Preparing for an Active Storm SeasonThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated that over the last 30 years the annual number of named storms and hurricanes are trending upward. We’ve written this article to help you plan, prepare, and practice a disaster readiness plan for your business and employees. This also includes a continuity plan for employees returning and reopening your business after a storm.
Make A Plan
Make a plan and ask your staff for their suggestions. Before finalizing, practice your plan several times with all staff, and review its effectiveness. Once your plan is complete, conduct several drills at the start of hurricane season (June) and at least once a month during the season (through November). This ensures that everyone is familiar with the plan, their role, and can execute the plan successfully without thinking about it.
Your plan should cover the following topics:
Your Storm Plan
2. Batten Down the Hatches
4. Returning Home
5. Damage Assessment
6. Returning to Work
Your Business Continuity Plan
Your business continuity plan may include reviewing:
- Contracts - Do they cover entitlement time extensions for weather-related delays? If not, consider adding this to all future contracts and address how delays will be determined and administrated.
- Insurance - Make an appointment with your agent now to review policies, coverages, assessed values, amounts and deductibles for your business and your personal policies. Discuss business interruptions and Builders Liability Insurance to cover damages at building sites and what situations are covered such as fire, tornadoes, lightening, hail, ice, water damages, etc. Builders Liability insurance does not normally cover natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, or hurricane damages, especially in coastal regions. Confirm if you are covered or not for these situations. If not, discuss if coverage is available and at what level.
- The number of employees on payroll and the roles they will have after returning to work. Some employees may not return to work so have a contingency plan.
- Subcontractors’ Insurance - Discuss to find out what coverage they have and for how much. Confirm if floors and slabs are insured, and make sure their policies are current and paid up.
- Equipment - Move or store at inland or high ground jobsites.
- Best Practice - Develop a checklist for yourself of things you need to do before, during, and after the storm. Store it on a cloud location and your cell phone.
It Takes a Village
Assemble a team that you can trust to remain calm in emergencies and will fulfill the leadership responsibilities you assign to them. Make sure that each person understands their responsibilities, and ask each privately if they are willing to be on the team. When a natural disaster is forecast, most people will instinctively be in a rush to safeguard.
Communication Is VitalOutline how your company will communicate. Let them know that you're available 24/7 if something comes up.
- An Emergency email group of all employees’ private email addresses. Everyone will check their private emails during a disaster, and not all employees may have company email accounts.
- A text group consisting of all employees’ private cell phone numbers. You may want to consider including another group for key vendor communications.
- A company Facebook page that is used only as part of the disaster plan, not to promote your business, but as a means to connect with your employees and their families. It’s a great way for employees to check in with each other to let their co-workers know that they are safe, or need help, and where they are. This should be a public page in case emergency agencies, vendors, insurance companies, media outlets, and clients want to check in also. It’s also a good way to communicate after the storm has passed, for information about returning to work.
Keep in touch with key vendors
Severe weather can affect your vendors that you rely on for your business just as they rely on your business.
Update your clients on current and upcoming jobs. You don’t want to lose a job or be sued because of a lack of communication. They’re probably aware that your business is interrupted, but a phone call or email offers a lot of good will and reinforces your professionalism.
Batten Down the HatchesIf you’re a coastal resident, you probably know the drill all too well:
- Secure plywood on doors and windows
- Get plenty of sandbags, and put them in place
- Charge up cameras, walkie-talkies, phones, laptops, extra batteries and other electronics
- Place fresh batteries in flashlights and lanterns
- Charge power equipment
- Backup all important documents, insurance policies, financial information, and data files to a cloud location and your laptops
- Photo-document your office interior and exterior, company vehicles, and equipment, including all equipment off-site for insurance purposes
- Restock first-aid kits
- Have everyone take personal items home
- Turn off gas and water
- Have heavy-duty gloves available
- Stock up on bottled water, canned goods, and non-perishables. Store in your vehicle or home.
Backup All DataAt the beginning of hurricane season, decide what data needs to be backed up to a cloud. This may also include scanning critical documents and storing to a cloud-based server. As the season progresses, consider backing up data daily. There are many automated cloud backup services that are affordable and effective at keeping your data backed up.
Don’t Wait to EvacuateMany businesses waited to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina. It was a costly decision that contributed to billions of dollars in damages, and proved fatal to many.
A plan for business continuity is just as important as disaster preparedness and response plans. In your business continuity plan, list:
- Important phone numbers including clients, vendors, subcontractors, insurance agents, bank(s), attorneys, and payroll system
- Insurance-related information
- How to determine if a property is safe to enter
- When and how to document damages. (Be sure to have current photos of office, jobsites, equipment, company vehicles, and assets taken before the storm.)
- When and how to salvage items
- The locations of essential documents and electronic files, and how to retrieve them
- The place where the business will conduct critical activities if the building suffers damage
Damage AssessmentBe Prepared to Operate Remotely.
It’s highly likely that you may be unable to enter your office or visit jobsites as a hurricane or its remnants approach, and for several days or weeks after. Roads may be closed, areas flooded, or employees unable or unwilling to leave their homes or shelters.
Therefore, it’s a good idea as part of your business contingency plan to be able to operate the critical business components remotely.
Returning to WorkBefore visiting any jobsites, use this easy-to-read resource from FEMA. “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance All-Hazards” for 2021 which provides invaluable information on safety directions and is useful in developing your plan.
Until the storm has passed, you don’t know what you’ll find at your office and jobsites. Before you can consider picking up where you left off at a jobsite, carefully walk the neighborhood before the site.
Before making any repairs or beginning work, make sure that it is understood between you and your client who is responsible for repairs and clean-up. Do not allow subcontractors to visit any jobsites unless you accompany them. And, always, notify the owner before going on-site. Also contact their insurer before making repairs.
Make a video or shoot photos during your first post-storm site inspection. Include the surrounding area as well as the jobsite. Document the damage, project condition and status. Your primary concern should be the structural integral, formwork, scaffolding, and equipment damage. Bracing, level supports, and bolt anchors may be fractured or displaced by high winds.
Your second priority is removing standing water. You should have enough dewatering equipment including pumps, hoses, pipes, intake strainers, and foot valves on hand. Don’t forget to check the condition of fuel standard safety cans for gas-powered equipment.
- Carefully inspect all electrical conditions and junction boxes before powering up the site.
- Double check all grounding.
- Use a receptacle tester to help detect common wiring problems in standard receptacles.
- Be extra aware of extension cord placement and condition. Use 3-way GFCI cords for extra protection.
- Expect the unexpected.
You’ve done all you can do. You’ve planned, prepared, practiced, and you’re ready. The most important thing when a hurricane strikes is that your employees, their families, and your family are safe.
If you are separated from friends and family during a storm, please contact your Red Cross or go to their web page where you can login and register yourself as lost or looking for loved ones. Add the websites below to your emergency plan and share with all employees.
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare | http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php