Batten Down The Hatches! Preparing Your Facility For Hurricane Season

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Weather and climate disasters do staggering amounts of damage and impose huge financial costs annually.

From 1980 through 2021, 310 such disasters occurred in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information (ncdc.noaa.gov/billions). Costs for each disaster exceeded $1 billion, adjusted for inflation, and the combined costs exceeded $2.15 trillion.

Twenty of these disasters, including four hurricanes, occurred in 2021 alone. The NOAA’s National Hurricane Center defines a hurricane as a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are especially prone to hurricanes in the United States.

Hurricane preparation is crucial for self-storage operators. Robert Novak, team leader for commercial underwriting at MiniCo Insurance Agency, says operators must know when the prime hurricane seasons are, usually May through early September depending on the location.

Typically, people in coastal areas are well acquainted with proper hurricane preparation. This includes boarding up facilities when the storm is on its way and planning travel routes to leave town in an emergency, among many other steps. Inland dwellers sometimes don’t realize higher winds can bring heavy rainstorms, even in the middle of a state, and they should prepare for that possibility.

Per Novak, the degree to which self-storage operators address construction needs to adequately prepare for hurricanes varies according to various facility types. Multistory facilities with interior storage are typically more sturdily built. Some have a wind-resistance ratings. MiniCo typically doesn’t target hurricane preparation specifically, but it does insure under the umbrella of wind peril. Some coastal policies have separate named-storm deductible insurance, including for tornadoes.

Chris Nelson, who works in new business sale and development for MiniCo, says the agency formulates ratings based on a facility’s construction, age, and distance from a coast to determine the exact coverage and pricing. The self-storage industry is trending toward multilevel buildings with much better construction. This trend applies nationwide, not only in hurricane-prone areas.

Architects and engineers design buildings to meet local building codes. In hurricane-prone areas, the codes address hurricane-related improvements. Greater costs for materials to build facilities to withstand damaging winds vary based on region. Novak stresses that strong roofs are as important as strong walls and interiors.

Before A Hurricane
Liberty Mutual Insurance, one of MiniCo’s carriers, provides an action plan to prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms, what to do during a storm, and how to proceed afterward (see the URL within the “Resources” sidebar).

According to the National Weather Service, the hurricane and tropical storm season starts May 15 in the U.S. Pacific region (June 1 in the Atlantic region) and runs through the end of November.

Liberty Mutual’s hurricane preparation to-do list is long. It includes gathering the following:

  • Three-day supply of drinking water and nonperishable food
  • Medical supplies/first-aid kits
  • Two-way radios or cell phones with spare batteries
  • Emergency lighting, flashlights, and spare batteries
  • Emergency radio powered by battery, solar, or crank
  • Portable pumps and hose
  • Lumber, plywood, and nails
  • Hand and power tools
  • Plastic covers and tarps
  • Whistles to direct attention during and after a hurricane
  • Blankets and extra clothing
  • All employee, client, and vendor contact information, including business and customer records and utility plans, backed up off site
  • Emergency contacts: fire and police departments, insurance agent/broker, building owner, HVAC contractor, electrician, plumber, and others. Contact local authorities before an emergency to plan and coordinate activities.
  • Designate a staffer to monitor weather and update the plan leader before, during, and after a hurricane.

During A hurricane

  • Keep emergency personnel at the facility only if it is safe to do so. Notify local authorities if you keep any personnel on site.
  • Decide when to let employees leave so they have enough time to prepare their homes and families.
  • Update messages on the company’s website, phone system, and employee intranet.
  • Always keep first-aid kits available.
  • When conditions are safe, patrol the property to look for roof leaks, pipe breaks, fire, or structural damage.
  • Continuously monitor boilers that must remain operating.
  • If power fails, turn off electrical switches until checks are completed.

Immediately After A Hurricane

  • Quickly and calmly assess the situation.
  • Do not move seriously injured people.
  • If high-rise buildings are nearby, falling debris in open areas can make staying inside safer.
  • Watch for fallen power lines and broken gas lines.
  • Give search and rescue personnel the last known location of anyone who is missing.
  • Secure your site and provide watch service if necessary.
  • Visually inspect electrical systems before restoring power.

Recovery Actions

  • Liberty Mutual also recommends the following recovery steps:
  • Look for safety hazards such as live electrical wires, leaking gas, flammable liquids, corrosive or toxic materials, and damage to foundations or underground pipes.
  • Repair automatic sprinkler systems and water supplies to restore service as soon as possible.
  • Restore fire protection systems if necessary.
  • Test two-inch main drain and alarms on automatic fire protection sprinklers to verify public water supply is available.
  • Contact key personnel and contact contractors to start repairs. Control smoking and use hot work permits when available. Constantly maintain fire-safe conditions.
  • Immediately cover broken windows and torn off roof coverings.
  • Separate damaged goods.
  • Clean roof drains and remove debris from roofs.
  • Check refrigerated items for spoilage if power fails.
  • Limit access to freezers and refrigerated areas when electrical service is interrupted to maintain proper temperatures as long as possible.
  • Notify key customers, suppliers, and partners of office and facility reopenings and necessary property or operational changes from storm damage.
  • Debrief about successes and shortcomings of your emergency plan, list actions to be taken, and implement improvements.

The National Weather Service offers a comprehensive hurricane plan and follow-up information (see URL in the “Resources” sidebar). The agency advises preparing for hurricane season well before the season starts.

“It is vital to understand your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding, and wind. Here is your checklist of things to do before hurricane seasons begins,” the agency says.

From the agency’s hurricane plan:

  • Know your zone: Do you live near the Gulf or Atlantic Coasts? Find out whether you live in a hurricane evacuation area by contacting your local government/emergency management office or by checking the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes’ evacuation site webpage (flash.org/pdf/2020_Hurricane_Evacuation_Zones.pdf).
  • Put together an emergency kit (ready.gov/kit). Check emergency equipment, such as flashlights, generators, and storm shutters.
  • Write or review your family emergency plan. Before an emergency occurs, sit down with your family or close friends and decide how you will contact one another, where you will go, and what you will do in an emergency. Keep a copy of the plan in your emergency supplies kit or another safe place where you can access it during a disaster. Start at ready.gov.
  • Review your insurance policies to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your home and personal property.
  • Understand National Weather Service forecast products, especially the meanings of storm watches and warnings.
  • Check preparation tips for your home from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (flash.org).
  • Check preparation tips for people with chronic illnesses.

The National Weather Service advises people to continue listening to a NOAA weather radio (weather.gov/nwr/) or local news for the latest updates after a hurricane. If you evacuated, return home only when officials say the area is safe.

After you have returned home, drive only if necessary and watch for flooded roads and washed-out bridges. If you go out, watch for fallen objects on roads, downed electrical wires, and weakened roads, bridges, sidewalks, and walls that could collapse.

Thoroughly inspect the outside of your home to check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. Do not enter any building if you smell gas, if floodwaters remain around it, if fire damaged it, or if the authorities have not declared it safe.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms in areas that have power outages, according to the National Weather Service. The agency advises people to never use a portable generator inside a home or garage. Review generator safety information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/co/pdfs/generators.pdf).

Use battery-powered flashlights but not candles. Turn on the flashlight before you enter a vacated building, because a battery could produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas.

Jerry LaMartina is a freelance reporter and editor based in Shawnee, Kansas. He is a regular contributor to all of MiniCo’s publications.

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