Hurricane Isaac reminds businesses to mind workplace emergency plans
Tropical storm and hurricane weather conditions over the Mississippi Delta have left nearly half a million residents without power and thousands of businesses closed as Hurricane Isaac continues its path inland. Mandatory evacuations, road closures, flooding and power outages plague Louisiana residents after the storm made landfall Wednesday morning, and again overnight, in southeast Louisiana with heavy rains and category 1 force winds gusting up to 100 MPH.
Tropical systems such as Isaac endanger residents and property, especially when adequate preparations have not been made. The storm’s approach and impact are a reminder of the importance, especially along coastal areas, for businesses to have emergency plans ready for significant weather events.
While the best time to address emergency plans for tropical weather is before the hurricane season starts in late spring, it is never a bad time for a concerned business owner or HSE professional to review and improve emergency plans.
Every business, as part of its emergency action plan, should prepare for severe weather and other natural disasters likely for their geographic location.
For hurricane preparation, a business in a coastal area should know whether it is located in an evacuation zone or contingency zone. If a business owner is uncertain of the level of threat at a place of business, the local emergency management officeand the National Weather Servicecan provide a wealth of information to determine a workplace’s vulnerability to strong winds and storm surges during a tropical weather event.
A business in the evacuation zone or contingency zone may need to be evacuated and should include as part of its emergency planning the specific evacuation routes and approximate travel times along those routes.
A number of other factors influence the risk a business faces as a hurricane approaches, including the building’s elevation, quality of construction and state of repair.
Preparation for tropical weather events should include updating the list of employees and their contact information and assigning specific duties to personnel in the event of a hurricane watch or warning. Keep in mind that employees may not be
familiar with their hurricane preparation tasks, and be prepared to train employees accordingly.
While employees will want to spend the time leading up to a significant weather event preparing their own families and homes, some will be needed to ready the workplace for an approaching storm.
Determining who is responsible for what and how all the tasks will be completed is best done before the start of the hurricane season to ensure readiness when an actual storm is likely to impact the business.
Facility & Equipment
If evacuation of the facility is likely, be sure appropriate preparations are made for the safety of the business’s records, equipment and furniture. Preparations, depending on the outlook for the storm and the place of business, may include disconnecting power, securing equipment and storing items safely at a different location, perhaps offsite. Moving and securing equipment can be a cost- and labor-consuming process. Adequate planning helps ensure sufficient protection.
Each business has unique needs in this regard, and it is up to business owners and safety management to address these needs.
Another concern for hurricane preparation is collecting an appropriate stock of emergency supplies.
Consider including the following in a business’ hurricane preparation kit:
- Non-perishable food (don’t forget a can opener) and a gallon of water per person per day;
- Flashlights and batteries;
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio;
- First aid kit;
- Tools, lumber, sheeting, sandbags, etc. as needed to secure the facility; and
- Water cleanup supplies.
It may be difficult to procure such supplies after a hurricane watch has been issued, so it is best to gather and restock the stockpile at the start of the hurricane season.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
|Minimal: Unanchored mobile homes, vegetation and signs.|
|Moderate: All mobile homes, roofs, small crafts, flooding.|
Extensive: Small buildings, low-lying roads cut off.
Extreme: Roofs destroyed, trees down, roads cut off, mobile homes destroyed. Beach homes flooded.
More than 155
Catastrophic: Most buildings destroyed. Vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut off. Homes flooded.
Table from OSHA
When the National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch for a coastal area, it means that tropical-storm-force winds are possible there within 48 hours.
As soon as a watch is issued, preliminary preparations should be made while monitoring the news for more information as it becomes available.
Make sure the hurricane supply stockpile is completely stocked and begin securing and protecting equipment and data according to hurricane readiness plans as soon as possible. After a warning has been issued, or an evacuation order made, supplies and fuel may be difficult to come by in the affected area.
A hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of tropical-storm-force winds and indicates that the affected coastal area may expect hurricane conditions.
If your business is in an evacuation zone, evacuation should occur according to the recommendation of local officials. Evacuation for businesses in a contingency zone may also be called for in the event of a stronger storm. It is imperative to keep up to date with storm information to ensure our response is appropriate to the threat.
While it is important to take the appropriate steps to secure objects, it is more important to ensure the safety of personnel. All preparations must be completed in time for employees to evacuate before storm conditions make evacuation routes impassable.
If an evacuation is not called for, wind/rain damage and utility loss is still a possibility. Be ready to follow appropriate emergency protocols and make necessary repairs as needed.
During the storm, when evacuation isn’t called for, employees should take shelter in interior rooms and hallways. Lower floors are safer, but basements may be subject to flooding. Some locations may not be suitable to provide workers shelter, and hurricane preparation plans must keep this in mind.
Keep tabs on newscasts to respond appropriately as conditions change, and make sure everyone stays safely inside until dangerous conditions have passed.
Returning to areas subject to evacuation may pose dangers and delays to drivers, as floods and high winds can leave roads in bad shape and officials may limit travel through the area for recovery efforts. Make sure to follow newscasts to hear official instructions.
When the worksite is reoccupied, it may be necessary to assess damage and identify hazardous situations that the storm may have caused.
Hazards that may be present include the following:
- unsanitary water supply (use emergency water until officials give the okay to drink tap water);
- structural damage and utility line breaks;
- hazardous wildlife; and
- looting and similar crime.
The emergency plan should include a process for handling the insurance company after significant damage to facilities. Be sure to document storm damage thoroughly and wait until the adjuster has a chance to see damage before repairing it. Damages that create a hazard or subject the building to additional weather exposure, however, must be addressed to prevent further harm or damage.