Hurricane Season is Near, is your Facility Prepared?
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observes the period from 01 June to 30 November as hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. Typically, the peak period is mid-August through late-October. Both Accuweather and Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science Tropical Meteorology Project are calling for a near- normal hurricane season. What is normal? For 2019 that amounts to around 13 named storms with 5 becoming hurricanes and 2 becoming major (winds in excess of 110mph) events. There is a bit less than 50% chance of a strike on the mainland, evenly split between the East coast and the Gulf coast (a bit less than 30% odds each).
So, I don’t need to concern myself?
As with all low probability, high consequence events proper preparation is always prudent. And while you may not have the opportunity (is that the proper perspective??) to implement the Hurricane Annex to your Continuity of Operations Plan (CoOP), it is a good opportunity to review and refine that annex.
You do have a CoOP, right? This encompasses both business continuity and recovery plans. If you do not, it cannot be emphasized enough that developing a CoOP can be vital to your organization’s ability to continue providing your core services. But this is a separate topic.
It is important to remember that hurricanes are not just coastal events. While storm surge, strong winds, and heavy rain are typically thought of as hurricane consequences, many inland areas also experience flash flooding and tornadoes.
So, what to do?
To start, NOAA’s National Weather Service states that pre-event planning should include evaluating what types of wind and water hazards can happen. Is the facility within a wind-damage zone? Is the facility in a storm surge zone? Is the facility along a normally lazy stream which is capable of flooding (even if it hasn’t before)?
Based on this assessment, look at the facility’s insurance coverage. Many victims of Hurricane Harvey were dismayed to find that their policies did not cover flood damage. Even when not in a designated high-risk flood area (in which flood insurance is required when a property is mortgaged), flood damage can leave the facility without any coverage. Perform a risk analysis then have a discussion with your insurance agent.
Check your building envelope – are there any unsecured components? Loose gutters or downspouts? Trim flapping in the breeze? Missing / loose roofing? Covers for HVAC equipment secured? Are your gutters or roof drains cleared of debris? Secure everything. (These items should have been identified in your monthly inspection – you do inspect your facility monthly, right?)
Check your grounds – secure any items which can become airborne in high winds. Secure propane tanks or any other above ground cylinders with hazardous materials so that they do not float away in a flood and potentially create even greater hazards. Make sure drains are cleared and cleaned out.
Assemble mitigation supplies. These can include sandbags and plywood and accessories to board up windows and doors. Also, pre-position items such as tarps, buckets, squeegees, and other materials to assist in cleaning up. Monitor current forecast information at https://www.nhc.noaa.gov.
Make sure you have multiple means to contact key staff / stakeholders. Decide how you are going to deal with staff whose homes have been impacted. Their first concern is going to be for their families before the organization. How will you begin the recovery steps if staff is dealing with problems at home?
Notify clients as to how you will service them after the event.
Engage a clean-up contractor from outside the area to assist with recovery. Why? Their facilities / staff will probably be impacted, too.
What about during the event?
Most likely you have secured your facility and are with your family. If you haven’t prepared, there is not much you can do at this point. Hopefully you have prepared your family for the event. Information on this can be viewed at https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.
Now comes the fun. Ensure your family is secure. Then check on staff and their families.
When appropriate go to the site. Approach the facility with caution. Do not drive through flooded roads to get there. Being swept away and drowning is one of the leading causes of deaths from hurricanes.
Once on site look for downed power lines or gas leaks. Do not approach either. Report them to the appropriate utility company.
Take a look at the building – look for obvious signs of structural damage. Yes, you are not a structural engineer, but you are looking for obvious problems.
Once inside be careful that creatures have not taken up residency. In the South alligators, snakes, and colonies of fire ants have been found inside structures. Also, be aware of energized components that should not be energized.
Contact your insurance agent and report what you have found. Contact your clean-up company and let them know the facility is accessible (assuming no structural damage). Contact staff to begin the recovery effort. Contact clients as to your recovery efforts and how you will be servicing their needs.
This is just a snapshot of how to handle a hurricane event. For more in-depth planning assistance contact us at Dowler@DowlerConstruction.com. We consult on a broad spectrum of emergency events, as well as all aspects of facilities that will turn your facilities into strategic assets to support your core mission.