Six Steps to Take to Prepare Your Business for Tropical Storms Marco & Laura

Tropical Storm Marco and Laura are expected to cause flood and wind damage to businesses in the Louisiana and Texas areas. Before the storms hit, it is important to prepare your facility by testing your emergency power, boarding up windows and doors, and placing sandbags down around your facility’s high-risk flood areas. View the checklist below to help you prepare and minimize business interruption.

Test emergency power

It’s (hopefully) been some time since you last ran your backup source of power. Turn on any generators to make sure they still fire up and will keep the main parts of your businesses up and running. You should also make sure you have enough fuel to keep the generator(s) running for at least one week.  

If you have any issues with your generator, refer first to the manual. Every generator is different—some power high rise facilities, some power small churches and everything in between—so the manual is your best bet for initial troubleshooting.

If the generator still presents problems, now is the time to call your disaster recovery company. Some have the ability to provide various temporary power and lighting services. This is why it’s important to have a vendor like this on hand in advance. With a prearranged agreement you don’t need to scramble for extra power sources at the same time as everyone else in your area.

Prevent damage from winds

Start by bringing in equipment and other outdoor items so they are not blown during high winds. If you’re a retailer, make sure all your carts and outdoor equipment are inside and placed away from any doors or windows. This includes items from any outdoor shopping areas or loading docks as well.

For structures that are not movable, be sure to anchor them to the ground to prevent them being damaged or worse, becoming projectiles. Taking the item inside should always be your first move, but if the structure is absolutely immovable, it will need to be secured. For some structures, this involves a measure of creativity and special equipment. The same large screws that are used to bolt down parking blocks can be used to secure tents and coverings on asphalt or concrete. For items on soil or grass surfaces, look into heavy duty tie-down stakes that are buried deep in the ground for extra security. 

Once you’ve secured your outdoor items or brought them inside, move everything away from the windows and walls. Pick up all loose, small items and put them in boxes or heavier cabinets and desks. That way, in case a window or entry point breaks open, your staplers will not become projectiles and cause further damage.

Finally, board up your windows and doors. This makes them more stable and prevents debris from hitting and breaking them. We advise keeping lumber on hand for this purpose. Nearly every business in your area will board up as well and having materials on hand can help you avoid the mad rush to the lumber yard. 

Prevent damage from water

When it comes to water damage prevention, the best method is a physical barrier. Sandbags are traditionally used to divert the path of running water, but the industry has evolved over the years. You can now choose between sandbags and different types of reusable water barriers designed specifically for sending water around your building rather than through it.

Sandbags do not provide a water-tight seal, but do enough damage prevention that they have become a staple in hurricane preparation throughout the years. You can buy pre-filled sandbags or fill them yourself ⅓ to ½ of the way full with a coarse soil, sand or a mix of both. For businesses that choose to use sandbags, it’s helpful to have materials or pre-filled bags on hand to beat the rush to the hardware store where every business in town will be stocking up on sandbags before the storm.

It takes around 600 sandbags to protect a 100-foot section at one foot high. Sandbags should never be stacked more than three rows high unless they are placed in a pyramid shape. When they are stacked in rows, they should be staggered the same way bricks are laid. As mentioned, these bags are not water tight, and are often used in conjunction with plywood sheeting, plastic tarps and other materials to keep water out. 

A huge disadvantage of sandbags, besides the fact that they take time and effort to fill and lay, is that they require hazardous waste cleanup procedures and cannot be reused. Sandbags that have survived a storm have presumably been exposed to floodwaters which may carry harmful bacteria. For this reason, you should take extra care when removing sandbags after a storm. The bags should officially be treated as biohazard waste and you should  only call a professional to dispose of them properly in a way that will not harm the community or environment.

Today on the market there are several alternatives to sandbags that many find attractive like sandless flood bags, water barricades, water dams and more. This equipment can be purchased in advance, cleaned and reused. These options are generally more compact to store and can be better at preventing water seepage. A quick Google search can put you in touch with many sandbag alternative manufacturers to help you decide the right method for you.

Analyze threats and consider your evacuation plan

Take a look at your property and be aware of things that are most susceptible to damage. For example, many big box stores have unstable roofs and loading bay areas prone to excessive flooding. 

Then, analyze the hurricane’s strength. Is it projected to be a Category 1 where the winds will be manageable, or Category 5 where you need to take precautions. If the hurricane is stronger, consider the following in regard to your property’s unique needs:

  • Damage control: Consider the items you noted above that are most susceptible to damage. 
  • Evacuation: If the hurricane is predicted to be quite strong, you may need to evacuate employees or yourself. If your business is in the consumer retail sector, will you plan to close in advance or set up an evacuation system that you can trigger at a moment’s notice? Will you expect to give employees time off? With pay? What will scheduling look like in the aftermath of the storm when people are cleaning up their homes and returning to work?
  • Contingency: Preparation is key to minimizing business disruption after a storm. The contingency planning you will need to think through depends on the nature of your business. For example, some businesses require deliveries. If your loading area is flooded or the delivery is delayed in getting to you, what is your backup plan? If you work on a large campus that requires vehicular power to efficiently move around on a daily basis, but your path may be blocked by fallen trees, what will you do? Another example: many businesses have electronic gates at their entrance. If the power goes out, will you leave those gates open? Or find another way in?

Always be prepared. Contingency planning is unique to your business and it may require a team effort to think through all possible scenarios. Be sure to have a list of emergency contacts and documented contingency plans distributed to all employees. This makes it easier to continue operations with minimal interruption after the storm.

Turn off utilities

If the hurricane is expected to be strong, be sure to take precautions with your utilities. Turn off all electricity and gas with main switches, but keep main water lines on in case of fire. Very rarely will water be shut off entirely as this prevents sprinkler systems from operating.

More often than not, you should shut off only certain water lines to areas you know will not be occupied. For example, if you won’t have employees in the building, you can shut off the water to the break room sink. Critical systems for fire prevention will be a separate shut-off valve so you won’t have to worry about accidentally turning off the sprinkler system. What you shut off ultimately depends on the strength of the storm and the nature of your emergency plan.

As always, only turn off utilities if it’s safe to do so. Consult your utility companies with questions and double check everything after you’ve turned it off to ensure you’ve flipped the correct switches. 

Disconnect electrical appliances 

Make sure your appliances are emptied and turned off, especially in the event of evacuation. There’s always the potential that you will not return to the building for a long stretch of time, and you wouldn’t want to come back to find rotting food in the refrigerator. The power can also go out unexpectedly during any storm, leading to spoiled food.

Prepare all appliances in a way that ensures they can be left alone and turned off for at least five days. Remember, this is the final step in this checklist for a reason. Thawing out and emptying your refrigerator and freezer are time-consuming and not as crucial as protecting your doors, windows and equipment. Coming back to spoiled food may be unpleasant, but not dangerous as long as it’s disposed of quickly.

Through all of this, it helps immensely to have a pre-loss disaster recovery plan on hand that you can always refer back to. If you already have one, take some time to review it now, well in advance of any storm. Make sure it accounts for the items on this checklist as well as your business’s unique needs.

Download this checklist digitally here and share with your hurricane preparedness teammates. 

We have mobilized resources to the area and have equipment and personnel staged, ready to help. We know the Lousiana and Texas area and have completed some of the most complex jobs in the region.  If you need our services please call the Emergency Hurricane Disaster Hotline: 844-413-3130 or request service here. 

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