Piscataway Campus
Bensalem Campus

How to Prepare for Damaging Storms

How to Prepare for Damaging Storms

What’s Your Disaster Recovery Plan?

Anyone who has watched the news knows the kind of damage a storm can cause. We have all seen the images of homes destroyed, bridges washed out and rivers overflowing their banks. However, while lost homes are a tragedy, businesses, schools, and hospitals are equally affected by inclement weather.

Consider these statistics on storm damage in the United States. According to the National Weather Service, in 2015, storm and weather disasters accounted for over four billion dollars worth of property damage. For those whose livelihoods depend upon agriculture, weather caused another $645 million worth of damage.

In fact, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, around a quarter of all businesses never reopen after a significant natural disaster.

Furthermore, weather accounted for over 500 fatalities in 2015. While numbers in developing countries are much higher, even those 500 deaths took an incalculable toll on loved ones and their communities.

With these statistics in mind, it is clear a severe storm is a scary situation — and there is nothing you can do to stop it. However, there is plenty you can do to ensure you, your employees, your customers, and your property are safe when storms do occur.

Here are some of our best tips and solutions for preparing for a storm.

What to Do Before the Storm

The key to storm preparedness is expecting the worst. While many businesses may successfully operate for years without experiencing a storm-sized disaster, the only way to ensure your business can survive one is to assume you will have to weather one at least once.

So if you are a business or institution that currently has not developed a comprehensive plan, nor has put infrastructure in place to help ensure your business can recover from a weather-related disaster, here are a number of things you should consider:

  • Review your insurance policy. Whether you are expecting a storm or simply want to be prepared for any sort of accidental damage, the proper insurance policy is the best place to start. Any responsible business or institution needs to make sure its insurance policy is up-to-date and comprehensive. Carrying property and casualty insurance is a must. Not only can weather put you out of business, but in the case of injuries sustained on your property, you can also be held financially liable.

Most importantly, if you are in an area that is prone to flooding, you may not have full flood insurance. Certain regions, like river flood plains, require that property owners carry flood insurance. However, there are often properties just outside of the flood plain that still may be flooded in the event of a very severe storm. If you do not have flood insurance, any flood damage will not be covered by your standard policy.

Take some time to review your policy so you know exactly what kind of coverage you have — and might need to get.

  • Invest in preparedness planning. Every business should have a preparedness plan. This will ensure if disaster does strike, everyone will be on the same page. In the event of an emergency, you want everyone to be able to react calmly and efficiently.

Begin by knowing how inclement weather will most likely affect your business’s location. If you have an area on your property that is especially susceptible to flooding, know where that area is so you can plan your exit somewhere else. If you have large windows that are more likely to be broken by severe winds, know where they are so you can avoid them in the event of a strong storm.

If the weather event is one in which you should remain inside, like tornadoes hurricanes, make sure you identify the safest place on your property. Ideally, this should be a windowless, interior room on the first floor. This ensures no one will be hurt by breaking glass or other flying debris.

Next, decide on a safe evacuation point and mark it clearly with easy to read maps that are posted throughout your property. That way, even if people are separated when the need for an immediate evacuation arises, you will all still arrive at the same point.

You also want to make sure your exit strategy can easily be completed by those with mobility issues. All exits should be clearly marked and should avoid staircases where possible. Of course, on multi-floor buildings, sometimes stairs are unavoidable, especially since elevators should also be avoided during an emergency. In this case, make sure you have contingency plans in place to assist those with mobility issues who may find their handicap-accessible exit unavailable due to emergency protocols.

Furthermore, if you are a school or a hospital, you have special and significant safety concerns that need to be addressed. Students and patients may not be as prepared for an emergency exit as you had hoped, even if you perform regular drills.

One of the best ways to ensure you have covered every facet of your preparedness plan is to consult with a preparedness professional. They will assist you in making sure you haven’t forgotten to address any contingency, no matter how unlikely. Having a record of this consultation will also be helpful in protecting yourself against litigation in the event an injury occurs on the premises.

  • Stage regular drills of your preparedness plan. An emergency plan is only as good as your ability to perform it in the event of an actual emergency. You don’t want to be caught trying to remember where you are supposed to rendezvous when you need to make a quick exit.

Build drills into your regular employee training protocols. Get your team together and do a dry run-through. Throw in some unexpected contingencies so everyone is comfortable making adaptations.

Once you feel comfortable with your ability to go through with your emergency plan, schedule refresher drills. And if you find you need to make changes (if your floor plan changes, for example) then make sure you take time to practice again.

This is especially important if you are a school administrator. Children are more easily upset by perceived danger, so you want to be certain they have gone through emergency drills often and regularly.

Regardless of your business or institution, however, execution of your emergency plan should be second nature for you and your team.

  • Determine what business systems are essential. Needless to say, if a significant disaster strikes, you cannot save every business system. However, there are some systems you should designate as “mission critical.” While you may not necessarily be able to save a mission-critical system, you should be strategically prepared to recover them in the event they go down.

To help you determine which systems to designate as “mission critical,” ask yourself this series of questions:

  • What function does this system perform, and how essential is it for my business?
  • How often is this function performed?
  • Which and how many departments use this particular function?
  • Are any other functions required to complete this one?
  • Is the opposite true — do other functions require this one?
  • What are the potential financial and revenue losses?
  • What are the potential legal and compliance issues?
  • How does this function directly impact brand image and market share?

After you have asked yourself these questions, give each function a ranking of importance. From there you can begin to develop need-based recovery procedures. Are you able to perform this function remotely in the case of an emergency? Can you build anticipated downtime into your preparedness plan? Do you have the appropriate contractors and support professionals in place should you need to make a rapid function recovery?

By addressing these issues ahead of time, you will have a much clearer picture of what your recovery will look like should a disaster strike. Furthermore, these plans will reassure investors, while legitimately protecting you and your company from financial ruin.

  • Install a generator. Emergency generators are essential solutions for a business that is susceptible to power outages. Generators come in a variety of sizes and power capacities, so you will have to decide which will work best for you.

As a business owner, you likely have a number of business systems that could be significantly damaged if you have extensive power loss. Data loss alone could be catastrophic. Additionally, consumers who depend on your servers from a distance will not always be sympathetic if your system goes down due to inclement weather. That’s why it is important to install an emergency generator that can keep up with at least the most critical of your business’s operations.

If you are running a hospital, patient lives depend on your ability to keep life-giving tools and systems online, regardless of what is happening outside. While many diagnostic tools might be deemed non-essential, some equipment may be all that is keeping a patient alive. You want to make sure that equipment continues to function uninterrupted during a storm.

Generators are also essential for schools. Interior hallways are often windowless, but they are essential pathways for making an emergency exit. A darkened hallway can quickly become a very scary place for a young student trying to follow their teacher’s instructions. In these cases, even just connecting a lighting system to a generator can drastically improve your emergency contingency plans.

What to Do as the Storm Approaches

While prior planning is one of the best tools for ensuring your business weathers the storm, it is equally important to take additional action as soon as you become aware of an incoming weather event. On the one hand, being aware of the potential threat will allow you to put your preparedness plan into action. However, it will also give you the opportunity to react quickly if you discover there is a gap in your preparations, allowing you to mitigate the potential damage, thus making recovery easier.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind the moment you hear of an impending disaster.

  • Stay informed of the weather. Before the storm hits, keep up to date by listening to weather service radio or watching the weather reports on television. As emergency conditions approach, the emergency alert systems will begin to offer reports across all local channels.

Of course, if your power goes out, you will lose your television connection. That’s why battery or crank-powered radios are so useful. They will allow you to stay informed even in the event of power loss.

Pay attention for evacuation orders and do not ignore them. Emergency response teams are in place to help people who are stranded, but you do not want to force a response team to rescue you because you were stuck in a situation you could have easily avoided.

Also, try not to inspect your property until you are sure the emergency has passed. Make sure the all clear report as been given — some events, especially hurricanes, can quickly pick back up in intensity. You don’t want to be caught outside in such an event.

  • Make appropriate property and employee preparations. If you know a storm is approaching, get started making proper preparations right away. If you are in a hurricane zone, ensure windows are boarded up well before the storm’s arrival. If you are in a flood zone, move furniture and unplug equipment and business systems that are likely to be damaged by rising water levels.

Keep your employees informed about potential emergency plans as well. Even if it’s possible an approaching storm won’t cause significant problems, make sure employees come to work prepared. That means recommending that they come with charged phones, back up chargers and full tanks of gas in their cars.

If you have extensive on-site parking, make sure exits are clear and emergency vehicles and fire lanes are available should emergency responders be required. If the potential weather event is snow related, hire private snow removal to assist you in getting people out of your parking lot.

However, if there is a significant chance of a detrimental weather event, consider allowing non-essential staff to stay home. While this may cost you a day of productivity, the temporary loss of revenues will cost far less than the potential liability and litigation you could expose yourself to should an employee suffer an injury due to inclement weather.

  • Be realistic when expecting support services. For those businesses and institutions that do suffer damage due to inclement weather, it is important to be reasonable when navigating the triage of disaster relief. Any time a disaster hits, certain essential support services need to be active, and thus will receive emergency supplies and relief first.

These services include:

  • Hospitals and medical services
  • Command centers for emergency response
  • Fresh water supply services
  • Fueling services
  • Food refrigeration
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Essential transportation support (such as airports and seaports)
  • Police
  • Emergency shelters
  • Weather reporters and emergency information services

If your business does not fall into any of these categories, you may not receive the support you need immediately, even if it means that your business will suffer. Some of this is unavoidable. However, this should also serve as proof of the importance of prior planning. If you have exhaustive contingency and emergency plans in place, you won’t have to wait for support. Instead you can begin setting your own support structure into action.

  • Arrange for a rental generator. While it is wise to have a permanent generator installed, especially if you are providing an essential service like medical support or food storage, for some businesses and operations, installing a permanent generator may be cost prohibitive.

If this is the case, you should begin sourcing a temporary generator as soon as you are away of an incoming weather event. Keep in mind that generators will first be used to support essential services. After that, you will have to compete for the remaining rental generators. That’s why you should get in touch with a generator supplier as soon as you think you may need one.

You also want to think about preparing your property for a rental generator. Depending on the size of your business or institution, the generator you source may be sizable, so you need to make sure there is space for it. If you have a parking lot, make sure there is plenty of space left open near the building and the space is accessible to the delivery truck.

Finally, make sure you know who the best generator suppliers are ahead of time. You don’t want to waste valuable time doing online research trying to figure out who you need to call in the first place.

What to Do When the Disaster Is Over

Although getting back to work will likely be your primary concern when the disaster is over, there are a number of things you can do to help ensure you are even more prepared in the future, while also making your transition back to normal as smooth as possible.

Here are some final thoughts on getting your business or institution back up and running when the storm is over:

  • Evaluate your emergency plan. Once the emergency has passed and everything is operating as it should, take some time and evaluate your emergency plan. Were there things you realized would have been helpful or that you should have done differently? Would things have been easier if you had connected a particular system to your generator? All of these issues should be addressed after the emergency, and your emergency plan should be updated accordingly. While your plan may have gotten you through the crisis, an improved plan can get you through the next crisis even more easily.

There are also elements of emergency response that cannot be replicated prior to an actual emergency. This is especially true where interfacing with emergency response teams is concerned. Take some time to evaluate how your emergency plan interacted with those who came to support you. Were there ways you could have been more helpful? Did you have expectations that in hindsight you realize were unreasonable?

Keep in mind, emergency response teams are often willing to coordinate with you to help you evaluate your preparedness plans between emergencies. So don’t be afraid to ask them for specific critiques and feedback of your preparedness. It benefits both you and emergency response teams if you can do work ahead of time to make their jobs easier.

  • Say thank you. While this may seem cheesy, giving credit and thanks to those who worked so hard to help you get through the storm is an important step in making the transition back to normal.

On the one hand, you want to make sure you thank the emergency responders who helped you. Their job is harrowing, and during significant disasters, they work around the clock with little sleep or time to catch their breath. While saying thank you is a gracious thing to do, it is also a pragmatic way to ensure any future interactions between you and support services run smoothly.

You also want to make sure to thank your employees and staff. You may have worked hard practicing your preparedness plan, but in the end, your employees were the ones who successfully carried it out. By giving them credit, you will build team unity while also getting buy-in from employees during future revisions and drilling of the preparedness plan.

Trust Foley Inc.

In the end, the lives of your associates, employees, patients, and students are the most important part of your business, so you want to make sure those people are safe no matter what the weather throws your way. However, a well thought out preparedness plan can also help ensure your business is back up and running quickly with only a minimal financial dent.

Preparation is important, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. By taking a number of precautions, preparing your business and making an emergency plan, you will be ready for the unexpected. And remember, at Foley Inc. we take emergency response seriously.

If you are interested in generators for rent or generators for sale in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and Staten Island, look no further than Foley Inc. We are eager to help you explore your options for energy generation and find the generator solution that is best suited for your particular needs. Contact us today for a consultation.

Explore Foley Inc.’s emergency generator options today!