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Hurricane Irma means it's time for businesses to take these easy/tough steps

September 8, 2017

As Hurricane Irma approaches, it’s not too late for businesses to take emergency management steps. Even if they escape the worst impacts of the storm, some of these actions are time well spent.

storm prep

Just a few months ago, Florida’s hospitality industry was celebrating a record-breaking 2016 for tourist visits. This week, hotels, theme parks and all businesses were bracing for the record-breaking winds of Hurricane Irma.

Up and down the Atlantic coast, emergency management plans were being activated, which, at their best, are quick, simple and practiced.

For the businesses that we insure, we find that the most effective plans are broken into easy actions, which can be taken without great cost or risk, and tough actions, which require more time and effort. Both parts of the plan need to be activated at the same time, generally at least 48 hours before an extreme storm’s predicted landfall at your location.

Easy actions

Zurich Risk Engineers say businesses, like residents, often struggle to accept that a hurricane might affect their property. This is especially true if the property is not near the centerline of the potential trajectory. The "easy" actions don’t require a business to come to terms with the threat. They can be worthwhile investment of time and effort, even if the hurricane never affects your site. They may include the following:

  • Review the hurricane emergency action plan with your workers.
  • Outside the facility, remove objects that may become missiles even in lesser winds than the Category 5 ones that Irma has been packing at various points.
  • Check building roofs. Make repairs to coverings and flashing as time allows. Remove all loose items, secure equipment doors and covers, and remove debris.
  • Ensure roof drains and gutters are clear of trash and other obstructions.
  • Fill fuel tanks serving emergency generators and other vital services.
  • Verify dewatering pumps are functioning.
  • Confirm that outside storm drains and catch basins are clean.
  • Back up computer data.
  • For manufacturing and warehouses, verify all stock is skidded at least 4 inches above the floor.

Tough actions

At 36 hours before landfall, tackle the "tough" actions. These are actions to take, generally speaking, only if there a high likelihood that your location will be affected by the storm. Make sure you have the staff needed to complete these steps, and allot time to evacuate personnel who will not be remaining on site. Depending on your business, these actions may include the following:

  • If a significant storm surge is predicted to inundate the site, consider relocating or protecting water-sensitive materials and equipment. This would include electrical switchgear for any cranes on a construction site and other systems.
  • Install shutters, plywood covers and flood gates over windows and doors.
  • Relocate vital business records.
  • Anchor portable buildings or trailers to the ground.
  • Secure outdoor storage or equipment that cannot be moved.
  • Raise critical equipment off floors (e.g., PC towers).
  • Cover critical stock and equipment with waterproof tarps.
  • Initiate an orderly shutdown of production equipment and systems that rely on normal power.
  • Turn off fuel gas services and non-essential electrical systems.
  • Verify all fire protection systems are functioning (e.g., water supplies, fire pumps, sprinklers and fire alarms.
  • For manufacturing, stop incoming shipments of raw materials that could be exposed to damage.
  • Remove or secure scaffolding.

These are just general concepts, and every facility has its own needs. Based on your business, add to the list of easy and tough actions. For example, our Senior Risk Engineering Consultant Bill Davis has drafted guidelines for our construction customers who have cranes in Irma’s path.

Supply list

All businesses in hurricane zones would do well to keep a hurricane supply cabinet and list. Check now to see if any necessities need to be purchased or replenished. A sample supply list:

  • Emergency lighting
  • Lumber and nails/screws
  • Tape for windows
  • Sandbags
  • Roofing cement, sealant and other repair materials
  • Tarps
  • Caulk
  • Duct tape
  • Power and manual tools
  • Shovels and axes
  • Chainsaws and fuel
  • Nonperishable food and drinking water
  • Cell phone with charged spare batteries
  • Satellite phones (as land telephone lines and cell phone service may be interrupted)
  • Two-way radios with charged spare batteries
  • Flashlights with spare batteries

Finally, check in with vendors of any essential business supplies and materials. You may want to ask about the possibility and logistics of lining up spare equipment. Those touch points beforehand can speed access to priority service after. When the worst of the storm passes, demand for all resources will surge.

Recovery efforts present an opportunity to implement long-term resilience measures. Zurich works with the nonprofit SBP to that end. Watch this video for more information.

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