SEVERE WEATHER PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE

Author
J.R. Moody

Seasonal weather changes present new potential for severe weather emergencies which can create hazards for workers and businesses. Although in most cases it can be predicted by experts and meteorologists, weather can also be volatile and produce unexpected dangers without warning. To protect the safety and health of your workers, it’s important to both understand the nature of severe weather and its capacity for destruction, and to ensure measures are in place to respond through a preparedness program.

PREPAREDNESS

Preparedness mainly comes down to evacuation in all of its facets. When severe weather strikes, workers need to know exactly what to do and where to go to avoid injury and protect themselves from harm. Proper plan development is broken down into a number of critical key elements:

When to initiate procedures – Identify conditions which would necessitate an emergency response so that it is clear if and when it becomes time to initiate.

Chain of command – Establish a chain of command so everyone understands whom to report to and when.

Assigned responsibilities – Provide key personnel with responsibilities to carry out during an emergency. Everyone should be aware of their roles.

Care for customers and visitors – Persons on site without company-specific emergency response training will need to be guided safely during evacuation. Determine how you will communicate instructions to these persons during an emergency.

Evacuation procedures – Determine safe evacuation routes and exit locations, as well as an assigned location for personnel to regroup after the emergency. Routes and exits should be posted conspicuously.

Accounting for evacuated personnel – Procedures should be in order to ensure all personnel on site during the evacuation are accounted for in the predetermined regroup location.

Necessary equipment – Any personal protective equipment necessary for safety during severe weather emergencies should be on hand, pre-inspected for integrity, and easily accessible.

Proper training is critical in a successful response to severe weather emergencies. All employees must receive training which provides in detail the information they need to act quickly and safely. A single untrained worker can mean dangerous setbacks in execution.

WATCHES AND WARNINGS

When the impending arrival of severe weather is predicted, it’s important to pay close attention to news broadcasts which will provide up-to-date information as conditions progress. A battery-powered radio is the most reliable and effective tool for this purpose. At some point during information briefings, you may hear that severe weather conditions are either under a “watch” or a “warning.”

Watch – A severe weather watch means that conditions are right for the development of severe weather. The weather event has not occurred yet, and still may not, but the possibility is prevalent. During a severe weather watch, continue to monitor radio broadcasts and take the time to ensure response procedures are in order and key personnel are notified.

Warning – A severe weather warning means that a severe weather event has successfully developed and has been sighted or is approaching your vicinity. A warning issuance is a vital indicator that the response plan should be initiated and personnel quickly evacuated to safe areas. In many cases, local authorities will actually call for an evacuation over public broadcast.

AFTERMATH

Severe weather events are capable of causing catastrophic damage to property. The aftermath can include unknown electrical hazards (exacerbated by the conductivity of standing water), fires, and release or spill of hazardous chemicals.

It’s crucial to safety that no personnel reenter damaged areas until after qualified response and cleanup crews have neutralized any hazards and deemed them safe.

HURRICANES AND TORNADOES

Hurricanes – Hurricanes are tropical cyclones with the size and power to cause extreme damage to life and property. Accumulating energy from warm ocean air and growing quickly over time, hurricanes can create wind speeds of over 257 kilometers per hour and rainfalls of more than 9 trillion liters per day.

The primary destructive force behind hurricanes is the storm surge they bring to the shore, which involves a significant rise in ocean water and causes 90 percent of hurricane-related deaths. The secondary force is the extreme wind speeds, which do the most damage by carrying flying debris and destabilizing power lines. If a total city evacuation is not issued based on the severity of the storm and indoor sanctuary is taken, be sure to take location at lower levels and away from windows and exteriors.

Tornadoes – Tornadoes are rapidly spinning columns of air that descend from a cumulonimbus cloud and make contact with the earth’s surface. The weakest tornados come with wind speeds between 64 and 116 kilometers per hour, and the greatest with upwards of 511 miles per hour. They generally travel at an average of 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour along with the storm to which they are attached. Tornadoes can be 90 meters to 1.6 kilometers wide and travel several miles (kilometers) before dissipating.

Tornadoes are often considered nature’s most violent storms with higher wind speeds isolated into tighter perimeters than a hurricane. The lowest level (preferably a basement) of a sturdy building is the safest place to be during a tornado. Stairwells are also reasonably safe if they aren’t overcrowded. If caught outdoors, stay in the vehicle and crouch below window level with your head covered if you cannot safely get to a building. If in the open without access to a safe location, get away from other vehicles and trees and lie flat on the ground with your head covered.

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