Summer is known to be the season of fun in the sun – but it also brings the threat of dangerous storms. Summer weather can become extreme with thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and the threat of flooding on top of it all. Don’t get caught unprepared in an emergency. Start by checking to make sure you have the right insurance to protect you from severe weather—including wind damage, fire caused by lightning, and water damage from flooding.
Review Your Insurance Plan
Make sure you have sufficient coverage to pay for the indirect costs of the disaster—the disruption to your business—as well as the cost of repair or rebuilding. Most policies do not cover flood or earthquake damage and you may need to buy separate insurance for these perils. Be sure you understand your policy deductibles and limits.
For a business, the costs of a disaster can extend beyond the physical damage to the premises, equipment, furniture and other business property.
There’s the potential loss of income while the premises are unusable. Your disaster recovery should include a detailed review of your insurance policies to ensure there are no gaps in coverage. This includes property insurance, business interruption insurance and extra expense insurance. Even if your basic policy covers expenses and loss of net business income, it may not cover income interruptions due to damage that occurs away from your premises—such as to your key customer or supplier or to your utility company. You can generally buy this additional coverage and add it to your existing policy.
Creating A Disaster Recovery Plan
No matter how small or large a business, a business impact analysis should be developed to identify what an operation must do to protect itself in the face of a natural disaster.
- Set up an emergency response plan and train employees how to carry it out. Make sure employees know who to notify about the disaster and what measures to take to ensure safety and limit property losses.
- Write out each step of the plan and assign responsibilities to employees in clear and simple language. Practice the procedures set out in the emergency response plan with regular, scheduled drills.
- Consider the things you may initially need during the emergency. Do you need a back-up source of power? Do you have a back-up communications system?
- Decide on a communications strategy to prevent loss of customers. Post notices outside your premises; contact clients by phone, email or regular mail; and place a notice in local newspapers.
- Protect employees and customers from injury on the premises. Consider the possible impact a disaster will have on your employees’ ability to return to work and how customers can return to your premises, or receive goods or services.
- Compile a list of important phone numbers and addresses. Make sure you can get in touch with key people after the disaster. The list should include local and state emergency management agencies, major clients, contractors, suppliers, realtors, financial institutions, insurance agents and insurance company claim representatives.
- Keep duplicate records. Back-up computerized data files regularly and store them off-premises. Keep copies of important records and documents in a safe deposit box and make sure they’re up to date.
- Protect your building. If you own the structure that houses your business, integrate disaster protection for the building as well as the contents into your plan. Consider the financial impact if your business shuts down as a result of a disaster. What would be the impact for a day, a week or an entire revenue period?
- Gather a list of vendors and telephone numbers of individuals or entities that are critical to your daily operations. Identify critical business activities and the resources needed to support them. If you cannot afford to shut down your operations, even temporarily, determine what you require to run the business at another location.
- Prepare a list of companies that can assist you in recovery efforts, such as removing debris, moving and computer services.
- Protect computer systems and data. Data storage firms offer off-site backups of computer data that can be updated regularly via high-speed modem or through the Internet.
- Designate a remote phone number on your voicemail system for which you can record messages to employees in the event of an emergency. Arrange for programmable call forwarding of your business lines with the phone company. Then you can call and reprogram your phones from a remote location, if needed.
Before a Thunderstorm and Lightning
Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which is extremely dangerous. Though lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms. Other associated dangers of thunderstorms include tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding.
To prepare for a thunderstorm, you should do the following:
- Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
- Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
- The best way to protect yourself against lightning injury or death is to monitor the weather and postpone or cancel outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the forecast. Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning.
Preparing Your Business for Flooding
Floods can sometimes be predictable. It is impossible to completely flood-proof your property, but flood preparation can lower your business’ risk of damage and reduce business interruptions.
Begin your preparation by consulting your area’s flood risk map, which you can find at www.floodsmart.gov. Once you have assessed your risk, it is time to prepare your business. Buy and install products in advance that fortify your property against water. Consider the following precautions against flooding when building or remodeling:
- Purchase flood boards for your doors that you can install when flooding is imminent.
- Seal floors to prevent water seeping up through the ground.
- Fit non-return valves to drains and both inlet and outlet water pipes.
- Raise electrical sockets, fuse boxes and wiring at least 12 inches above the 100-year flood level in your area.
- You may also want to stockpile useful materials like plastic sheeting, plywood, sandbags, hammers and shovels in case you need to react quickly.
Tornadoes - Know Where To Go
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a community in seconds. Every state is at some risk from this hazard. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible, so it's important to know how to react quickly.
- Develop a plan. Tornado action plans can differ greatly depending on your location, but all plans should include:
- Identified and marked tornado shelter areas
- A schedule of when drills and employee training will occur
- Prepared emergency kits (battery power flashlights, first aid, food, water, blankets, radio, etc.)
- Communication plan for staff to learn about tornado emergency procedures
- Educate your staff. Ensure they know how to assist guests, where the safest areas are depending on their location, and how to communicate with other staff.
- Know your community’s warning system. Each community has their own warning system. It’s important to know what the system is, and where to so you can respond immediately.
- Locate all gas, water, and electrical on/off switches. Make sure all staff members are familiar with switch locations and the proper procedures for shutting them off. This step is important because after a severe storm or tornado gas leaks can result in explosions, water leaks can cause further damage, and powered on electrical switches can cause electrocutions.
- Monitor your phone, radio or television for information. It’s important to increase the frequency of weather monitoring when the skies look threatening or if the forecast calls for thunderstorms. (NOAA Weather Radios can be a good monitoring device, as they are activated during severe weather and sound an alarm once an alert or watch is issued.)
- Ensure that your designated tornado shelter area remains clear and accessible. You will want to seek shelter in an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building, on the lowest floor possible. All too often we use these spaces for storage of other items – make sure you and your staff keep these areas clear at all times.
Wildfires - Keep an Eye on Drought Conditions
Wildfires are are usually triggered by lightning or accidents. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and buildings. Those homes and businesses that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for fire. Develop and implement appropriate measures to reduce your risk and protect your property, and ensure staff are trained on how to react.
- Sign up for local wildfire text alerts and warnings available for your community.
- If you are responsible for your building, consider using fire-resistant or noncombustible materials or treating wood or combustible materials with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). When considering landscaping, plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
- Regularly check premises for fire hazards. Trim foliage on property and evaluate risks of any combustibles on premises, including any being stored away from the building; if appropriate, consider relocating to indoors or other locations to minimize potential fire hazards.
- Keep an adequate number of appropriate fire extinguishers in strategic locations (such as near loading docks and waste collection areas) and maintain them properly. Train employees on how to use extinguishers correctly.
- Consider maintaining a water supply at your facility to control small fires until emergency personnel can arrive.
- During periods of high wildfire threats (like extended drought conditions) employees should be instructed to back-up data on a daily basis. In the event of a power outage, desktop computers, mainframes, servers, and other critical electrical equipment should be switched off, so it will not be adversely impacted when the power is restored.
- Keep in mind that standard security alarm and access control systems may not be functioning in the event of power outages. If the facility is to be vacated and time permits, consider removing valuable items and equipment.
It's also worth remembering that large-scale wildfires dramatically alter the terrain and ground conditions, and can cause greater risk of flooding. Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow, which can cause significant damage. These types of floods are often more severe than flooding from storms, because debris and ash left from the fire can form mudflows. Mudflows can also be formed when rainwater picks up soil and sediment from the damaged ground. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to five years after a wildfire.
Hurricane Preparation Suggestions
From June through November, hurricanes are at their peak. During a hurricane, heavy rains and catastrophic winds barrel through coastal areas and can severely damage or destroy homes and businesses. The best way to minimize damage from a hurricane is to be prepared before one strikes. Consider incorporating the following hurricane preparation suggestions into your business to avoid unnecessary upsets in the event that disaster strikes:
- Have your building inspected by a licensed professional to ensure that the roof and other connections comply with the wind loading requirements for your area.
- Consider installing impact-resistant film on your windows.
- Install emergency backup lights that turn on when the power goes out.
Constantly diversify your customer base, products and sales locations. This will prevent a major loss, if a majority of your customer base is also affected by the hurricane.
- Bolt tall shelves or bookcases and displays to the wall studs.
- Secure breakable items in a stand using hook-and-loop fasteners.
- Place large objects on low shelving. Install latches on drawers to prevent them from flying open.
- Secure pictures and mirrors to the wall with closed screw eyes and wire.
- Secure your water heater to the wall studs with plumber’s tape or strap iron.
- Install flexible connectors to appliances using natural gas and automatic fire sprinklers.
Most business owners are complacent about natural disasters until it happens to them. Don’t let a lack of insurance coverage or poor planning destroy your business. Contact us to learn more about disaster planning and to determine your best insurance coverage needs.
- Restoring Your Business After a Flood
Tornado Preparedness and Response Tips from OSHA