“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
With all due respect to the 19th-century philosopher and artist Ruskin, what refers to as “good” weather in the extreme may not always be a good thing for business owners who may experience severe cost burdens in the event of extreme weather conditions such as rain, wind, snow, and other natural phenomena.
How should business owners prepare for some of the most common types of extreme weather?
Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S. and urban flooding can be especially harmful to commercial businesses. The problem extends beyond coastal or river-front cities. The frequency of intense precipitation events is increasing due to climate change, and their impact is multiplied given that antiquated rainwater drainage and sewage systems fail or simply aren’t up to the task. Urban development and sprawl contribute significantly to the problem as well.
Avoidance is the key here. Choose a commercial location that isn’t prone to flooding. Riverfront and coastal-facing buildings are more at risk. And some aging buildings are not designed to current standards related to foundational design and anchorage. Urban areas are increasingly impervious to flooding as surfaces are paved and built upon. When precipitation can’t soak into the ground, the water creates its own riverways through the city.
In addition to flooding, the big danger from hurricanes is wind damage. While hurricane landfall areas can be predicted several days in advance, don’t wait this long to prepare. One of the most important ways to protect a structure from hurricane winds is to board up doors and windows. In the off-season, pre-cut all the plywood you’ll need. Label it, predrill holes for screws, and then store it securely along with the tools and hardware you’ll need to install it. This way you won’t be scrambling with all the other business owners and homeowners for these supplies on short notice.
When the threat is confirmed, secure outside fixtures and vehicles as best as you can and move as much of this indoors as possible so the items aren’t lost or turned into projectiles that can cause more damage to your property or others’.
What you do after the hurricane passes is equally important to minimize subsequent damage and danger. Identify in advance a rapid response team that will convene at the company property as soon as officials give the all-clear. These people should be qualified to check for damage, record damage, re-engage systems, coordinate with insurers, make necessary temporary repairs, and engage with tradespeople.
Compared to hurricanes, there’s far less opportunity to prepare for a tornado. Warnings are a matter of minutes rather than days. It probably won’t be possible to evacuate employees, so onsite protection of the people in your facility should be your biggest concern. If possible, identify an inner room in advance with few windows and on the ground floor or lower. This evacuation room should be well-known to all your employees and it should be big enough to hold the likely number of employees and customers that are in your facility at any given time. Be sure to store water and other supplies here.
After the tornado passes, contact emergency teams if you have injuries. Remain in place until directed to do otherwise by officials. Then, similar to the post-hurricane situation, when authorities give the all-clear, mobilize your rapid response team to record damage, coordinate with insurers, and begin to put systems back online (or coordinate with contractors to do this).
Earthquakes offer even less warning than tornados. But businesses that lie in earthquake-prone areas can take precautions to minimize physical damage and support the safety of employees and customers who may be in the facility at the time.
The ideal response to an earthquake is to get everyone outdoors to minimize injuries from structural collapse or falling items. In advance, identify the best outdoor evacuation site – one that is sufficiently far from your building and nearby ones. A parking lot or outdoor equipment storage area might be best. Often, it takes people a moment or two to comprehend an earthquake is occurring, so it’s a good idea to have periodic practice evacuations where people drop what they’re doing and immediately head to that spot.
Avoid creating high stacks of materials that could topple over – that’s never a good idea in any case. As with home preparedness for earthquakes, make it a point to secure bookcases and other “tippable” items to the walls. Periodically bring a licensed contractor to the site to review structural integrity – from roofs to walls to utility systems.
The challenge with earthquakes is that you can never be sure they’re over. Even a small aftershock can cause big damage to a weakened structure. Also, gas leaks, exposed wires, and other conditions can create a fire hazard, so be sure no one reenters the structure during or after an earthquake unless it’s absolutely necessary.
We can’t avoid the occurrence of natural disasters and the worst weather they deliver. But there are steps you can take to prepare, react, and recover in order to minimize personal injuries and structural damage and speed the way to business recovery.