Back to Basics, Emergency Preparedness, Maintenance and Operations, Safety

Back to Basics: Preparing Your Facility for Hurricanes

Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.

This year’s hurricane season began on June 1, so it’s time for facilities management professionals to prepare. This is important because above-average Atlantic hurricane activity is predicted for 2022 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center. Specifically, forecasters believe there could be 14 to 21 named storms, including 6 to 10 hurricanes, with 3 to 6 of those being severe.

Facilities management professionals should therefore consider the impact such a hurricane could have on their facilities and the staff within them, and it’s important they take adequate preparations in advance so they are not caught off guard. Smart hurricane preparation occurs before a watch or warning is issued for a region.

Here are 10 tips from ready.gov and the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) that facilities managers should follow to prepare their facilities for hurricanes. They should also work with internal departments, external partners, and government agencies to help them take these steps.

1. Create an emergency response team: Facilities managers should work in conjunction with people from other departments on creating a team in which roles, resources, and technologies are clearly defined. Consider hiring an outside business recovery team in advance or requesting emergency assistance from local, state, and federal emergency authority agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

2. Fortify the facility: Determine the biggest risks associated with the facility and how it can withstand potential damage. For example, facilities in coastal regions might experience severe flooding, and flood protection design elements could be implemented. In these instances, facilities managers should consider purchasing flood protection insurance to protect their facilities. Buildings with glass windows can also be boarded up to protect them from getting broken.

3. Protect facility surroundings: A professional landscaper, tradesman, or engineer should assess whether smaller items around the facility could withstand strong winds. These could include signs, flagpoles, landscaping, fences, floodwalls, and levees.

4. Create a facility evacuation plan: Formulate a plan for the safest way out of the facility, and post physical maps on each floor showing which stairwells and exits to use. The plan should also show which parking lot exits and surrounding streets to use, and the facility should be evacuated before a hurricane strikes.

5. Back up data: Ensure computer data within the facility is regularly backed up and stored in a safe off-site location. Any on-site data should be taken out of the building immediately after a hurricane watch is posted. Businesses should also have payroll, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and HR systems on a cloud-based system.

6. Facility backup power: Consider installing backup power to the facility in case a hurricane knocks out power and workers who are unable to evacuate or work remotely need to use the facility. Also consider uninterruptable power supply (UPS), batteries, emergency lighting, and generators.

7. Facility shelter in place: Facilities managers should prepare specific facilities to accommodate employees who need to stay there. In these cases, food, sleeping accommodations (like sleeping bags), bathing facilities, and an emergency supply kit should be provided. 

8. Operate remotely: Employees who are unable to work at the facility should be able to work from home or a secondary location, so ensure critical operations can be run remotely. If employees must travel to another location, make advance travel and lodging accommodations.

9. Implement an effective communications strategy: Regularly communicate facility plans to employees, families, off-duty personnel, customers, supplies, and the media. Establish backup communications plans for voice and data, and consider communicating via cellphones, radios, private lines, walky-talkies, and high-frequency radios.

10. Perform drills: Facilities managers should hold mock drills to practice their plan, as employees are more likely to remember a drill than a written plan. They can give advance notice or have an impromptu drill to mimic a real emergency.

Using Your Facility to Help the Community

Facilities can help serve their communities by providing necessary services after hurricanes hit. Facilities management can work with other departments in their organizations in accomplishing these tasks.

Relief kits: Work with local emergency management offices to transform the facility into a storage warehouse to house disaster-relief kits. These kits can be distributed by local volunteer organizations.

Offices and space: Consider contacting National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to offer offices or a multipurpose room that could be used by a nonprofit organization during an emergency.

Charging stations: If a facility has electricity after a hurricane or has adequate backup power, consider making it a local charging station. Emergency responders, volunteers, and community members will appreciate being able to charge their cellphones, power wheelchairs, battery-powered tools, and other devices at the facility.

Food preparation: If a facility can provide and serve meals in a sanitary kitchen, consider opening the kitchen for emergency responders, volunteers, and community members to prepare or receive meals.

It’s important to properly prepare your facility in advance of a hurricane that will make landfall. Proper preparation now could save lives and company property in the future.