The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted a 60% chance of an above-normal season this year, with 13 to 19 named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 39 mph), six to ten hurricanes (category 1 or higher with winds of at least 74 mph) and three to six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher with winds of 111 mph or higher).
The average season produces 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. This year’s hurricane season already set a record for the earliest fifth named storm ever when Tropical Storm Edouard formed almost two months earlier than the average fifth named storm.
While we have all been preoccupied trying to stay out of the path of the global pandemic, that doesn’t mean we should put off planning for a major storm that could threaten your food or beverage facility’s operation. In fact, COVID-19 is going to present an entirely new dynamic to hurricane preparedness and evacuation plans as people try to uphold social distancing.
COVID-19 will change evacuation plans
- It is going to be difficult to maintain social distance in a hurricane shelter; even if shelters put social distancing safety measures in place, most people will avoid them if they can.
- This may result in employees needing to make plans to stay with family and friends outside of evacuation zones, potentially prolonging their time away from work.
- Management should stress that workers set up these plans before hurricanes show up on the radar, or be prepared to shelter in place if their homes allow for it.
- Hurricane preparedness kits need to include a supply of face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. There is a distinct possibility people could go without power and water in the event a storm hits, and they still need to be ready to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Planning for the storm
The purpose of an emergency response plan is to protect your most important assets: your employees. What is your plan to evacuate the building immediately and efficiently, and how will you account for all employees? A thorough plan will include:
- An evacuation plan and route
- Data backup, alternate communications and power provisions
- A list of contractors and vendors on hand to provide disaster recovery services and supplies
Find employees who can serve as leaders during an emergency. Supply them with the authority and skills to execute evacuation plans and provide instructions. These emergency leaders should be cross-trained, high performing employees who are confident and willing to serve in the position.
Access to safety equipment is also critical. Again, plan for the unexpected. Check to make sure:
- Emergency equipment is easy to locate and access, even in the dark
- Emergency equipment is accessible along the facility’s evacuation routes
- The emergency supply includes enough face shields, respirators, safety glasses, hard hats, earplugs, and personal protective equipment for each employee
- Regular audits of your emergency equipment supply are done to ensure emergency supplies are adequately stocked and in good condition
Industry groups and government regulatory agencies provide requirements and recommendations to follow in developing a plan. For example, check out the Department of Labor’s OSHA Hurricane Preparedness and Response guide.
Map out the following:
- Plant areas that could be impacted by a power outage
- Processes that may be shut down if rooftop equipment is lost or damaged
- Key areas that need to be protected from water damage
Having a response team who understands all of the facility’s systems and how to safely shut them down is imperative. In case of a fire, how do you secure your ammonia or refrigeration systems to prevent a release? Who is responsible for safely engaging the system shutdown?
Ammonia systems are important to secure in the event of a hurricane to prevent a harmful ammonia release. Standard operating procedure includes pumping down the system and ensuring it is secured. To verify all roof-mounted equipment is as structurally sound as it was when it was newly constructed, inspect elements including:
- Pipe stands
- Valve groups
- Roof penetrations
- Rooftop unit (RTU)
- Refrigerated makeup air unit (RMAU)
Stellar designed a Bradenton, Florida plant to withstand a Category 4 hurricane, with evaporative condensers and all external equipment on the roof, which is the safest way to equip a facility.
Insurance companies usually have detailed hurricane preparedness manuals. If you do not have one, ask your insurance carrier for one to serve as a template to develop a checklist specific to your facility.
Emergency Response: When the storm hits
Storm-damaged facilities can be very dangerous places. When someone sees a ravaged building, their first instinct is often to rush into the remains to try to help anyone that could be hurt or in danger. But it is important to assess the damage before starting rescue efforts. Having a solid catastrophe response plan in place will help guide you to make actions safely and effectively after the storm rolls through.
What to look for
Before sending in the clean-up crew, stop and answer the following to determine the building’s structural integrity:
- Are there gas leaks?
- What will be needed to stabilize the structure?
- Has power been shut down and electrical hazards identified prior to exposing personnel to possible electrical dangers?
- How do we keep people away from the dangerous parts of the plant?
- How do we conduct responsible demolition without causing unneeded damage to the facility?
Bracing and shoring
In the event that a storm inflicts significant structural damage to your plant, you will need to brace walls and shore floors to stabilize the structure. Bracing and shoring is a technical process that needs to be handled by experienced professionals in order to ensure personnel will not be in danger when walking through the facility.
Bracing and shoring is a typical process in new construction, so there will likely be many companies that offer the service. However, not all construction companies are experienced in employing these techniques to emergency situations. Seek out structural engineers with experience in bracing and shoring facilities following disasters.
Real-life hurricane preparedness and response
A long-time Stellar customer in New Jersey experienced major storm damage following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Stellar helped the client prepare for the storm to minimize potential damage and provided timely on-site services to restore areas that took on water and re-roof the building after the record-setting storm rolled through. Our quick response helped the client get back up and running as quickly as possible.
Some of Stellar’s projects across the U.S. and in the Bahamas have been hit by hurricanes during construction, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Our crews planned for the worst and secured job sites from wind and water damage, which helped us avoid major losses other than workdays. Make sure you have an emergency preparedness plan before the storm forms so you can be ready for whatever nature throws your way.
Looking for more advice on preparing your specific facility for a hurricane? Send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (904) 260-2900.