Tornadoes can occur at any time of year in the U.S., but they are most prevalent in spring and summertime. It’s always important to take precautions and have a disaster recovery plan in place to minimize damage from these events, but this last year presents a different sort of challenge. How should business owners adjust their tornado preparedness plans to prioritize health and safety during a pandemic?
On average, 1,000 tornadoes touch down in the U.S. each year, a higher number than anywhere else in the world. These storms are dangerous and quite unpredictable.
Why prepare for a tornado?
Despite the United States’ high tornado numbers, most business owners think such a storm will never occur, let alone damage their business. The odds of a tornado appearing in your area and crossing paths with your building seem slim.
In reality, tornadoes are not all that uncommon and account for the second-highest percentage of total catastrophic losses in the U.S., after hurricanes and tropical storms. From 1993 to 2012, hurricanes and tropical storms made up about 40% of total catastrophic losses, followed by tornado losses around 36%, winter storms at 7%, terrorism at 6.5%, wind/hail/ﬂood/ﬁre around 6% and earthquakes and other geologic events at 4.7%.
The best thing you can do for your business is develop a plan in advance for fast recovery. According to FEMA, anywhere from 40-60% of small businesses close permanently after a disaster. Among businesses that are closed for at least five days, 90% fail within a year.
Tornado preparedness for businesses
There are many tips to help you prepare for tornado damage and recovery in advance. We’ve compiled our top six here.
- Inspect and reinforce your roof
If applicable, inspect your building’s roof to make sure it is sealed tight. The industry rule of thumb is that a commercial-grade roof should be inspected twice per year. If you do not have access to your roof, ask your building manager for dated records of roof inspection. You can also request an updated roof inspection.
Additionally, consider reinforcing the roof with hurricane clips. Despite the name, these clips work for tornadoes and other high-wind storms as well, and can help prevent the roof from lifting off of the home.
- Minimize debris around your building
Keep trees, branches and bushes trimmed to minimize debris damage. In high winds, they could fall on personnel, the building, walls, roof or power lines. Again, you can also request that your building manager make these repairs and trims if you notice risky debris.
This rule of thumb also extends to loose or damaged building components that can come free, such as pipes, gutters, siding shingles, roof, soffit, fascia, brickwork and chimneys. Inspect the exterior every six months and repair anything at risk of becoming debris.
If you keep patio furniture or outdoor decor around your building, be sure to bring it inside if you know a severe storm or high winds are headed your way.
- Meet building codes
Structures that meet code requirements and stay up to date on repairs are more likely to survive natural disasters like tornadoes. If you aren’t sure whether or not your building is up to code, hire an expert to perform an inspection of your windows, doors, roofing, gables and connections.
- Know how to turn off utilities
Locate your building’s electricity, gas and water shut off valves and know how to operate them quickly and correctly.
- Electrical: Tornadoes may cause electrical damage. Depending on the size or your building, there should be a main shut off easily accessible. For businesses, these panels are generally industrial and a bit more complex than a residential fuse box. Make sure you know where your shut off is and how to disconnect it quickly.
- Water: If a water line breaks, you should also know how to shut off the building’s water. There is usually more than one location for water shut off valves, one in the building and one outside of your building closer to the street, sidewalk or parking lot. Locate both and know how to turn both off and on in case of emergency.
- Gas: Gas leaks after a storm are serious and must be handled immediately if it is safe to do so. The smell of gas and a slight hissing sound are indications of a leak. Gas shut off valves will be located outside of your building. Locate yours and ensure you know how to turn it on and off.
- Secure large furniture and appliances
Be sure to anchor down large pieces of indoor furniture to walls to keep them from falling or sliding and causing damage. You can also use furniture straps or zip ties to secure furniture to the floor.
This is another tip you don’t have to wait to implement. Securing your furniture now when the weather is calm can save you valuable time when bad weather does occur. It also doubles as a method of earthquake preparedness.
- Know the signs
There are several atmospheric warning signs that can indicate a tornado is on the way. Look for a dark and calm sky, wall clouds or an approaching cloud of debris and large hail, often in the absence of rain.
Listen to local forecasts and know the difference between tornado watches, when atmospheric conditions are favorable for a tornado, and tornado warnings, which mean that a tornado is imminent. Check forecasts often and keep a weather radio on hand for up to date information. You can also sign up for email or text alerts through a number of different services. The national Weather Service keeps a list of organizations that offer these alerts here.
Special considerations during the pandemic
Out of all aspects of your disaster preparedness plan, your documented systems, policies and plans will be most affected by COVID-19. All the tips we’ve mentioned so far can be handled by one person or a small, socially distanced team right now. But when a storm does arrive, you must be prepared to put health and safety first.
- Communication protocol
Right now, many of your employees may be working from home for the foreseeable future. How will you communicate your business’s disaster plans to employees in the office and those working remote?
Start by appointing a primary contact and team leaders who will communicate with and direct people in your facility. Then decide how the team will stay in contact and communicate information before, during and after the storm. Perhaps you have new video conferencing tools or communication tools (e.g. Slack, GoTo Meeting, Zoom, etc.) from the COVID-19 lockdown that you can utilize? Put them to good use, but be prepared for a power outage or bad service during a storm that can render these tools useless. Have backup phone chargers and a mobile system for sending mass notifications, or even a corded emergency phone for communication.
Then, establish an emergency warning notification system to warn all workers of a tornado. Test and run drills on this new system. You should also develop a system for knowing who is in the building in the event of an emergency, especially when some are working from home and some are in the office. This will make sure all personnel are accounted for in the event of a disaster.
Document your full COVID-19 emergency preparedness plan and share digitally with all employees in a format easy to read on a mobile device. In addition, keep a documented list of emergency contacts and numbers for police, fire, medical and utilities. Print this list for only you to use and send to other relevant personnel digitally as to avoid sharing physical papers.
- Indoor shelters
Find and identify safe social distancing shelters for your personnel and/or residents throughout the city where they can stay six feet apart from each other. This may require splitting the team into different groups and utilizing multiple spaces. Ensure everyone knows which space they should head to in the event of a shelter-in-place emergency. Hold drills to practice your plan.
Make sure each space is secure, preferably underground on the lowest level of the building. Stock each space with bottled water, first aid supplies, flashlights, extra batteries and PPE. All employees should wear masks in these spaces. Ensure ample quantities of supplies to avoid contact between employees.
- Evacuation planning
Evacuation should be considered as a primary option if circumstances allow. That way, employees can stay separate and will not have to maintain close quarters in an emergency shelter. If evacuation is your preferred emergency plan, evacuate earlier than usual to give employees ample time to get home and prepare their own houses for the storm.
- Disaster recovery planning
Adjust your disaster recovery plan by establishing expectations for third-party disaster cleanup companies. If you decide to require the vendor to wear masks, stay socially distanced or send fewer employees than normal, communicate this to them in advance. This prevents surprises and keeps all parties safe during the recovery process
Selecting a quality tornado disaster restoration company
Any third-party vendor disaster recovery vendor should be 100% understanding of your expectations for safety during a pandemic, full stop. If you are made to feel uncomfortable or ignored, then this is potentially not the partner for you.
Make sure your vendor agrees to abide by your COVID-19 protocols and rules and that they are fully licensed, bonded and insured. They should also be able to provide you with a prompt response after a disaster or, even better, take proactive steps to mobilize and stage equipment before the storm even arrives in your area.
ServiceMaster DSI is a commercial and residential disaster restoration company designed to provide homeowners and businesses with a recovery team they can trust to deliver consistent quality service. We have command and control centers strategically positioned throughout the U.S and can provide you with a one-touch solution, from initial emergency response to total restoration, minimizing business interruption and helping mitigate claim severity.
For professional advice on creating or adjusting a disaster recovery plan, contact ServiceMaster DSI’s team of experts. Click here or call 844-413-3130.