Hurricane preparedness guide
Hurricanes are the most powerful storms on earth. They vary in wind strength, size, central barometric pressure, storm surge flooding potential, and destructive capacity. Depending on the storm, the devastating perils a hurricane can inflict on an area include extraordinary high force winds (such as Hurricanes Andrew and Camille), storm surge* damage (such as Super Storm Sandy) and massive flooding (such as Hurricane Katrina). Each one of these perils exists within every hurricane, and each, on its own, can be devastatingly destructive. Each hurricane can bring with it one, or all of these perils, along its vicious path.
The Saffir-Simpson Scale classifies hurricanes into five categories based on wind speed, central pressure, and damage potential. “Category three” and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes, although categories “one” and “two” are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full attention.**The official Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30.
*A storm surge is a large dome of water often as wide as 100 or more miles that sweeps across the coastline where a hurricane makesland fall. The surge of high water topped with waves creates devastating destruction. The stronger the hurricane and the shallower the offshore water, the higher the storm surge will be. Along the immediate coastline, storm surge is the greatest threat to life and to property.**Source - Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Even though the impact of hurricanes is largely unpredictable, there are ways to prepare your organization and your employees. By better understanding the many concerns associated with such a threat, planning ahead, and training your staff, you can better manage weather-related risks. Every susceptible organization should develop a hurricane preparedness and response plan customized to its unique needs, location, construction, operations, and resources.
Hurricane watches and warnings
The National Weather Service announces both hurricane watches and warnings.
- A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible but not imminent.
- A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24–36 hours.
A hurricane’s intensity, speed and direction can change rapidly, so the threat to particular areas may also change quickly. Organizations in the projected path of a hurricane should regularly monitor radio and television news casts for updated information and instructions. When the National Weather Service issues a hurricane warning, emergency conditions should be declared by your organization.
Is your organization at risk?
- Evacuation zones are coastal areas in which there is a danger from both strong winds and storm surge. You should take note that if your organization is located in an evacuation zone, you need to plan for both high winds and high water
- Contingency zones are areas (often many miles inland) which can be affected by high winds from major hurricanes
Organizations located within either zone should have a hurricane preparedness plan that includes a plan of action for your staff and organization to be ready for this type of disaster.
Part of understanding your organization’s vulnerability is having a geographical and infrastructure knowledge of your area.
- Do you know the elevation of your organization above sea level?
- Your facility’s elevation is a major factor in determining your vulnerability to flooding (storm surge or by area streams and waterways). Chances are that your area’s local emergency office has hurricane planning information that will outline local areas that are likely to be affected by storm surge according to various categories of hurricanes. Information on flooding susceptibility can be obtained from property site plans, city building officials and city or county floodplain administrators. If you find your organization is vulnerable to flooding, your hurricane preparedness plans should also include evacuation plans.
- Do you know your evacuation routes?
- Depending on the projected path and the severity of a hurricane, your local officials may recommend evacuation for those in an evacuation zone and possibly in a contingency zone. If your organization is located in one of these zones, it may have to be evacuated.
- Your organization should obtain information from your local emergency management office on which evacuation route(s) you should use in the event of an evacuation. You should get an estimate of travel times on each route and potential problem areas, such as low lying areas or bottlenecks along the evacuation route(s) that might impact your evacuation.
Before the hurricane season begins, it’s a good idea to review your insurance policy with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage.
It's all about preparation
By taking a proactive approach to plan before hurricane season, your organization can have a plan that will have you prepared should a disaster strike. Nearly 40% of small businesses that close due to hurricane damage do not reopen. By dedicating some time to prepare your organization ahead of time, you can help avoid the chances of your organization becoming another statistic.
All organization’s subject to hurricanes should develop basic hurricane awareness among your staff and end-users. You are responsible for the planning to protect your staff and facilities. The best defense against a hurricane is being prepared and there are a number of steps you can take.
- Arrange for cleanup, repair, and restoration services for your facility with reputable firms outside of your immediate area, well in advance. This is very important since many organizations will probably be calling upon the same local clean-up services; you’ll be well-served by planning for your organizations clean-up beforehand.
- Establish a hurricane preparedness and response plan customized to your organization’s unique location, construction, operations and resources.
- Consider establishing a mutual aid agreement with an organization similar to yours that is located outside the storm’s impact area to share resources and serve as a possible evacuation site.
- Photograph the exterior and interior of your building as well as the contents. Store photos in a protected location, or email them to yourself to help document any loss.
- Notify your employees of the procedures that will take place in the event a hurricane warning or watch is issued.
- Address access to your facility after the storm. This may require contacting public authorities for official identification badges to enter what may become a restricted area.
- Decide which staff members will need to carry out hurricane preparations. Since some of your staff may need to assist their own families or relatives in evacuating from threatened areas, you‘ll need to determine who you can reasonably expect will be available. In all likelihood, you will probably need all of your building maintenance staff to prepare your facility for a hurricane. Make sure your list of employee phone numbers is regularly updated and ensure each department head has a copy.
- Develop a simple written plan which incorporates a set of Hurricane Task Assignments specifically for your facility and for your staff. Input regarding the tasks to be accomplished should be solicited from all of the various departments at your facility.
- Plan the particular tasks which must be completed to protect your facility during a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning: How will each be achieved, and who will perform them?
- It is probably necessary to develop teams for many tasks – a team to board up, a team to secure exterior equipment, and so forth. Training may be required for staff members using unfamiliar equipment.
- As soon as you complete your plan, and at the beginning of each hurricane season, outline and familiarize your staff with your hurricane response plan. Be certain that everyone knows their task assignments and make updates with any staff turnover.
- Make sure you have updated contact information for all of your staff so you can reach them after the storm. Provide a primary and backup telephone number for your employees to call for information. Consider using a phone number located a safe distance from the storm.
- Have your roof inspected every two years, and make necessary repairs and modifications to comply with local building codes. Have your roof evaluated to ensure it can withstand a storm.
- Inspect roof edging strips, gutters, flashing, covering, and drains.
- Hire a tree professional to inspect trees around your facility and have them prune branches and remove trees that are diseased or unstable or have the potential to fall and damage your facility.
- Anchor and brace any large furniture such as bookshelves, filing cabinets, etc., to wall studs.
- Secure your facility utilities such as heaters, gas tanks and water heaters. Raise them to higher locations if flooding is a concern.
- If your organization is in a storm surge area prone to flooding, or appears to be unsafe during high winds, you may have to completely evacuate. Identify essential business records that should be relocated and decide where you will take them. Back up essential computer records to disks, thumb drives, or cloud storage services and move these backups to safe storage.
- Determine what furnishings or major equipment will need to be protected or moved and document how you plan to accomplish it. You’ll have to decide if you want to try to protect them in place or move them out of the area at risk. Determine what manpower and any equipment you will need to get this done. If you’re planning to protect in place, move your equipment to well-protected interior rooms or the floors above the anticipate flooding level.
- Identify outside furnishings and equipment such as trash cans, signs, furniture, awnings, etc., that could be blown about and become “deadly projectiles” and determine either how they will be secured or where they will be stored.
- Anchor any portable storage building – securely!
- Make sure that any of your facility’s rooftop equipment such as air conditioning units, antennas, exhaust fans or turbines are firmly secured or strapped down to the roof structure (e.g., the joists) to withstand high winds.
- If your facility has a composition roof using gravel (or other stone) covering, remove the loose gravel to help prevent stones being blown off of the roof into unprotected windows.
- Consider investing in storm shutters. If you do not have storm shutters, ensure you have the necessary tools to board up windows and brace doors. The first priority in protecting your facility will be to keep the wind out. Wind pressure and windblown debris can break windows and blow in doors. Sliding glass doors, large picture windows, skylights, French doors, inward opening double doors, and garage doors are particularly vulnerable. Such tools as a circular or hand saw, a drill with appropriate bits, a hammer or nail gun, hand or power-driven screwdriver, and a wrench may be needed. Nails will be sufficient on wood-framed windows and doors but screws or bolts and washers are necessary for metal-framed windows and doors.
- Ensure that your staff knows how to turn off the utilities (gas, water, electricity) for your buildings at the main shut off switches.
*Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.