Expect the Unexpected
The past few years have seen a startling uptick in disaster frequency and severity, with resulting losses in the billions. Having a written plan in place to direct your employees both during and after a disaster can directly impact the success of your organization’s recovery. Check out the Small Business Administration website or talk to our risk managers for assistance in developing a plan for the following scenarios. While the following disasters are some of the most common, it is also important to plan for any scenarios that may be unique to your location or industry. When it comes to disaster planning, expecting the unexpected is key.
Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Storms
Tidal waves, intense winds, and lightning can all leave a legacy of destruction in their wake. Ensure your plan includes the following provisions:
- Appoint a committee of staff members to check weather and storm forecasts and receive local and federal alerts, especially during seasons where such events are more frequent.
- Consider acquiring materials to quickly “stormproof ” your building, such as sandbags and plywood window covers.
- Learn more from the National Severe Storms Laboratory, an affiliate of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Depending on weather, fuel load, and containment efforts, a single wildfire has the potential to burn millions of acres, destroy any infrastructure in its path, and cut off escape routes for those trying to flee. Hazardous air quality from smoke can also cause widespread negative effects up to hundreds of miles away.
- Have your properties examined for fire risk. Please refer to our subsequent article on ignition prevention to learn more.
- Regularly inspect and replace air filters to ensure they are working properly. Have extra supplies of filters and personal masks rated for wildfire smoke on hand in case of prolonged periods of intense smoke in your area.
Extreme Winter Weather
Most of us take winter weather in stride by bundling up and staying indoors, but that may not always be enough. In 2019, a “polar vortex” struck the Midwest, interfering with many operations and causing approximately 20 cold-related deaths. In intense cold, incidents that would not normally be so severe, such as slipping and falling or over-exertion can turn fatal. In addition, operating motor vehicles can become especially hazardous or even impossible. Regardless of the forecast, winter conditions should always be approached with an abundance of caution.
- If the forecast predicts severe weather, consider implementing policies to halt operations early so employees can get home safely.
- All outdoor workers should be equipped with appropriate winter shoes and clothing, and be trained to avoid common winter injuries such as slips, trips, and falls, over-exertion, and frostbite.
Earthquakes can present a significant challenge, since they are difficult to predict even in areas that are prone to them, and often strike with no warning. They also often trigger secondary disasters such as tsunamis, flash floods, fires, landslides, or avalanches. Employees should be trained how to respond to an earthquake and educated on the best ways to quickly find adequate shelter regardless of where they find themselves when the earthquake occurs.
- Determine what, if any, earthquake resistant building materials or methods have been incorporated into your properties. Keep this information in mind when planning any building modifications, renovations, or upgrades.
- Practice earthquake response drills with your team several times a year.
This is an event that can also strike anytime, anywhere. Floods often accompany other disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and often occur in areas that have suffered from wildfires, due to a lack of vegetation that would normally absorb rainfall. Floods may also occur due to infrastructure failure, since most facilities require access to water in some form or another.
- Determine the flood risk to your properties, and at what water level your properties would be adversely affected.
- Try to store valuable materials that could be damaged in a flood, such as important papers, in waterproof containers in higher stories of your building, or at least several shelves up from the floor.
Take steps to ensure your organization is prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies. Information for this article was taken from the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Natural Disaster Guide.