In August 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall, traveling through the Gulf Coast and matched the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana. This resulted in significant damage to homes and buildings, and left nearly a million people without power. Experts estimate the damage cost to be around $9 billion.1
The devastation that Hurricane Laura caused isn’t uncommon. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office expects hurricanes and tropical storms to cause $54 billion in damages annually.2 And, the National Center for Environmental Health anticipates more intense hurricane activity in 2020 than the previous year. That’s why it’s so important to develop a preparedness plan.3
“Emergencies and disasters can strike at any time on a construction site,” said Nicole Bacon, regional vice president of construction at The Hartford. “Planning and preparing for crises, like hurricanes, before they strike is essential in protecting employees and job sites.”
Pre-Planning: Business Continuity Management
One of the most important things contractors can do to minimize damages to job sites and keep their employees safe during a crisis is to preplan. That’s where business continuity management can help. It includes:
- Having a Weekly Weather Watch meeting incorporated into weekly safety meetings to stay ahead of weather, protect the site and move equipment out of low lying areas.
- Business continuity planning focused on recovery and restarting company operations.
- Emergency response planning, which includes more details on people and site safety.
When you’re creating a plan to prepare for and respond to hurricanes and other disaster events, include these three tips to help you create a thorough policy.
1. Address Property Upgrades to Reduce Hurricane Damage
With wind speeds that can range from 74 mph in a Category 1 hurricane to 157 mph in a Category 5, these storms have the potential to cause extensive damage. If your job sites are in the path of an incoming hurricane, it’s a good idea to examine your buildings to see what can be susceptible to damages.
To reduce the potential for substantial damage, you can make a few upgrades to your buildings, such as:
- Adding more roof and exterior cladding fastening
- Modifying roof ballast
- Bracing rooftop components
- Providing various graded films to windows
And don’t forget about water damage. When a hurricane makes landfall, its storm surge can tower up to 20 feet higher than the normal tide. So, you should review your water damage prevention plan (WDPP) and make any necessary changes. Because your job sites are each unique, you should have one of these plans for each construction project. If you don’t, consider creating them before a storm hits.
A water prevention plan documents the steps in place to control water intrusion and how to address damages. Some common sources of water damage include:
- Adjacent properties
- Irrigation systems
- Windows and doors
- Fire sprinklers
2. Making Life Safety a Priority
The National Hurricane Center will issue a hurricane warning if a storm will impact your area. If this happens, safety should always be the first priority. Have a plan that details what you should do in the first few minutes of a hurricane. Some action items can include:
- Issuing a warning to evacuate, shelter or lockdown
- Calling emergency services with full and accurate information
- Training employees in first aid so they can help injured employees
3. Measures to Stabilize and Preserve Property
Slow-moving hurricanes or storms that stop over a location for a period of time can cause devastating damage. That’s why it’s important to put measures in place to stabilize and preserve property at construction sites.
Your plan should include a process that addresses:
- Damage assessment
- Resources to have on hand or quickly available
One of the best things you can do is to regularly look at the weather forecast if you’re in the path of a hurricane or severe weather events.
“Knowing in advance what kind of storm is coming or the strength of a hurricane when it makes landfall is crucial information to have, because you’ll give your business the best opportunity to reduce damages and conserve property,” Bacon said. “Pay attention to how strong winds will be and how much rainfall a hurricane or storm will bring while it passes through the area, especially low lying areas of the building site or where equipment is stored.”
Reviewing, Practicing to Create a Successful Plan
A key part to having a successful business continuity management plan is to regularly reassess and practice it. An annual review helps keep your plan current and can identify gaps that need to be addressed.
Holding drills to practice your plan ensures your employees know what to do in the event of a hurricane.
“Evacuation drills are some of the best ways to see if your plan is effective and efficient before an emergency actually happens,” Bacon said. “The last thing you want to happen when a hurricane is coming is having a lack of preparation cause chaos, or leave you with no pre-plan where to move people, equipment or materials.”
Emergency preparedness in construction involves more than just having a plan to follow during an event. Having a business continuity management plan that addresses how to prepare for a hurricane or another type of emergency is a critical first step.
2 Congressional Budget Office, “Expected Costs of Damage From Hurricane Winds and Storm-Related Flooding”