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Hurricane season is here, so prepare for the worst

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It takes just one hurricane or windstorm to wreak havoc on a business. So, with some forecasters predicting an active storm season, preparation is key. Andrew Higgins, technical manager for Allianz Risk Consulting L.L.C. offers tips to help companies reduce the risk and minimize losses.

Hurricane season is upon us, and forecasts by the national meteorological and scientific agencies range from below average to very active. With such a broad range, it is difficult to know how to prepare. But preparation is crucial because one hurricane making landfall can disrupt businesses and people's lives over a large area.

Whether it's hurricanes in the North Atlantic Ocean, typhoons in the Northwest Pacific Ocean or cyclones in the Southwest Pacific and Indian oceans, windstorms can have a devastating effect on businesses.

With the advent of just-in-time management philosophies and lean inventories, windstorm losses can cripple an organization. Property damage and business interruption may be covered by the insurance policy, but the loss of market share and reputation due to the inability to produce cannot be easily recovered.

As much as storm severity, population growth and industrial expansion — particularly in the developing world — will ensure increasing losses. While we can't prevent windstorms, damage can be minimized with adequate preparation. Following are select guidelines to protect a business before, during and after a windstorm.

PRE-WINDSTORM PLANNING

Develop a comprehensive written emergency plan to mitigate the exposures. The plan should include:

• Assigning emergency organization roles and responsibilities.

• Providing training at least annually.

• Assembling emergency supplies and equipment, such as plastic tarps, mops, squeegees, lighting, battery operated radio, tape for windows, lumber and nails, in a safe location.

• Planning for salvage and recovery, including maintaining a list of key vendors, contractors, and salvage services.

• Designate a person to monitor the windstorm, keeping management and maintenance personnel updated. Allow enough time to implement the emergency procedures.

Inspect and repair the roof for problems with:

• Loose shingles, flashing, edging strips and accessories.

• Blocked or loose drains, gutters or downspouts.

• Inadequately secured equipment, signs, stacks, ventilators, etc.

• Anchor large equipment, such as cranes and draglines, in accordance with manufacturer's guidelines.

• Move or securely fasten outdoor equipment, machinery and inventory. Outdoor structures, such as trailers, should be anchored. Secure inflammable liquid containers or move them to a sheltered area (but not the main facility).

• Consider removing large trees or limbs that could fall and damage buildings, outdoor equipment, power lines, etc.

Protect exterior windows and doors as follows:

• Attach pre-fitted windstorm shutters and/or plywood.

• Inspect doors and windows for weak latches and hardware. Repair as needed.

• Install pre-fabricated steel bars inside exterior roll-up doors.

• Fill fuel tanks of generators, fire pumps and company-owned vehicles.

• Fill aboveground tanks to capacity to prevent wind damage.

• Clear debris from storm drains and catch basins.

• Protect computers, inventory and key machinery and equipment with plastic tarps or waterproof covers. Back up all important computer data and store in a safe location.

• Consider moving valuable and/or critical inventory and materials to a safe location.

• Isolate, neutralize or remove chemicals.

Prepare for flooding:

• Move important equipment, inventory and records to higher elevations. Cover anything that can't be moved with plastic tarps or store on pallets.

• Install devices in sewer and drain lines to prevent floodwater from backing up into buildings.

• Be prepared to place sandbags at vulnerable openings and around critical outdoor equipment.

• If flooding is imminent, shut off the building's electrical power — except to motor-driven fire pumps.

Be prepared to safely shut down operations:

• Shut off processes and equipment following established procedures.

• Shut off all inflammable and combustible liquid and gas lines at their source to prevent discharge from broken piping.

• Enforce “No smoking” and “No cutting or welding” rules.

• Protect or shut off other possible flame sources.

DURING A WINDSTORM

• Emergency response team personnel should remain at the facility if possible and be prepared to respond.

• Continue to monitor weather reports for information on potential storm damage, access to property and utility outages. Update management and maintenance accordingly.

• Patrol the property and watch for roof leaks, broken pipes, fire or structural damage.

• Constantly monitor processes, equipment, boilers and furnaces that must remain on line during the windstorm.

• During power failure, turn off electrical switches to prevent reactivation before checks are completed.

AFTER A WINDSTORM

• Secure the site to prevent unauthorized entry.

• Organize and prepare emergency crews for salvage and cleaning.

As soon as it's safe, conduct a damage assessment, paying particular attention to the following:

• Structural damage to the building, particularly the roof.

• Fire protection equipment, keeping as much in service as possible while making repairs.

• Utilities: electric; gas; water; compressed air; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; steam.

• Production and process equipment.

• Areas subject to flooding, including basements.

• Call in key personnel and notify contractors to begin major repairs after facility safety procedures are implemented. This would include controlling ignition sources such as smoking and hot work.

Initiate salvage operations:

• Promptly cover compromised building elements, such as roofs, doors and windows, with plastic tarps to keep water out.

• Move damaged inventory and equipment to dry areas.

• Clean and dry equipment.

• Inspect and repair electrical systems and equipment before re-starting.

• Clear debris from roof and yard drains, gutters, drain pipes, gutters and catch basins.

• Remove water and dehumidify damp areas. Monitor air humidity levels over an extended period of time in areas with highly sensitive equipment.

• Review the effectiveness of the windstorm emergency plan and revise as needed, but at least annually.

By taking some simple steps now, companies and other enterprises can avoid much of the damage and business interruption caused by a windstorm, allowing you to get back up and running as quickly as possible.

Andrew Higgins is technical manager-Americas for Allianz Risk Consulting L.L.C. Contact him at 910-420-1314 and ahiggins@aic-allianz.com.