Severe Weather Preparedness
Severe weather and its devastating impacts continue to dominate the news headlines. If a tornado is on the way, does your company know what to do?
Prior to forecasts and potential destructive weather patterns, companies should evaluate scenario-specific response plans in order to be prepared for naturally occurring threats. Severe weather, such as powerful winds and storms, flash-flooding, hail, tornadoes, and tropical storms can be destructive for typical business operations.
Site-specific response plans, in conjunction with a business continuity plan, can ensure the safety of employees and company viability in the aftermath of severe weather.
When assessing the risk and activation of a plan, the facility manager must be informed of the type of severe weather, forecasted possibilities, and potential timing of impact. If ample time is allotted, implementation of a plan may begin with activation phases. This allows for basic facility preparations to occur prior to being susceptible to weather hazard(s).
Facilities should consider and institute exterior preparations, if applicable. If thunder is heard or lightning is seen, certain outdoor activities should be terminated, and employees moved to safety immediately. This would include any activities at heights, especially on steel structures, and any transfer of flammable liquids.
According to the National Weather Service the following terminology is used to describe the potential forecast and/or timeline:
- Special Weather Statement: Designed to provide critical short-term hazardous weather information. The time frame of this information is six hours or less.
- Watch: Significant weather is possible within 48 hours, but not imminent.
- Advisory: Significant weather event is likely to occur in a specified area, or imminent. An advisory may be the time frame between a watch and a warning.
- Warnings: Significant weather is occurring, imminent, or likely, and is a potential threat to life and property.
Both large and small businesses can benefit from instituting mitigation measures and training efforts prior to the high-risk months.
Possible planning and mitigation efforts include, but are not limited to:
- Pertinent site-specific policies and procedures should be reviewed for applicability and effectiveness.
- The site should have a weather monitoring system in place. The site should also designate an employee, a supervisor or lead, to observe the weather conditions and make the call to take shelter and make the “all clear” call when the threat has passed.
- Be sure all employees are trained in the site’s emergency action plan, including the meaning of specific sirens or alarms. This would also include training on where, when, and how to get to shelter locations or evacuation points.
- Be sure emergency communication devices such as two-way radios are tested and maintained.
- Conduct site severe weather drills that include all employees. Site-wide alarms and sirens should also be periodically tested.
- Ensure that contractors and visitors are trained on pertinent aspects of the site’s emergency action plan.
- Assign and train employees on severe storm-related preparedness, response, and recovery tasks. This may include an Incident Commander and personnel responsible for headcounts at shelter locations.
- Ensure that backup battery systems and generators are maintained and ready to go in case of power failure.
- Prepare a business continuity plan that includes offsite operations if the site is damaged. Also, ensure that all-important company documents and records are backed up offsite.
- Establish recovery contracts with suppliers and vendors.
- Routinely verify contact information and equipment availability with response resources.
- Ensure that third-party emergency response is available, if needed, to stop and/or clean up spills.
- Establish procedures for restricting access to the facility during and following a severe weather event.
- The site should designate a contact person to deal with media, such as TV and newspaper reporters.
By establishing strategies and being prepared, your facility can cope more effectively with natural disasters, such as severe storms, and can limit harm, financial losses, maintain business continuity, and enable a timely recovery.
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