Disaster preparedness amid hurricane season
How does facility safety go beyond building infrastructure and protocol during hurricane season?
Responding is Peter Steinfeld, senior vice president of safety solutions, AlertMedia, Austin, TX.
The most recent climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and hurricane forecast from Colorado State University show an overall rise in temperature, higher precipitation and expectations for another “above average” hurricane season – which begins June 1 and runs through November.
Although hurricanes predominantly impact businesses and facilities along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, their effects are felt far inland and across the country. This means hurricane preparedness needs to be a key consideration for business continuity plans regardless of geography.
In addition to offices, warehouses, field facilities and other company-owned buildings that may be in the direct path of a storm, the rapid rise of distributed teams and infrastructure means organizations coast to coast are far more likely to have critical assets in areas prone to hurricanes. And with millions of employees now working remotely – often far from corporate headquarters – it’s increasingly likely that some aren’t familiar or comfortable with hurricane preparedness or evacuation procedures. Additionally, even when facilities and personnel aren’t directly affected, major storms can still disrupt operations because of supplier impacts, transportation delays and more. As a result, organizations must now evaluate business continuity through a new lens, factoring in not only locations along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but also a wide range of secondary impacts.
When formulating a hurricane preparedness plan, consider what will be affected – from individual employees and their homes to company buildings and the assets inside. Although people closer to the coastline may experience more immediate impact and property damage, high winds and floodwaters can affect homes and facilities hundreds of miles inland. If you haven’t already, adopt an emergency communication system, and make sure employee data is up to date – including home addresses, which may have changed as a result of new, flexible work policies.
The good news is that hurricanes are foreseeable and modern technology enables meteorologists to monitor a potential hurricane before it’s even a tropical storm in the Atlantic. For businesses, modern threat-monitoring tools combine data from sites such as Weather.gov with other trusted sources around the world, cross-reference asset location and employee data, and then trigger notifications should any facilities or employees be at risk of impact.
An essential part of hurricane preparedness is providing all employees with emergency response training and ensuring they’re familiar with evacuation procedures so they stay safe and can help minimize business loss. Additionally, it’s critical to have an emergency response team outside of the impact area to help employees efficiently secure facilities and navigate evacuation. This team should include safety and security specialists, human resources and internal communications personnel, and an executive sponsor.
Multichannel, two-way emergency communication systems allow emergency response teams to send continuous updates, offer resources and receive responses should an employee find themselves in immediate danger. Once the storm has passed, employers’ disaster recovery plans should include check-ins with employees to assess the status of their safety and confirm whether their base locations are safe to return to.
Many employees feel that safety is an important factor when considering where they work, so they need to feel confident that their employer is prepared to handle communications during an emergency. Keeping employees informed before, during and after disasters provides a sense of thoughtfulness, care and support that can be life-changing.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.