Atlantic hurricane season is upon us, and this year’s forecast predicts that this summer may be one of the worst in 100 years. While the Atlantic hurricane season officially started on June 1, hurricane activity really ramps up in August. Over 90% of Atlantic hurricane activity occurs between August and October, and this year, those months look to be stormy ones. The latest predictions from the Colorado State University Meteorology Project team say the region could be threatened by up to 20 named storms (tropical storms with sustained wind speeds of 39 mph or higher) and 10 hurricanes (storms with sustained wind speeds of 74 mph or higher).
Hurricanes can leave devastation in their path, including a significant number of businesses that can’t reopen because they failed to have a recovery plan in place. Whether directly on the coast or farther inland, property owners on the Eastern Seaboard should be aware of what a worse-case-scenario looks like. Discover what necessary precautions our professionals recommend that property owners take to reduce their chance of extensive damage and how FIRST ONSITE can help ensure a swift recovery if catastrophe strikes.
How Do Hurricanes Inflict Damage?
Few catastrophes have the ability to upend life and business the way a hurricane does. Its winds can easily rip trees out of the ground and tear roofing and siding off buildings. Its oppressive rains can cause flooding capable of completely submerging homes and businesses, even miles from where the hurricane makes landfall. Not only can personal property be damaged, but so can roads, bridges, power lines, and other public utilities, crippling communities. While generally only bigger hurricanes have the speed to travel farther inland, the force that even a smaller hurricane wields can be incredibly destructive, widespread, and deadly.
A hurricane is a particularly devastating category of tropical storm, with sustained wind speeds of 74 mph or more. Hurricane-force winds can be felt up to 25 miles away from the center of a small hurricane and upwards of 150 miles from a large one. They can be incredibly lethal and can remain at hurricane strength for several hours after a storm makes landfall.
In addition to strong winds, a hurricane brings with it heavy rains, which can lead to incredible destruction, not only for those within the storm’s direct path, but even those some distance away. When heavy rains from a hurricane hit land, they commonly cause flash flooding of nearby rivers and streams. This flooding can last for days and can affect property owners who reside downstream and were not otherwise affected by the storm itself.
One of the greatest threats posed by a hurricane is storm surge, or the increase in seawater levels. All locations along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast are vulnerable to storm surge, but certain areas are extremely disposed. Areas along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Southwest Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, are very prone because the ocean floor in this region decreases fairly gradually. In these areas, the biggest storm surges can push water up to 30 miles inland and create waves up to 28 feet high. The destructive flooding that storm surge causes can persist for hours or even days after the storm has passed, and can waterlog property even miles away from the coast.
Hurricane-spawned tornadoes can come as an offshoot of any size hurricane, but particularly are a threat from the bigger, faster hurricanes. The friction that is generated when a hurricane makes landfall reduces winds near the ground, while winds higher up in the atmosphere remain strong. This creates a horizontal spin in the atmosphere, which can be then converted into vertical spin when it encounters a thunderstorm updraft. This vertical spin can sometimes lead to tornadoes, which are more than capable of destroying roads, bridges, and other property in their path.
Steps to Take Before the Storm
Nothing can be done to prevent hurricanes from making landfall, but there are some easy steps a property owner can take to reduce excessive damage. Here are some ways property owners can prepare before a storm hits.
Develop a Plan
Drafting an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) are essential hurricane precautions that should be taken by all property and business owners before a storm. These should cover everything from employee and customer safety to strategies to maintain business continuity. It’s easy to connect with FIRST ONSITE to customize and determine how these plans fit into a business owner’s hurricane preparedness arsenal.
A business’ EAP, at its least, should cover:
- Employee responsibilities (who shuts off utilities, who barricades doors and window, etc.)
- An evacuation route for employees and customers
- Procedures for keeping track of employees and customers
- Where emergency equipment and supplies are located
- Key contact information (first responders, hospitals, insurance brokers, etc.)
A business’ DRP, at its least, should cover:
- If temporary power or a temporary facility is needed
- If an emergency-access letter or master service agreement is needed (so service providers can access the facility and restoration contractors can begin remediation work as quickly as possible)
- Critical contact info and directions for suppliers, vendors, and other partners
- Security needs (camera monitoring, physical security, fencing, barricades for windows and doors, etc.)
- A business continuity plan (which outlines, amongst other things, what systems and personnel are needed where and when)
At the heart of any business’ recovery plan should be a continuity strategy for how the business is going to continue to function after disaster strikes. FEMA states that 40% of small businesses won’t reopen after a natural disaster and an additional 25% of small businesses will close within a year after their reopening. Worse yet, 75% of businesses without a continuity plan will fail within three years of a natural disaster. While our hope is that businesses can continue to operate normally during and after a natural disaster, every business should prepare a plan for the worst-case scenario.
Practice the Plan
In a natural disaster, everything can change in an instant. While having a plan is critical, stress-testing that plan is almost more important. Various response scenarios should be devised and tested before an event, because in a natural disaster, truly anything can happen. A hurricane can change directions at a moment’s notice, preventing first responders from being immediately available to access certain regions. A hurricane can fluctuate in intensity and speed, affecting when and how evacuation procedures are executed. Suffice it to say, being able to adapt swiftly to a fluid situation can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
As part of your response strategy, remember to clarify which employees are needed on-site leading up to a storm and who should stay at home. It’s also important to ensure that the employees essential to keeping the business running understand what they are accountable for both as the storm approaches as well as after it hits. A plan serves no good if no one knows about it!
Prepare the Property
The beginning of storm season is the perfect time to thoroughly inspect your property, not only to gain an understanding of what needs to be fortified if a hurricane strikes, but what may have to be repaired to protect the structure itself. It is also imperative that an owner makes sure the property is clean of debris, ensures fuel tanks are full, equipment is covered, critical documents are protected, data systems are backed up, and ample materials, such as plywood and aluminum paneling, are available to protect windows and doors.
Workplace Hurricane Preparedness Kit
While historically the ability to predict hurricane activity was an inexact science, in recent decades, the accuracy of hurricane tracking has improved tremendously. Still, many businesses choose to (or must) stay open when a hurricane moves into their area. For these moments, a hurricane preparedness kit is essential for worker wellness and sometimes even survival.
A hurricane preparedness kit is a collection of basic supplies a workplace may need in the event of an emergency. It’s best to shop for items well in advance of disaster, as supplies may be limited or out of stock when it strikes. It may also be unsafe to leave the workplace in the wake of a hurricane, so survival may very well be determined by how robust this kit is.
At its least, a supplies kit should include:
- Battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- Three-day supply of non-perishable foods, per person
- Three gallons of water, per person
- First aid kit
- Manual can opener
- Solar charger for electronic devices
- Local maps
- Dust masks
- Personal hygiene products
- Whistle for emergency distress calls
- Emergency shelter materials (plastic tarps, rope, and duct tape)
There is no such thing as being “too prepared.” Hurricanes can cut off access to power, water, phone coverage, and more, often for weeks at a time. It may take hours to days for local relief workers to be on the scene and able to provide support for everyone.
Coordinate with the Community
Researching the community response plan to understand how organizations such as emergency responders, utility companies, and hospitals will react to hurricane scenarios may be a good idea for facility managers and owners. They should make note of anything that could be important when a big storm hits, such as where shelters will be located and how areas will be evacuated.
It is also imperative that business owners consider how supply chains may be upended by a hurricane and for them to make a point of discussing contingency plans with suppliers and other partners. Temporary power or a temporary facility can easily be arranged by FIRST ONSITE if circumstances prevent a business from completely shutting its doors during a major storm.
Track the Weather and Stay Alert
Every storm is very different from the one before it and will present new, unforeseen challenges. It’s imperative to stay updated on the latest conditions, on how fast the storm is moving, and what the latest forecasts are saying. Safety is always more important than any property, so be sure to leave enough time to get out of harm’s way! Storms move fast and change directions quickly, so staying alert is the best precaution anyone can take.
Bracing for the Storm
When a hurricane approaches, we kick into high gear. By monitoring the weather and making the appropriate preparations in advance, we remain one step ahead of the storm and one step closer to recovery.
FIRST ONESITE coordinates with property owners before disaster strikes to make sure they’re ready. By creating EAPs and DRPs, doing property walk-throughs, collecting contact information, and signing Emergency Access Letters and Master Service Agreements, we can assure property owners that they’ll be our first priority when the demand for our talent and resources is high.
Tracking the Storm
Having local teams backed by the power of a national organization gives us the leading edge in hurricane response. Resources can be scarce during a time of emergency, but not for us. Our local teams’ access to national tools, supplies, and labor gives us the ability to handle multiple projects simultaneously while still providing personal attention to each.
When we see that a storm is approaching land anywhere in the United States, we assemble an Incident Command Team, responsible for formulating a nationwide strategy and response. From this team we assign breakout teams, tasked with implementing the mobilization and logistics of our strategy on a local level. These local teams coordinate staging areas for our trucks and generators, organize hotels for our staff, and locate temporary warehouses to store materials and equipment. They also figure out how to provide everyday needs such as internet access, food for employees, and ice to keep food and water cold — necessities that are very difficult to source during a natural disaster.
Because of all this preparation, when a storm hits land, we’re ready to go. We’ve already positioned ourselves with what we need to get things back up and running quickly, and will be ready to assist in our customers’ recovery at a moment’s notice.
Managing the Aftermath
From the moment we arrive at a loss site, we start taking steps to control the situation, mitigate damage, and implement a long-term recovery strategy. Whether we’re extracting water, rebuilding foundations, or restoring belongings, we’ve got the teams for the job.
The longer flood water is present in a property, the more damage it can cause to pipes, insulation, flooring, and structural integrity. Worst of all, standing water can lead to the spread of highly contagious illnesses. Microbial growth in water-affected areas can be a significant risk, so our certified experts move fast to identify and address the possibility of mold-related problems. Our state-of-the-art dehumidification and moisture mapping technology gives our team the leading edge on locating and removing excess water quickly.
Once the floodwater is contained and the site is safe to operate in, our team will begin to implement our thorough drying and decontamination processes. FIRST ONSITE’s nationwide network means we have the capability to bring our advanced equipment and robust stable of technicians directly to any hurricane site, even when resources are scarce.
Restoration and Recovery
Once the immediate threat is contained, we’ll identify and combat any hurricane-caused issues. Our certified professionals can tackle everything from tree removal and debris cleanup to equipment and document restoration. By moving fast, we help avoid future disaster and get property back to looking good as new.
Unwavering Support, No Matter the Weather
With FIRST ONSITE, when the water rises, we rise to the occasion. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, we’re here for you when time is of the essence. Whether with planning, mitigation, or recovery, this hurricane season, our goal is to be the only restoration partner you’ll need.