Safeguarding Facilities During Severe Weather Events

As the 2022 hurricane season picks up, facility executives should brush up on how to best keep buildings safe during adverse weather events.

building resiliency
Photo: Adobe Stock – roostler

By Staci Saint-Preux

Extreme weather events regularly force businesses to shut down, halting operations and often causing direct physical damage to buildings, infrastructure, and assets. Severe weather is mostly unavoidable, yet it is possible to minimize the operational disruption caused by severe weather.

Optimal severe weather response involves two phases:

  • Planning: By developing a robust response plan well ahead of the severe weather event
  • Response: Through the decisive execution of the planned response actions during the event

Phase 1: Develop A Robust Weather Response Plan

It has been said that success is 90% planning, and that is especially true when responding to severe weather. The most successful response plans analyze the risks to your facilities and predetermine the specific response actions based on these risks and the facility vulnerabilities.

Here are five steps to creating, or improving, a severe weather emergency response plan.

  1. Conduct A Vulnerability Assessment Of Your Facilities


The backbone of any robust emergency response plan is the vulnerability assessment. Once the vulnerabilities are identified, a detailed plan can be developed that includes potential risks to facilities and assets, while outlining how the company will respond to threats to protect the facilities and maintain safety.

There are three main components to look at when conducting a severe weather vulnerability assessment: The type of severe weather that may threaten your asset locations; the impact the severe weather would cause to the facility and employees; and the likelihood of the severe weather event happening.

A vulnerability assessment aims to establish a relationship between safety, business continuity, and the bottom line by quantifying the overall exposure of weather risks to the facility and addressing individual weather risks in terms of preparation and probability.

2. Identify Potential Weather Threats


The first step in any vulnerability assessment is to evaluate the area’s history of severe weather events. What types of events tend to occur where the facility is located? When do these events occur? What anomalous events have happened in the past five years? Could changes in the climate affect future events? Consider the potential threat from all types of severe events, including severe storms, tornadoes, flooding, extreme temperatures, wildfires, and hurricanes. Facility managers should consider how each severe weather event could impact the facilities and their functionality. For example, hurricanes cause damage through high wind speeds and flooding caused by storm surges and heavy rainfall, leading to power outages, building damage, and loss of access to the facility.

3. Understand Your Surrounding Area and Know the Limits of Your Facilities

Understanding what to expect at each facility location is key to building robust business continuity and emergency response plans. Do certain streets flood? Are there nearby rivers that could flood, taking out bridges? Are there areas with lots of trees that could take out power lines?

In addition to knowing how the surrounding area responds to severe weather, you need to know the thresholds for the buildings. At what threshold would the building begin taking on water during a flood? What wind speeds can the facility withstand before taking on critical damage? The answers to these questions will allow you to plan your specific response based on the forecast conditions of the storm.

4. Determine Severity And Impact Probability 


Once the weather threats are identified, facility managers should consider their potential severity and impact probability and prioritize the weather events based on their overall danger to the facility. A practical method to manage the various threats is to classify them as either slight, moderate, high, or extreme threat weather events, depending on their intensity and likelihood. Every possible weather event requires individual risk assessments to account for all possibilities.

Slight and moderate risk weather events typically threaten the accessibility of the facility, while high and extreme risk weather events typically threaten the facility itself, as well as the employees. If the weather event is a slight risk, any response would generally be short-term. These weather events usually do not cause severe destruction but may cause, for example, street flooding and travel delays. When experiencing moderate weather events, one typically gets something more widespread and prolonged. During slight and moderate risk weather events, a facility usually needs provisions on-site until the roads open if staff cannot travel to the office.

During high and extreme risk weather events, facilities may need to shut down depending on what the facility can withstand. Operations may need to be relocated to an alternate work facility. For businesses that operate 24/7, typically, a small ride-out team might stay in the main facility to ensure essential operations are kept running while other employees are sent home or to the alternate work facility. For the most extreme threats, a total shutdown may be necessary for the main facility. Employees also need to be provided with enough time to prepare their families and homes for the severe weather event.

5. Discover The Appropriate Response

Every possible weather impact must have an appropriate response. Facility managers should establish the proper weather hazards risk thresholds that determine when to execute mitigating actions to maximize the balance between reliability and cost.
All potential decisions must be considered in terms of their financial and safety implications. Risk analysis methods, such as cost-loss modeling based on the intensity and probability vectors of the business impact, are helpful in this regard.

Phase 2: Execute The Response Plan

Responding to a significant weather event with limited information in the heat of the moment can lead to errors. If you have thought through each weather scenario and its associated risk level, everyone on the response team will know what actions to take and when. This helps remove impulsive and costly decision-making with limited information.
In addition to having a pre-determined response plan, it is crucial to have accurate information. Private weather services can provide location-specific information about the current conditions and forecasts based on the specific thresholds of your facility and business requirements. When your business combines accurate weather information with a robust response plan, the teams in charge of emergency response will feel greater confidence in their decision-making ability.

 

Saint-Preux is an Industry Manager at StormGeo. She has a crucial role in serving current and prospective clients in the healthcare, retail and hospitality industries. Prior to her time at StormGeo, Staci worked as a flight planner and meteorologist for a private aviation company in Houston. With a degree and background in meteorology, Saint-Preux understands the importance of accurate weather data and forecasting and knows the value of having a team of weather experts on your side.

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