: crude oil released into the Gulf waters, toxic chemicals emitted into the atmosphere, and tanks filled with hazardous and volatile materials and gases have been swept into the marsh by powerful storms.
PEP members know taking proactive steps to prepare for unpredictable storms can save lives and protect the environment. “Our clients count on us to help with their safety planning, and although every disaster is different, being prepared and having a plan in place provides a good starting point. A sound disaster debris management plan will expedite removal of debris — an important sign of recovery after a storm. Expedited debris removal will reduce dangers of fire, personal injury, and potential risk of disease from chemicals, waste, and debris. As comedian Ron White says ‘it’s not that the wind is blowing, it’s what the wind is blowing’. Have a plan, be prepared and keep your debris under control.” Gary Blake, Safety Plus, Inc.
Employee Safety and Communication
Employee safety is the first priority in storm preparation. While your business hurricane plan may be evacuation, it is always best to plan and train for the unexpected and to anticipate that people may react unexpectedly. Keep emergency stocks including a three-day supply of food, water, and medical supplies to weather storms in place if necessary. Designate any key personnel who would remain in place in the event of a storm and formalize their responsibilities and procedures.
Stay in Touch. Communication is critical before, during, and after emergencies. Prepare and discuss your business hurricane response plan with all employees and make sure everyone understands their responsibilities. Establish a call-down procedure for storm warning and post-storm communications. Plan a rendezvous time and location in the event communications are disrupted. Establishing an update hotline is often helpful for larger companies to allow employees to check in daily for company updates in the event a facility is closed for longer periods of time due to storm damage, or access to the facility is limited.
Employees Personal Preparedness. The same careful planning and consideration for severe weather events and other emergencies should be applied to their personal situation as well. Encourage your employees to create personal emergency preparedness plans for their families, including communications, supplies, and preserving key documents. Their plans should also address the potential environmental damage from their at home collection of detergent, pesticides, propane gas, oil and other household hazardous materials.
Mitigate Environmental Impacts
Many of the environmental impacts caused by storms, floods and winds can be mitigated through proper planning and preparation. Take time to establish a mitigation plan for your business and organize a list of steps to take when severe storms and events threaten.
Hazards. Assess potential environmental threats in the facility and on-site. Are hazardous or volatile chemicals, gases, liquids, or other materials stored or maintained on site and if so, how? Can they be relocated off-site prior to a storm? In addition to chemicals, gases and liquids, assess other materials and infrastructure for potential hazards. The force of hurricane winds and water can lift, float or propel equipment and other items, turning them into damaging projectiles. Consider how raw materials, equipment, and other materials can be better secured or transported off site and take the steps mentioned above to reduce on-site inventory of hazardous materials. “Aaron Oil degreases all dike containment areas, sumps and piping troughs so that no petroleum hydrocarbons are discharged in the event of massive flooding. Auxiliary pumps and clean hoses are also deployed at stations to control and contain severe rainfall. Additionally, staff are assigned to be on-site throughout hurricane events to monitor the situation and respond to any issues. Plus, we are able to monitor the site remotely with viewing cameras.” Mitch Mace, Aaron Oil.
Debris Reduction. Following a hurricane, flood, or extraordinary storm event, vast amounts of debris are set adrift. Some cannot be avoided, such as downed trees or washed out structures. Much of the material carried away in floodwaters can be better secured or stored at higher elevations to prevent washing away. This not only reduces environmental contamination, but also reduces the use of business capital and saves money by not having to remediate spills or replace materials.
Create a Hurricane Preparation Checklist. Once potential hazards and environmental contaminants are identified, prepare a checklist for securing and abating hazards as a storm approaches, such as preparing storage tanks, relocating equipment, securing supplies, and calling utility services to turn off electricity, water, and gas. Include a detailed Emergency Response Plan to deal with potential chemical spills and other environmental contamination and debris.
After the Storm
Be prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario after a storm. A thorough practiced and updated Emergency Response Plan will help organize the steps to recover from damage.
Emergency Preparedness. Your business should already have a plan in place to contain spills and prevent environmental contamination. This information should be part of your water-proof emergency documentation and include important contact information for emergency recovery services and responsive local agencies and services. Make sure the response team knows what to do in the case of storm-related storage failures and other emergency situations. Plan, train, update and train again.
Back-Up Power. Flood waters and hurricane-force winds commonly cause power failures. Have a back-up plan to provide electricity during post-storm recovery. You may have to operate without power for up to two weeks.
Service Disruptions. In addition to power failures, other service disruptions may impede business operations. Water and sewer services may be interrupted. Have a list of water and sanitation providers so you are ready to call in services as needed. It is also a good idea to store emergency supplies of potable water and sanitation supplies. Bank closures and ATM failures may make access to cash difficult. Make plans to operate with limited cash access and secure sufficient cash prior to the storm.
Recovery Services. Make a list of vendors that provide disaster recovery services. The quicker you are able to call for assistance, the higher up on the waiting list you will be.
Studies have found that forty percent of small businesses closed due to hurricane damage do not reopen. Take steps to prepare now so your business can be part of the sixty percent that recover and reopen.