Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and earthquakes, cause billions of dollars in damage each year.
In 2020, the United States faced 22 weather disasters – a record for a single year.1 In fact, 2020 was the most active hurricane season on record, with an unprecedented 30 named storms. Of these storms:2
- Thirteen became hurricanes, sustaining top winds of 74 mph or greater
- Nearly half were major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph or greater
Collectively, these storms caused an estimated $60 billion to $65 billion in economic damage.3
Scientists are predicting even more severe natural disasters in 2021, including tropical storms, hurricanes and wildfires. That’s why it’s essential for businesses to plan ahead and prepare for the worst.
Here are four steps you can take to help keep your employees and job sites safe in a crisis.
Identify Potential Risks
Although natural disasters can strike anywhere, certain regions of the country are more prone to certain dangers. For instance:
- California is more susceptible to earthquakes and wildfires.
- Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota are more likely to experience tornadoes.
- Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are the states most often hit by hurricanes.
Make a list of the extreme weather events your business is most likely to experience based on your location and past experiences. If you’re new to the area, research historical weather patterns for your ZIP code on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.
Create a Disaster Plan
Regardless of the type of disaster you may face, it’s important to have a written plan that explains to employees and customers what to expect in a crisis. A written disaster plan should provide step-by-step instructions for minimizing risks, including how to protect employees and property.
It’s essential to share your plan with staff ahead of any event. Consider holding mock drills every six months to practice the plan with employees and to identify any gaps or weaknesses.
Be sure to include these four essential elements in your business’ disaster plan:
A staff evacuation plan: Designate primary and secondary evacuation routes for employees, and make sure they’re clearly marked and easily accessible. Designate an outdoor meeting place for staff to gather and ask managers to account for their staff by taking attendance after an evacuation. If anyone on staff needs assistance to exit the building, include that in the disaster plan and designate a volunteer to help them.
An up-to-date list of emergency numbers: Create a comprehensive list of phone numbers for local emergency services, including:
Don’t forget about phone numbers for disaster relief agencies, customers, suppliers and distributors. Keep a duplicate copy of the list off-site to ensure it’s not lost or damaged in a disaster.
A designated crisis management team: Determine who will respond to and manage the crisis. Give each person on the team specific roles and tasks for before, during and after the disaster. The team should meet regularly to discuss and update the plan, as needed, and lead any practice drills.
A plan to communicate with employees and their families: Develop a method for contacting employees and their families in the event of an emergency. Keep in mind that cell phone service and the internet may not be available during a natural disaster.
Plan for Business Continuity
If a natural disaster hits your business, having a business continuity plan can help you recover and restart operations.
You should have these critical items on-hand before a natural disaster to help maintain your business immediately after a crisis.
- An emergency kit: Make sure employees have access to essential items, including first aid supplies, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a tool kit, bottled water and non-perishable food.
- A safe for critical business documents: Keep important business documents, such as invoices, receipts and payroll documents in a safe that is resistant to fire and burglary.
- Backup copies of critical data: Make copies of all vital documents, data and programs, and designate a separate location to keep them safe from damage during a natural disaster.
- Insurance information and contact names: Keeping insurance information in a separate location will make it easier if you need to make a claim for property damage or injury.
After the Crisis
If a natural disaster impacts your business, follow these steps to help restore operations:
- Verify with emergency crews that it’s safe to return: Confirm you’re your local fire department and police that the building is safe to re-enter and that the area is no longer in danger.
- Check for safety hazards: Before allowing any employees or customers into the building, make sure there are no damaged power lines, standing water, leaking gas, downed trees or other obstacles that could be dangerous.
- Assess the damage: Members of your crisis management team will want to tour the facilities, see if repairs are needed and decide whether to file an insurance claim. If there is damage, take photographs.
Advanced planning can help your business remain operational after a natural disaster, and, more importantly, it can help save lives. It’s important to regularly review your disaster and business continuity plans to make sure your business is prepared for a natural disaster. For more information, visit www.thehartford.com/riskengineering.
1 National Centers for Environmental Information, “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview”
2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Record-Breaking Atlantic Hurricane Season Draws to an End”
3 AccuWeather, “Record-Breaking 2020 Hurricane Season Caused $60 Billion to $65 Billion in Economic Damage”
The information provided in these materials is intended to be general and advisory in nature. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of February, 2021.
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