NOAA hurricane

Avoid the Hurricane Season Headaches: Preparing for the Next Big Storm

Aug. 20, 2013
A timed-phase approach, with each phase activated by a series of objective triggers, allows a facility to review its major threats and plan a strategic operational shutdown within an appropriate time frame prior to the storm’s arrival.

According to meteorologists from across the country, this hurricane season is forecasted to be one of the busiest. However, many businesses are scratching their heads, asking “Where are the hurricanes?” The answer is: The storms are coming.

Despite the season having been relatively quiet in the Atlantic so far with only five named tropical storms, the busiest part of the season is here, and it only takes one storm to negatively impact an entire operation. Most hurricanes form after Aug. 10, according to the National Hurricane Center. With five of the top 10 costliest hurricanes on record developing toward the end of August, manufacturing facilities must account for this threat when creating response plans.

From volatile chemicals and vapors, to production lines and employee safety, extreme weather threatens all areas of a manufacturing facility. When it comes to a severe-weather response plan, no two manufacturing locations are alike. A common requirement many facilities share, however, is a controlled and specialized shutdown process to protect their people and products. This can be difficult to facilitate when faced with the unpredictability of extreme weather events.

There is an efficient way to address these challenges even if the company’s natural disaster plan is not up-to-date, or worse, obsolete. A timed-phase approach, with each phase activated by a series of objective triggers, allows a facility to review its major threats and plan a strategic operational shutdown within an appropriate time frame prior to the storm’s arrival.

Before laying out a timed-phase plan, a facility must first assess the threats to its operations:

Are power outages going to affect the product and/or chemicals?

Will storm surge flood the facility?

Will high winds damage the exteriors of the facility and other buildings?

Which personnel should evacuate, and when?

How quickly can the facility return to normal operations?

Many manufacturers make the common error of tying their response plans to whether or not a hurricane makes landfall (in other words, when the eye of the storm comes ashore). Destructive winds, storm surge, lightning and tornados can arrive at a location as quickly as 12 hours prior to landfall, which can create significant hazards for those facilities needing to evacuate.

An efficient way to structure a facility’s shutdown timeline is through monitoring specific wind fields of the approaching storm, and when that potentially destructive force could affect the location. For example, if a facility must cease operation once winds in excess of 60 mph winds reach its doorstep, it would plan for shut-down activities to begin well in advance of when that wind strength arrives. Based on an average manufacturing facility’s shutdown timeframe, here are three timed-phases that can be implemented for the next major storm:

PHASE ONE: (Four to five days out)

  • Identify resource needs. Identifying the needs relating to staff scheduling, products, equipment and supplies. Questions to ask, include:
  • What is the facility’s operational schedule for the next several days, and who will be affected?
  • What employees are on vacation, and who are the non-emergency personnel?
  • Does the company need to facilitate deliveries to and from the site?
  • Will the shutdown affect vendors, suppliers or transportation providers?
  • In the event of property damage, does the facility have a vendor who can clean up the location?
  • Inventory resources. This is the time to move non-essential chemicals, products and equipment to a safe location, fuel up vehicles for transportation, start initial steps to shut down the facility, etc. After identifying the company’s resources, this is the time to put those triggers into action, and answer the important questions developed from the previous step.
  • Communicate with key stakeholders. Key stakeholders are employees, suppliers, vendors, board members, operators and anyone who will be affected by the facility’s delays and/or closures. Even one delay in the supply chain can trigger a ripple effect in the industry. The company’s plan must be communicated to those who will be affected by it. The management team also needs to confirm important contact information for its employees, suppliers and vendors, to stay connected before, during and after the event.
  • Monitor the storm. The importance of closely monitoring the track and projected arrival time of the storm cannot be overstated since most, if not all responses hinge on these important details.

PHASE TWO: (Two to three days out)

  • Release non-emergency personnel to evacuate. If there is a team needed on-site to maintain operations until the arrival of the storm, they should have already handled their personal plans and prepare to shelter in place at the facility.
  • Continue facility shutdown. No additional deliveries should be made during this time. The facility should continue its protocol for shutting down and removing or securing any non-essential product and supplies.
  • Review corporate policies. This can be a very stressful time for the company, but the management team should review corporate policies relating to payroll, medical and disability leave, and the protocol for storm damage recovery.

PHASE THREE: (Fewer than 48 hours out)

  • Facility walkthrough. This is the last chance to monitor all conditions within the location and cease operations.
  • Evacuate or shelter in place. Now is the time to determine if the remaining personnel will ride out the storm or if projected dangers are too great to stay.
  • Shelter in place. Once the facility is properly shut down and any remaining personnel are safely sheltered, the management team needs to adjust its focus toward post-storm recovery. Scheduling clean up vendors and communicating with personnel on the back-to-work date should be a top priority.

Regardless of the manufacturing facility’s location, implementing these timed-phases during a variety of extreme weather events such as snow storms, hurricanes or flooding, is of the utmost importance to a company’s bottom line.  Properly preparing for a severe weather event can minimize downtime, maximize productivity and avoid putting personnel and resources in danger. When in doubt, today’s manufacturers can take a cue from Ben Franklin – “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Ed Schlichtenmyer is business continuity and quality manager at ImpactWeather, A StormGeo Company. ImpactWeather is a full-time weather department for hundreds of corporations globally, providing site-specific forecasting, monitoring, alerting and business continuity tools to empower clients to make the smartest business decisions when faced with weather-related challenges.

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