The last several hurricane seasons have seen an increase in the activity in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The 2019 Pacific hurricane season featured 19 named storms, and the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season was the fourth in a consecutive series of above-normal years, featuring 18 named storms.
The 2020 hurricane season is quickly approaching, starting May 15 for the Pacific and June 1 for the Atlantic, and ending on November 30 for both. The nature of our industry lends itself to being in the path of a storm, so it is critical to be prepared. While we as individuals often focus on making sure our families are prepared for storms with the help of our local government entities, it is also important to create a plan to protect our businesses and employees.
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) recommends these five steps to prepare for a storm:
- Develop a comprehensive plan. A hurricane survival plan should be written down and reviewed annually. For many companies, an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is required by OSHA, so planning for a hurricane can be considered as a part of your EAP planning and review each year. Your EAP should address policies and procedures for employee safety, business continuity and contingency plans in the event of damage to the business's facilities. It also outlines policies for dealing with employees, customers and vendors.
Some of the key elements of an effective EAP recommended by OSHA are:
- Conditions that will activate the plan; for example, the plan could activate meetings with all key personnel at different time intervals (when the storm is 96 hours from impact, 72 hours, 48 hours, 36 hours, 24 hours, etc.) once the storm threat has been identified.
- Chain of command
- Emergency functions and who will perform them; this may include key personnel who are allowed to enter the worksite immediately after the storm threat has been eliminated (check with the local government for further information)
- Detailed evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
- Procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors
- Equipment for on-site personnel
- Determine procedures and individual crisis management responsibilities. Identify which employees are required to be on-site in the days before and after a hurricane, as well as which employees are essential for business functions, whether they are required on-site or not. It’s important to communicate to key personnel what they are accountable for and how to perform their emergency response duties.
- Coordinate with others. You should understand the hurricane response plans of other businesses in your area as well as the local police department, fire department, hospitals, and utility providers. You should also communicate with suppliers, shippers, and others with whom you regularly conduct business. While some of your business partners will be undergoing the same storm preparation as you, others may be in other geographic areas completely unaware of the imminent threat and how it could indirectly affect them. Planning for this coordination and communication in advance could also be part of your EAP.
- Prepare employees. Communicate your hurricane plan with your staff to ensure understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations for every employee. This should be done well in advance of any hurricane season, so no one is caught off guard when a storm looms off the coast. One idea to remind employees of their role in hurricane preparedness is to use Hurricane Awareness Month (May) as an opportunity to review these roles, responsibilities and expectations in the event of an emergency.
- Review emergency plans annually. Assess changes in your business or to the community that may affect your hurricane response plan and make the necessary changes each year. With hurricanes increasing in both frequency and strength in recent years, it’s more important than ever to ensure your EAP doesn’t collect dust until the next big storm. Processes, procedures, and people change all the time, which could affect your plan – and that’s not something you want to be scrambling to fix as the clouds roll in.
As employers, it is essential to review all emergency plans every year for improvement. At the same time, it is important to continually remind your most critical assets – your employees – that they also create an individualized plan for their families in the case that they are affected by an impending storm. Providing information and reminders through email blasts, text messages, or safety meetings reminding the employees about the upcoming hurricane season can help inform the employees and their families the importance of creating an individualized plan.
Other hurricane preparedness resources include:
- FEMA.gov: “Prepare Your Organization for a Hurricane” (PDF)
- OSHA.gov – Hurricane Preparedness and Response
- National Weather Service – Hurricane Preparedness Website
- National Hurricane Center for up-to-date marine forecasts
- Local media and government outlets
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christian Murillo joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. as a Loss Control Manager in 2016. Prior to joining AEU, Christian worked in the safety and health field. Christian received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Nichols State University.