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Loss Control & Risk Management

Why You Need a Severe Weather Emergency Plan

When severe storms approach, safety should be your primary concern. One way to put the odds in your favor is to do some pre-planning and by creating a severe weather emergency plan. This gives you and your employees a set of instructions so there aren’t any questions — and everyone can spring into action when they need to.

How do you create this plan and what should it include? Start by reviewing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standard 1910.38, requiring employers to develop a written action plan. Once you’ve determined the OSHA requirements for your business, the following tips will help you get started. Make sure to customize your plan for your unique business in order to be truly effective.

Establishing a Severe Weather Plan

Taking the time to review your property and writing down your storm protocol helps get everyone prepared for potential weather concerns. Let’s look at some universal first steps.

Create a plan tailored to your business. Your business is unique and the way you respond to severe weather will be customized to your building and what you do. It’s okay to be different, just make sure your procedures are the safest for everyone involved.

Inspect the property. Determine which areas are vulnerable by first checking out the roof, walls, doors and windows. Then inspect any outlying buildings and property. Is there anything you could do now to add more safety and protection? After a thorough review, decide which areas are safest and could be used as a bunker, if necessary.

Review different scenarios. No two storms are the same, so have plans for several situations. Some storms require a company-wide shutdown for an extended period, and other times, you’ll batten down the hatches for a little while and be back up and running before you know it. Some weather emergencies to consider include flooding, flash floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, lightning, hailstorms and wildfires.

Prioritize preparation. The good news with most weather events is they often come with a warning. That gives you time to identify the steps you and your employees should take to stay safe. Determine where employees should go and how much time to do they have to get there.

Create a checklist. A checklist is a fast and easy way to make sure nothing is skipped or forgotten. Consider having one person in charge of monitoring the list and assigning each task to a separate individual or a team. This keeps things running as smoothly as possible.

Emergency medical procedures. Make a handbook for your company with step-by-step instructions for handling medical emergencies. If people in your company have had specific medical training, list those people and what training they’ve had.

Safety equipment. Determine the required safety equipment for your business and develop a list of any additional equipment you have. Create a maintenance schedule and add it to your regular calendar so it’s never forgotten and everything is kept in good working order. In case of emergencies, keep your employees prepared by creating a binder with a map of where safety equipment and other important instructions.

Severe weather emergency contact list. Create a list of events and who to contact in each situation. If applicable, go beyond emergency personnel to second-tier contacts. You might need to contact vendors, cleaning crews, delivery companies and others to let them know you’re closing until the danger has passed or until clean-up is completed. It’s also a good idea to have a list of all employees’ emergency contact numbers.

Detail evacuation and shelter procedures. OSHA required emergency action plans include evacuations and shelter in place procedures. If you have more than 10 employees this information needs to be posted in the open so everyone can see it. If your business has less than 10 employees, you’re not required to post this information, but you do have to communicate it orally.

Practice. The more you practice your severe weather emergency protocol, the more confident you and your employees will feel if an emergency happens.

Update your insurance. Make sure you have all the insurance coverage you need for the risks your business might face. Your American Family Insurance agent can help you review your business and available coverage options.

What to Do Immediately Before and During Severe Weather

Time is of the essence during severe weather. There’s no telling how much you can get done, but if you’ve planned and practiced you can feel good that you’ve done what you can to prepare for just this type of event.

Watch the weather. In some situations, you may have enough time to prepare and make sure everyone is safe before severe weather hits. Other times, there’s no warning and you’ll need to act quickly. Make sure you designate an employee as your weather-watcher, to keep you updated with the latest information.

Hit the checklists. Notify employees of potential weather concerns and have them implement your emergency procedures. Make sure they’re using the right checklist for the situation.

Time it right. If you feel that closing your business is the right step, make sure you give your employees ample time to perform their assigned emergency tasks and get home safely. Remember, weather can cause traffic jams with more people racing to get home. The safety of your staff always comes first. If there isn’t time for safe travel home, prepare to shelter in place.

Let others know. Notify key customers, routine service people, UPS, FedEx, the post office, cleaning people, vendors and anyone else who might be coming to your business if you’re closing. It’s also time to change your company phone message and reach out on social media to reflect that you’ve closed due to the weather.

Computers and paperwork. Back up computers if you have time. If you’re evacuating and it’s possible, take your computers and your sensitive paperwork with you.

After a Severe Weather Emergency

Stay cautious after an emergency. The storm or event may be over but it doesn’t mean the danger is past. Storms can come in a series, power lines might be down and flash flooding could be a concern. There are a number of hazards that could come into play after the initial storm recedes.

Check it out. Authorized employees should return to review the status of the facility. Or, if you had to shelter in the business, venture outside to assess the situation. If protective gear is needed, make sure you provide it for your employees. Carefully inspect the property, inside and out, to make sure no damage escapes notice.

Contact employees and families. Reach out to employees, letting them know who can return and when. If they had to take shelter at work, begin reaching out to families to let them know everyone is safe. Consider creating a company calling tree for a quick and easy way to contact family members or employees.

Contact your insurance provider. After a storm, your insurance agent will let you know what your next steps are. They’ll help you file your claim so you can get back up and running with as little interruption as possible.

Mitigate the damage. If necessary, do what you can to prevent further damage by boarding up holes, using tarps to cover leaks and removing debris.

Announce your reopening. Connect with your delivery personnel, maintenance crews and others to let them know when you will be up and running again. Change your outgoing phone message and social media posts to reflect your current status.

Gather and debrief. It’s a great idea to bring your employees together and review what happened. Detail what worked and what didn’t. This way you know if your emergency plan was spot on or if you need to make some tweaks. It also helps employees know where you are in the recovery process and what steps still need to be taken. This is also a good opportunity to take note of any emergency supplies that were used so you can replace them.

The key to successfully managing a severe weather emergency is having everyone on board with your company’s safety procedures. If each employee does their share to ensure their safety and the safety of their co-workers, everyone wins. Practicing for emergencies is the final piece of the puzzle and builds the confidence everyone needs to step into action if the time comes.

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Related Topics: Employee Safety , Protecting Your Business , Safety Programs