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Preparing your business for hurricane and tornado season

You’ve invested a lot of time and money in your business. That’s why it’s so important for you to have a plan to help protect your assets during a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado. We have some tips to help you develop an emergency plan for each.

Hurricane safety

For six months each year—June 1 to November 30—the watch is on for hurricanes in the Atlantic. That’s when 97 percent of tropical activity occurs. If a hurricane is forecast, it’s important to understand the difference between a watch and a warning:

  • Hurricane Watch: A hurricane is possible within the next 24-36 hours.
  • Hurricane Warning: Winds already exceed 74 mph. Expect high water and rough seas within the next 24 hours.

To help keep you, your employees, and your business safe, we’ve come up with some tips to make sure you’re ready:

  • Survey your property: Look for where your building and land are most vulnerable to winds and rising water.
  • Plan ahead: Create a response plan to deal with the areas that’ll be most affected by the storm:
    -Develop emergency checklists like securing and covering doors and windows.
    -Establish warning and evacuation procedures for your facility.
    -Understand your community’s evacuation plans if you have to leave the area.
    -Prepare a communication plan that will keep workers and customers updated after the storm.
  • Prepare your workers: Create an emergency response team and designate an emergency coordinator.
  • Protect your investments: Fill trucks and trailers with valuable plants and park them next to sturdy buildings.
  • Be ready with backups: Gather your business files and records—including an updated inventory of all the plants you have in stock. They should be backed up on a regular basis with copies kept in a safe area off site. Having these records will speed your claim.
  • Prepare the building: Determine the areas where power should be shut off and in what order. Also, rent or purchase a generator to help deal with an extended power outage. Be sure to have fuel on-hand, since availability can be limited after a storm.
  • Plan ahead: Create a response plan to protect employees and your property. It should include emergency instructions, evacuation guidelines, and a chain of command.
  • Be ready to move: Have a safe place at a higher elevation where you can take critical files and paperwork. Be sure to include room for valuable building equipment, supplies, and vehicles.
  • Practice your plan: Review your hurricane response plan and look for areas that might need revising. If there’s time before a storm hits, walk through the procedures to make sure everything is ready.

If a hurricane strikes and you lose power, protect your electrical equipment by unplugging it. That’ll avoid the risk of a surge when power returns.

Also, be prepared to evacuate if conditions or emergency responders require it.

You can find more tips about hurricane preparedness from the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) websites.

Tornado safety

While hurricanes mainly affect coastal areas, the entire nation faces the threat of tornadoes—especially in the spring and summer. About 1,200 tornadoes hit the United States every year.

Like hurricanes, tornadoes also fall under a watch and warning system:

  • Tornado Watch: Tornadoes are possible and you should be ready move to a shelter or sturdy building if there’s a warning issued.
  • Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar and you need to take shelter immediately.

You should develop a tornado emergency plan for your business that includes details on suitable places to take shelter, policies to ensure all personnel are accounted for, and procedures for addressing any hazardous materials on site. Begin your preparations by:

  • Knowing your community’s warning system
  • Establishing a safe room in your business where employees and customers can gather
  • Practicing periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado approaches

If severe weather threatens, tune to your local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for watches and warnings. Also, be on the lookout for:

  • Dark, greenish clouds
  • A wall cloud formed by the lowering base of a thunderstorm
  • A cloud of debris
  • Large hail
  • A funnel cloud with rotation
  • A roaring noise

The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room. If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the best alternative.

If you’re caught outdoors and can’t get to shelter, OSHA recommends you immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt, and try to drive to the closest shelter. If you encounter flying debris while driving, pull over and park. Then:

  • Stay in the car with the seat belt on
  • Put your head below the windows and cover up with your hands and a blanket if possible
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, get out and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands

You can find more tornado tips and preparation checklists at OSHA’s website.

Dealing with damage

Once the hurricane or tornado passes, here are some things to keep in mind while you assess the damage:

  • Check on workers: Account for all employees and see if anyone’s hurt. If so, get them medical help.
  • Look out for hazards: Be aware of any downed power lines, gas leaks, plugged drains, and downed trees and branches.
  • Record the damage: Check your buildings and property for damage. Document what you find in writing and take photos.
  • Start salvage and repairs: If it’s safe to do so, perform any temporary repairs to protect your building, equipment, and supplies.
  • Get the word out: Through your communication plan, let employees and customers know the status of your operation, what’s being done to recover, and how you’re meeting operational needs. It’s also your chance to let everyone know that things will get back to normal quickly.

After a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster, contact your agent immediately. A delay on your part could mean a delay in getting your claim processed. Be sure to include photos or video of the damage, as well as a detailed list of damaged items.  If possible, include their value and supply receipts.

If you have any questions about how to protect your employees, inventory, and buildings from storms and other disasters, your Hortica insurance specialist is ready to provide some answers.


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