By Bill Begal
Published in the August 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Hurricanes are severe weather systems that develop over warm tropical oceans and exhibit sustained winds in excess of 74 miles per hour. These storms are capable of producing dangerous winds, torrential rains, and flooding, all of which may result in tremendous property damage and loss of life for coastal populations. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was responsible for at least 50 deaths and more than $30 billion in property damage.
Lastyear saw some extremely dramatic hurricane activity. The media evencoined the term “The Big Four of ‘04”—Charley, Frances, Ivan, andJeanne. This quartet of powerful hurricanes ripped through Florida,killing 130 people and causing $22 billion in damage.
Weather professionals have predicted that the 2005 hurricane season(which began on June 1 and peaks in August through October) will be arecord setter as far as damage is concerned. Experts are expecting atotal of 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of which should becomehurricanes. Three to five of those hurricanes could become major, withimpacts on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
For three consecutive weeks this year, severe storms have alreadydisrupted oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, forcing shutdowns andevacuations of over 30 drilling platforms, according to one governmentagency. This reduction in oil drilling capacity will almost certainlybe felt down the road as reduced oil production drives gas priceshigher.
How Soon They Forget
Although memories of last year’s hurricane season are still fresh inthe minds of Floridians, there are signs that residents in the nation’sstormier states are still not prepared for this year. A Mason-Dixonpoll of coastal residents finds one in four do not plan to do anythingin anticipation of upcoming storms, and almost half do not have aproactive disaster plan.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service, and other agencies monitor large storms. Over the last decade, FEMA has been heavily promoting the various ways businesses can prepare for weather calamities. The agency even coined the phrase, “Disaster Resistant Communities” for cities and towns that are well prepared for weather-related disasters.
Whena minor or major disaster occurs, it is almost always too late to actproperly without a plan that has been practiced in advance. Even in theworst disasters, people can save what’s most important if they take thetime to be prepared. A plan that sits on the shelf or is not known byeveryone is useless once a disaster is imminent.
Indeed, disaster preparedness planning is the key for any business office or facility when it comes to surviving hurricane season. There are services available that allow individuals and organizations to stay up-to-date and aware of what to do in the event of a disaster.
How To Prepare
Estimates of America’s fire and flood damage run into many billionsof dollars per year. One in four businesses never re-open after adisaster takes place. Steps businesses can take in advance include:
- Boarding up exposed windows and using special supports onfurniture and shelves so they will not fall over unless the wall itselfcollapses.
- Developing contingency plans in the event of apower outage. A good plan saves money, critical medical supplies,documents, and equipment, all of which saves lives.
- Dealingwith the aftermath may mean cleaning up a great deal of mud. Mud seepsinto virtually everything it comes in contact with, and it is verydifficult to remove entirely.
- Preparing for heavy rain thataccompanies strong winds associated with hurricanes should be a toppriority. Uncontrolled water destroys documents, files, computer discs,and equipment. If possible, these items can be protected by removingthem from the premises in advance. Computer disks should be backed upregularly or a remote backup service over the Internet can be used thatwill place data well out of the area of the storm’s influence.
More To Be Said About Water
As previously mentioned, the worst damage that a hurricane causes usually comes from water. Here are some additional simple steps that will help facility managers assess how much—and what type of—water damage has occurred, as well as what could be done to prevent such instances from happening again in the future.
- After a storm has passed, look for integrity in the external structure.
- Look at the walls, plaster, and building envelope.
- Checkall sides of a building. Just because a storm comes from the eastdoesn’t mean that the western side of the building hasn’t been damaged.Storms often move in a circle; the exit can often do as much damage, ifnot more, than the entering side of the storm.
- Provided the integrity of the walls is fine, move up to the roof. Look for patterns of wind damage to shingles.
- Insurancecompanies often exclude “wind driven rain” from coverage in manypolicies, so facility managers may need to add extra coverage for thistype of damage. (If you’re in a hazardous area, why not check yourcoverage as soon as you finish reading this article?)
- Flatroofs can completely lift off during a hurricane, especially if thebuilding is near the eye of the storm. Be sure to check all expansionjoints and seams. While checking the roof, make sure to examine all themechanicals. Specifically, make sure that any fan covers or HVAC coversare still in place.
- Finally, walk around the perimeter ofthe building and look for any small cracks in the foundation or alongthe wall. Small cracks are often easily repaired, but if these problemsgo unresolved, water damage to the interior of the building is seldomfar behind. The resulting damage from deferred maintenance often costsmuch more than if the repair had been performed in a timely manner inthe first place.
- After checking the outside of the building,move on to the inside. Look behind any wallpaper, above any ceilingtiles, and be as thorough as possible in the search. If there is waterin any crevice, make sure to address it immediately. Water that isallowed to fester in any location can lead to mold problems, which aresubstantially harder to fix.
- Look for sand. When sand getsinto motors, it can cause them to overwork and burn out. Sand insidethe building is also a great indicator that something may have beenmissed.
Finally, when making any inspections, it is best to use a digitalcamera to document the findings. This digital documentation will assistfacility managers in the event that corporate officials need to see anydamage. It will also prove to the insurance companies that a claim iswarranted.
Getting Professional Help
When basic planning measures aren’t enough, many businesses will go through the process of consulting with a specialist. Specialists are available to prepare customized plans and take into account any specific needs a business may have in preparing for a hurricane.
Theseservices take a team-based and holistic approach to preparedness. Theyexamine both the internal assets that have an immediate and directeffect, as well as often overlooked external influences that may comeinto play in a hurricane situation.
- Insurance companies and policies;
- Industrial and office equipment;
- Banks and banking contingencies;
- Utility providers and power and utilities alternatives;
- Suppliers and alternate supply strategies;
- Local government and security issues;
- Employee support and assistance;
- Employers of surrounding companies; and
- Customers and clients.
Disasters like hurricanes are bound to happen in areas prone to suchweather. By taking a few precautionary measures before the stormoccurs, a company can save its most important and irreplaceable assets.
However, after a hurricane strikes, the next question becomes, “Whatdo I need to look for in my building?” At this point, it is often toolate to ask the question—particularly when the answer is one that noone wants to hear.