Expect the best, but plan for the worst-case scenario when hurricane season begins.
By Chris Munkvold
Now that the official start of the hurricane season is here, it is time to finalize your emergency action plan. After not having landfall events in the past several years, in 2017 we saw the devastation and destruction from three separate hurricane events on the Gulf Coast and in the Caribbean. Each of these events brought different challenges as each storm impacted each region differently. From the severe flooding of Hurricane Harvey to the wind damages caused by Irma and Maria, each had to be prepared and solved for differently. Just as each hurricane is different, each facility should have a plan to prepare for each event, no matter the damage done to the facility or surrounding community.
An effective plan starts with understanding when decisions need to be made to prepare each location against an impending hurricane event. An emergency response partner is a great resource for you to help build a plan and prepare for the upcoming season.
Identification of At-Risk Locations
The best plan always starts with identifying the stores that may be located in high impact zones such as storm surge locations, historical flood prone areas and coastal regions in general. Each of these locations should have an emergency communication plan to follow to keep your employees safe and know when to evacuate in the event of a CAT event. You should also communicate your potentially impacted store list to your emergency response provider. This will make it easy for your provider to communicate a list of locations than may be in the path of a hurricane up to a week or more before the storm makes landfall.
Determination of Temporary Power
It is highly recommended to pre-plan for temporary power needs and determine if you are likely to need temporary power. If you have made a decision that you will want to temporarily power your location, then reserving generators, cables and prearranging daily refueling are a must. As a rule, you will want to reserve generators and cabling 5 to 7 days prior to a landfall event. As an example, during the Harvey and Irma CAT events, generators were being deployed from as far as Seattle. Most generators in the country were reserved or rented a couple of days before landfall so procuring a generator after landfall was only possible if others cancelled their reservations or rentals. The closer a named storm gets to making landfall, the harder it becomes to procure temporary power. In order to reserve the proper sized generator and cables, you will need to know how many volts and amps you will need to operate your business. This will determine the size of the generator that will need to be reserved as well as how much cabling will be needed.
It is critical to ensure that you are receiving at least daily updates from a trusted source as to the tracking and intensification of a storm system. A 50-mile shift in the track of a storm can have a major impact on which of your locations are/are not impacted. There are several options available to obtain this information. Emergency response vendors typically subscribe to a national weather service that provides updates at least once a day during CAT events. Many clients track this information internally or have their own weather service that provides them with daily updates. The more information that you are receiving during these events, the better.
Board Ups and Sand Bags
Deciding when and if to board up and sand bag your facility is a difficult one. The first recommendation that I would have is to determine if your facility has hurricane glass and/or shutters installed. If so, performing a board up is unnecessary or at a minimum can be greatly reduced. Hurricane glass is code in a large section of the coastal communities, but a lot of restaurants do not have this information readily available. As a rule, if you are looking to have a third party perform board ups and install sandbags, it is highly recommended to inform your third-party vendor at least 3 days prior to a landfall event of which locations you would like secured. Sourcing plywood, sandbags, and labor within 48 hours of a named storm making landfall becomes difficult and you may end up not getting all your requested facilities secured.
Extensive damage is caused during these events by RTUs being blown off of the curbing. Not only does water have a clear path to entering your building, causing potential extensive damage and cleanup, the roof membrane can become damaged from the RTU tumbling on the roof. An inexpensive and proactive solution is to fasten the RTUs to the curbs in your high-risk locations (within a set distance from the coastlines).
Once a hurricane has made landfall and access has been reestablished to your facility, a post-event inspection should be performed prior to reopening for business. The inspection can be performed by in-house personnel or by a third party. A checklist should be developed ahead of an event to identify any hazardous building conditions or general damages to the property.
If your building is adversely impacted during an event and restoration services are needed, having a firm under contract in advance of an event is critical to ensuring a timely and cost-effective response. An emergency response vendor should be under contract prior to an event and committed to restoring your properties and starting work as soon as safe access to an area is granted.
The cost of any of these services can vary widely based on the size of your building, the number of windows and doors, the intensity of the storm, and your timing. Your emergency response partner will provide you with a rate sheet that can help you estimate up front cost for preventative measures. In the event that your building is in need of restoration, costs will be estimated after a full inspection and evaluation of the property is performed. An estimate for restoration can be influenced by the cost of available goods and services if an emergency response partner is not under contract and has provided you with a full rate sheet for their services.
Being prepared for a hurricane event with a plan of action and having an emergency response partner at your side will provide a facility manager with timelines, cost savings and peace of mind. When a hurricane season begins, expect the best — but plan for the worst-case scenario. By developing a sound and proactive plan by region, you will give yourselves the best chance to have your restaurants back in business and minimize the potential for risk, making the hurricane season safe and manageable.
— Chris Munkvold is senior vice president of Watterson, which provides emergency response services, facilities management and environmental services to commercial clients across the U.S. and Canada. For more than 25 years, the team at Watterson has successfully managed all aspects of thousands of emergency response projects ranging from minor losses to large CAT events.