What To Do Before A Hurricane: A Guide For Businesses

No! Not Jim Cantore. Four words uttered by anxious Coastians when a hurricane is near.

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As a business owner, do you know what to do before a hurricane hits? If you have not prepared, your mind begins to race.

Should I close early? How much revenue will I lose? Oh no, I never stopped to get those ridiculous supplies.

If the power goes out, lives could be at stake. My products will spoil. My systems will shut down.

There is no need for last-minute panic. The wise business owner prepares early to help prevent severe damage and mitigate interruption to the business.

What to Do Before a Hurricane

First, you want to prepare yourself, your employees, and your clients to weather the storm.

Develop a comprehensive emergency plan. OSHA mandates that many businesses have an emergency preparedness plan in place. This is prudent for all business owners to protect your workers, customers, and the future of your business.

Hurricane plans must include provisions for the special needs of employees, customers, or clients with disabilities.

Emergency plans must include specific personnel responsibilities required when a hurricane strikes. Decide if employees will remain on site, or if critical functions will be maintained remotely?

Be aware that during the storm, emergency personnel are often unable to respond to calls for help. Take this into careful consideration when developing your emergency plan.

Establish a protocol for when to evacuate and when to shelter-in-place. Locate an interior room on a lower floor in a sturdy building without windows. Determine if this area is at risk for flooding.

Train employees involved in executing the emergency hurricane plan. Practicing these procedures is beneficial for the employees’ confidence and often unveils flaws in the plan.

Create a method for communicating with employees before, during, and after the hurricane.  Many times, emergency plans need adaptation during the hurricane due to unforeseen circumstances. Demonstrating concern for your employees increases their loyalty and commitment to the business.

Talk with emergency services near your business to learn about the hurricane emergency plan for your city. Discuss hurricane plans with other local business owners. Communicate often with your city and fellow business owners to stay up to date.

Sign up for your community’s warning system. Know your evacuation zone, evacuation routes, and location of shelters.

Review your plan every year with your employees and revise as needed. Outdated emergency plans may be ineffective and even dangerous.

Protect Your Property

Now it is time to protect your property. Forty percent of small businesses that close due to hurricane damage never reopen.

No one wants to be a statistic. Consider taking the following precautions.

  • Storm shutters or plywood can prevent damage to windows and doors. If using plywood, cut, fit, and label each piece in advance. When the storm is near, the humidity and temperature rise and you will want to limit your time outdoors.
  • Consider installing hurricane-resistant windows. You must weigh the cost versus benefit to your workplace.
  • Sandbags placed across the bottom of doors on the outside of the building can prevent water from entering.
  • Brace or anchor large items in your workplace, such as bookshelves, to wall studs.
  • Tie down outdoor sheds or other outdoor buildings not designed to withstand high winds.
  • Fill above ground tanks with water to weigh them down during the storm.
  • Remove loose items from around the building, such as signs on chains or stakes, furniture, or decorative items to decrease flying debris in strong winds.
  • Have the roof inspected to ensure that it is secure. Refer to state building codes for the need for roof-to-wall connections. These connections are often called hurricane straps.
  • Protect utilities such as water heaters and gas tanks. Shut off any process piping carrying gas or other flammable fluids that could result in a fire if broken during the storm.
  • Unplug electronics and wrap in plastic to protect from water or power-surge damage.
  • Make sure that your fire-protection systems are in working condition.
  • Clean out building drains, storm drains, and sump pumps to decrease flood risk.
  • Fill fuel tanks for your vehicle and generator or other fuel-powered equipment. Consider having extra fuel containers. Fuel quickly becomes scarce after hurricanes.
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Protect Your Investment

Your next steps focus on financial protection for your business.

Identify key financial contacts that you can communicate with after the storm. Gather phone numbers, email addresses, and policy numbers to ease the hurricane damage claims process.

Ensure that you have usernames and passwords accessible after the storm.  If you must work remotely, having this information will be crucial. Bills must be paid, even if your business is damaged.

Secure financial paperwork such as insurance policies, rental agreements, mortgage documents, tax returns, accounting statements, and investment files in a waterproof container. Don’t forget to take this when evacuating.

Make copies of documents and back-up all critical systems on a set schedule. Consider keeping these duplicate copies and the back-up system in an off-site, accessible location to increase security.

These steps are prudent in the event of any type of disaster or accident. Remember, no one ever plans to have an accident.

Establish an emergency savings plan in case your business must close for a hurricane. Will you provide your employees with a paycheck? Have extra cash as ATM’s are often not available.

Make a video of your workplace and your merchandise in the days before the hurricane is due to arrive. Include inside of refrigerators, drawers, closets, and cabinets. This will be invaluable if you need to make an insurance claim.

Develop contingency plans to continue your business after the storm. After Hurricane Katrina, power outages and boil water notices were in effect for weeks. One local restaurant opened for business using a generator to cook, paper plates and utensils, and canned drinks and bottled water.

Gather Supplies

Creating an organized checklist will help to ensure that you have covered all bases when making quick decisions.

Do you have a generator?  How critical is maintaining electrical power to your business?

If electricity is critical to operating your business, you want to consider purchasing a generator. Generator pricing varies. You want to invest in a generator that best meets your business’ needs.

Options to consider:

  • Size of the generator depends on your electric power needs. What items need to maintain power to preserve critical business concerns? Is the generator physically able to connect to all essential items?
  • Fuel used to power generator. Which fuel is readily available and cost-efficient? Before the storm arrives, check fuel supply and functionality of the generator to ensure minimal time without power.
  • Consider where your generator will be stored and where you will place it when in use. Generators must be outside or in a well-ventilated room to avoid exposure to hazardous fumes.
  • Consider the need for a single generator versus a generator load sharing system. Redundancy is an advantage of the generator load sharing system. If there are power fluctuations or one part of the system fails, the other generator will keep the site functioning.
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Plan for communication before, during, and after the storm. Battery operated TVs and radios helps provide current information about conditions in the area.

Do you have an adapter for your cell phone that can be used with a battery-powered or generator-powered device? When cell service is down, it is often possible to get text messages through, even though it may take a while.

Prepare essential supplies for those sheltering in place. This includes bottled water, non-perishable food, manual can openers and scissors, light sources, and bedding.

What to Do After the Hurricane Passes

Now that the winds have died down, it is time to begin evaluating the future for your business.

Assemble your emergency team. Begin making plans to manage and protect business interests and begin recovery.

Be sure to follow the instructions of the local authorities when returning to your workplace. You may not be allowed to return until they have completed search and rescue missions in that area.

Safety always comes first. Once you have reached your business, be very careful to avoid hazards including downed power lines and gas leaks. When entering your business watch for large items, such as display shelves, that may be unstable.

Take video or pictures of your business. These pictures compared to your before pictures can concretely document damage and loss for insurance claims.

Have your recovery team begin work.

  • Strict precautionary measures must be followed when cutting or welding. This may include a hot work permit which you can find in the NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work.
  • Enforce No Smoking in the building to avoid ignition sources.
  • Make temporary repairs to holes or other building security damage.
  • Decide what items are salvageable and which are beyond repair.

Reach out to organizations that help with disaster recovery.

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s website for Disaster Assistance allows you to enter your information to access help in the recovery process.

You Now Have the Tools to Handle a Hurricane

By following these steps, you have the power and knowledge about what to do before a hurricane. Prepare early. You don’t want your hard work to be Gone With the Wind and water.

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