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Take Action Now for Hurricane Season

Is your business prepared for a major storm? August's arrival heralds the peak months (August-October) of increased hurricane activity. Hurricane Andrew and Katrina both made landfall during August. And with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC) announcing that the Atlantic hurricane season outlook indicates above normal activity for 2010, we could be busy in the weeks ahead. Already, the CPC predicts 14 to 23 named storms, 8-14 named hurricanes and 3-7 major hurricanes.

Ned Fayson

Ned Fayson - Safety and Health Consultant

General Hurricane Preparations

To prepare your business for a hurricane, it is important to develop a plan. All business owners and managers should have knowledge of basic hurricane awareness. You are responsible for planning to protect facilities and employees. Below are some suggested before, during and after activities that can assist you prepare for an emergency.

Employee Preparation
It will be important to identify staff members to carry out hurricane preparations and those who can be available. Some employees may need to assist their own families or relatives evacuate from threatened areas. More than likely, all of your building maintenance staff should prepare your facility for a hurricane. Regularly update your list of employee phone numbers and ensure each department head has a copy.

Next, develop a simple written plan that incorporates hurricane task assignments for your staff. Inputs regarding the tasks to be accomplished should be solicited from all of the various work centers at your facility. You'll want to outline the specific tasks that must be performed to protect your facility during a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning, how they will be accomplished, and who will perform them. HurriPlanner, a free online safety tool developed by USF SafetyFlorida, can help you develop a written emergency plan tailored for your business.

You can also establish teams to perform tasks; for example, a team to board up, one to secure exterior equipment, and so forth. And remember, staff members performing unfamiliar tasks may require some advance instruction, particularly if equipment usage is required. One way to prepare your staff is to outline your hurricane response plan and task assignments at a training session. Familiarization training should be conducted at the beginning of every hurricane season and during the season if there is high staff turnover. You'll also want to update team assignments on a regular basis.

Facility Preparation
If your facility is in a storm surge inundation zone or appears to be unsafe for occupancy during high winds, you may have to evacuate. Identify essential business records that should be removed from the facility and determine where to take them. Back up computer records on disk or tape and move these to a safe area along with other essential business records.

You will also want to review your list of major equipment and furnishings to determine which items need to be protected or removed and how you plan to do it. The basic choice is to protect your equipment and furnishings in-place or move them out of the area which is at risk. In either case, determine what equipment and manpower will be needed to relocate these items. If you plan to protect equipment in-place, move it to well-protected interior rooms on floors above the level of potential flooding.

Once interior contents are assesses, it's time to go outside to identify equipment and furnishings that could be blown loose and become deadly missiles in hurricane winds. Determine a suitable storage location or how the items can be secured in-place. This includes exterior merchandise, trash cans, signs, awnings, antennas and tools. You will want to strongly anchor any portable storage buildings and ensure rooftop equipment such as exhaust fans, wind turbines and air conditioning units are securely fastened or strapped down to the roof deck. If the roof is a composition roof with a gravel covering, remove loose gravel to preclude damage to unprotected windows by stones being blown off of the roof. And lastly, ensure members of your staff know how to turn off the electrical power, water, gas, and other utility services within your building at main switches.

Equipment
A thorough list of items to help your business become hurricane-ready can include:

  • Several battery-operated radios and spare batteries to ensure you can receive emergency information. It is desirable to have at least one radio on site that can receive National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio frequencies. Weather radios with a tone alert capability are an effective way of receiving reports of significant changes in weather conditions.
  • Sufficient flashlights and other battery powered lights to allow essential work to be conducted in the event of power outage. Ensure a good supply of fresh batteries are on hand throughout the hurricane season.
  • A disaster supply kit ready for emergencies with contents such as foods, (canned goods, non-perishable, ready-to-eat), water (one gallon per person per day), a manual can opener and other eating utensils, personal hygiene items such as soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper, first aid kit, and manual, fire protection equipment or fire extinguisher, rainwear, gloves and blankets.
  • Necessary tools to board up windows and brace doors if your business does not have storm shutters. The first priority in protecting your facility is 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. 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.
  • An ample supply of brooms, squeegees, mops, and absorbents to remove water.
  • A small emergency generator. The power may go out before a hurricane comes ashore and may be out for an extended period. An emergency generator could provide the capability to maintain lighting, recharge battery powered equipment, and power pumps and tools which may be needed for expedient repairs after the hurricane pass.


Recommended Supplies
It is suggested that you stockpile the emergency supplies needed during the hurricane season. Many of the listed items below rapidly disappear from retail outlets when a hurricane threatens, including:

  • Plywood (preferably 5/8 inch thick exterior type) to cover large windows and glass doors which can be blown in by hurricane force winds. If possible, obtain plywood before hurricane season begins and precut it to size, mark each panel to identify where it goes, and store it until needed.
  • Sufficient lumber to brace inward-opening exterior doors and roll-up doors on the inside. Boards should be 2 x 4’s or larger.
  • Waterproof tape (duct tape or filament tape) to help protect the smaller windows in your facility from powerful wind gusts and flying debris. Apply tape in a criss-cross pattern.
  • Tie-down material (rope or chain) for outside furnishings and equipment that can’t be moved.
  • Heavy duty plastic sheeting (4 mil thickness or greater), furring strips, and a nail or staple gun to be used to make expedient roof and window repairs. Plastic sheeting can also be used to cover and protect equipment in the event of roof damage or leaks.
  • A supply of sandbags may be helpful in preventing intrusion of water through doorways into low-lying sections of buildings. Sandbagging can be very time consuming. It takes two people about an hour to fill and place 100 sandbags creating a wall only a foot high and 20 feet long.

During the Hurricane

Shelter
If your facility is not in an evacuation area but is still expected to receive some storm effects, it is important to remember guidance when sheltering your staff during the passage of the storm. First, check with your company’s attorney to determine potential liability before using your facility as a hurricane shelter. If it is acceptable for usage, remember to use interior rooms and corridors and avoid basements if there is a chance of flooding. You will also want to avoid large open rooms--such as auditoriums--that do not have interior supports. In multi-story buildings, shelter people on lower floors and away from corner rooms and areas near unprotected exterior windows and glass doors.

Other precautions to take during the shelter phase include period building checks for roof damage, window breakage, broken pipes and structural damage. Furthermore, you will want to ensure those being sheltered remain indoors during the hurricane. If the eye of the hurricane passes over your facility, do not be fooled by the period of temporary calm, which occurs. When the eye of the hurricane has passed, storm winds will return from the opposite direction. Monitoring your radio or television for hurricane condition updates and emergency information will keep you informed.

After the Hurricane

Reentering Evacuated Areas
If your facility was evacuated, you may have difficulty returning quickly because roads may be damaged, blocked by debris, or flooded in low lying areas. Access to storm-damaged areas may be limited by local law enforcement personnel, to keep people out of areas with dangerous conditions, facilitate rescue and recovery work, and limit access to unoccupied properties.

Initially, entry to storm-damaged areas may be limited to search and rescue personnel, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, utility crews, and road clearing teams. Once it is reasonably safe, property owners and essential employees will be cleared to enter the area, but they may be required to have a permit or pass, or be included on an access list maintained by the city. Contact your local emergency management office to determine the procedures for returning to storm-damaged areas. Also, listen to your radio or television for instructions before attempting to return to your place of business.

Checking your Facility
Look for obvious structural damage to your building and its foundations. If you see significant structural damage; don’t attempt to enter the affected building. Also, check for downed or dangling electrical power lines and broken sewer or water pipes on your property. Stay away from damaged power lines and broken sewer lines. Do not take lanterns, torches, or any kind of open flame into a damaged building--there may be leaking gas or other flammable materials present. If you see damage to power, water, or wastewater equipment, report it to your utility company.

Furthermore, make sure electrical outlets and appliances are dry and free of water before turning the power back on. If you have any doubt about the condition of wiring or appliances, have an electrician check them to ensure there are no short circuits. And lastly, secure the site to discourage looting by maintaining a visible presence (owner, employees or security guards) on property.

Safety Precautions
Some other important re-entry tips to remember, include:

  • Avoid drinking water from your water system until local officials advise it is safe from contamination. Use emergency water supplies or boil tap water before drinking it.
  • Take extra precautions to prevent fire – inoperative water systems, low water pressure, and the disruption of other services may make firefighting extremely difficult.
  • Guard against spoiled food. Food in refrigerators can spoil if power is off only a few hours. Freezers will keep food safe for several days if the freezer door is not opened after the power goes off. Do not refreeze food once it begins to thaw.
  • Wear sturdy shoes when walking through debris and use gloves when moving it.
  • Be aware that snakes, poisonous insects, and other animals instinctively move to higher ground to escape floodwaters. They may have taken refuge in your facility.

Recovery Activity
During the recovery phase, you will want to report damage to your insurance company, as required by all policies. If your building is uninhabitable, paint the insurer’s name and point of contact information (your name, temporary address, and the phone number to be used) on a wall or large board so the adjuster can find you. Also, it is important to document damage to your building and its contents with photographs or video and to not make extensive repairs until a claims adjuster inspects the damage. A caveat to this is if expedient repairs are necessary to prevent more damage or looting; for example, covering broken windows and holes in the roof or walls to prevent further weather damage. When the insurance adjuster inspects your property, be present, if possible.

Repair work is an important recovery activity. Don't forget to repair damage to your automatic sprinkler systems as soon as possible so fire protection equipment is restored. Local building inspection officials also will need to be contacted to determine permit requirements and rebuilding guidelines after a disaster. Repair agreements should include the contractor’s license number, specify a start and end date, and provide an exact description of the work to be performed. It is recommended you do not fully prepay for repair work, but rather reserve some portion of payment until the work is completed. And remember to maintain accurate records of all repairs and save receipts.

Don't let a storm wipe your business off the map. USF SafetyFlorida can help you before, during and after bad weather strikes. Our consultants are trained in disaster response and recovery efforts. To find out more, call us at 1-866-273-1105 or visit our website at www.usfsafetyflorida.com.