In 2018, the US suffered 14 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion. Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, and the California wildfires are estimated to have caused over $24 billion in damage—each. 2018 was the fourth most expensive year on record for insurance companies, which paid out $79 billion, higher than the annual average over the past decade.
Earlier this year, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said that recent flooding in the state had caused an estimated $1.6 billion in damage, pushing the total costs from the devastating Midwest flooding to at least $3 billion. The same news report noted that “the flooding comes during a week in which the NOAA released its spring weather outlook, in which they warned more than 200 million Americans are at risk for some kind of flooding, with 13 million of them at risk of major inundation. About 41 million people are at risk of moderate flooding.” This month, the dire weather continues. Floods are devastating the Plains and the Midwest. At least seven people have died because of flooding and tornadoes across Missouri and in Oklahoma, the River Spirit Casino Resort has been closed for over a week leaving its 1,500 employees with little to do.
Flooding can strike virtually anywhere with devastating consequences. Most of us will recall seeing images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where flooding caused by levee failures kept most of New Orleans under water for days. Flash floods can even affect desert areas, making roads impassable and buildings inaccessible. Floods can be caused by tidal surges, rising river levels, ice jams, and dam failures.
What can organizations do to prepare against the risk of flooding?
One way to protect businesses and improve the odds of reopening after such situations is to have a natural disaster and business continuity plan. Unfortunately, this is a precaution that many businesses overlook. A recent Nationwide Insurance study found that two in three businesses don’t have a written disaster plan, even though most think disaster recovery would take more than three months. Following are a few steps to take to prepare against the risk of flooding:
- Determine if your business is located in a flood zone. Consult the Federal Emergency Management Association’s (FEMA’s) Flood Map Service Center. Monitor storm activity and precipitation predictions, especially in flood-prone areas.
- Be particularly careful driving in flooded areas, as roughly half of flood fatalities are vehicle-related. According to OSHA’s website, “Six inches of standing water is enough to stall some cars, a foot of water can float a vehicle, and two feet of moving water is enough to sweep a car away.”
- Store or move toxic or hazardous substances above anticipated flood water levels to avoid contaminating flood waters. Work with local authorities on a flood response plan if your business has a large quantity of hazardous material or waste on-site.
- Map evacuation routes and allow sufficient time for employees and others on the premises to reach safety.
- Educate yourself about the best flood-prevention tools and tactics. In some cases, the use of sandbags and other water barriers can be effective in mitigating damage.
- Resources like gov and OSHA’s Disaster Preparedness website can give you additional information and resources to consider when planning.
Essential elements of your response plan
The first step to crafting an effective emergency response plan is to assess your risks. The biggest natural disaster risks to your business may be that you are in a flood zone or an area prone to extreme weather. Your risk assessment will ideally include a list of stakeholders and how each is affected.
We recommend four essential elements to any emergency response plan:
- If/then scenarios and actions based on a company’s risk profile. For example, “If a flood threatens to release toxic chemicals into the environment, then take these actions.”
- Provisions for company-specific circumstances, such as assisting individuals with disabilities or protecting equipment in a storm.
- Personnel responsible for overseeing and carrying out each step in the plan.
- Communication instructions, including how to notify first-responders; key stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and community members; and local media.
Remember, your plan should address specific safety issues and protocol. For example, share relevant advice or warnings about the use of personal protective equipment, such as hazardous materials suits or other protective clothing, goggles, helmets, gloves, or other clothing or gear that employees should use to help protect against injury. Include information about power tools or hand tools that can be used in case of emergency, such as pumps to eliminate water, hoses, and water sources for fires, etc. Finally, be sure to remind employees how to prevent injuries while engaging in manual labor, such as how to protect against back injury. Each of these components should be specific to your company and its unique risk profile.
Don’t forget your business continuity plan
In a previous blog post, I discussed why it is imperative that every organization have a business continuity plan, and I provided a checklist for what needs to be included. The bottom line is that during recovery, your place of business may not be accessible. In such cases, consider how and where will your employees do their jobs? The business continuity component of your recovery plan will outline such provisions as:
- Work location, whether it’s from home or at a secondary location.
- Equipment to be used. If employees will use their own devices, ensure that they are equipped with proper virus protection and that they adhere to cybersecurity measures that are typically used in your office to keep sensitive data safe.
- Communication and how to provide regular updates to employees, customers, suppliers, community members, and others.
Cloud-based platforms can be particularly useful in keeping your business running after a disaster because they can be accessed remotely and allow employees to work outside the office. Discuss such options with your IT team. You can also store your disaster recovery and business continuity plan in the cloud, but also consider keeping hard copies on premises and at alternate locations in case of power failure or if your facility is not accessible. Clearly communicate to your team how to access the plan. Once the plan is completed, hold periodic “table exercises” during which your teams gather and talk through disaster responses. This will allow you to think through the steps and identify any issues or gaps. It’s also a good idea to consult first responders and the local healthcare center about your plan. As your business grows, changes, acquires new customers, suppliers, or employees, the strategy needs to be updated. Plan on revisiting the content quarterly or twice each year to confirm that it’s as up-to-date as possible.
Donna McEntee is the Workplace Safety and Health Solution Manager at Skillsoft.