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Preparing Your Business for Tornados and Other Natural Disasters

May 27, 2016

Thomas Eisele, CBCP, MBA, Business Continuity Coordinator

Benjamin Franklin once said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Business owners and entrepreneurs know better than anyone that preparation is critical for the success of their business.

But, successful business preparation extends beyond annual budgets, staffing logistics and succession planning. It requires thinking through the unthinkable, planning for the unplanned and prioritizing the unlikely. Simply put, it means preparing for natural disasters and their worst-case scenario outcomes.

Natural disasters, such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, pose a serious threat to the operation of businesses, and the safety of its associates and customers. Anyone familiar with the devastation of the Joplin, Missouri tornado that happened on May 22, 2011, understands the potential loss of life, destruction to homes, businesses, hospital, and overall community a tornado can cause. Similarly, hurricanes have ravaged the south and northeast in recently leaving devastation and business failures in their paths of destruction.

Yet, when it comes to natural disaster preparedness, a survey by Nationwide revealed that a shocking 75 percent, or three in four small business owners, do not have a disaster recovery plan in place. In addition, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen after a major disaster strikes, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

Missouri is home to five of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history. Missouri also sees an annual average of 32 tornados with the peak tornado season falling between April and June.

It is critical for business owners throughout Midwestern states such as Kansas and Missouri to prepare their businesses and associates to act in the event of a tornado or other national disaster.

Follow this four-part tornado checklist to help your business plan for the unplanned:

Training

The safety and protection of employees is the most important when preparing for a tornado.

  • Teach employees on what a Tornado Watch and Tornado Warning means.

    • A Tornado Watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop.

    • A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been spotted in your area. Associates, customers and visitors should take shelter immediately until the warning expires.

  • Prepare an emergency plan. Make sure your employees know where tornado shelter is located.

  • Train associates on how to engage emergency service providers when necessary (Fire Department, Police, Ambulance, etc). Also consider having some associates CPR/AED/First-Aid trained.

  • Instruct employees on how to handle customers or visitors in the event of a tornado.

Monitoring

Develop a means of monitoring the weather conditions, specifically for a Tornado Watch or Tornado Warning – especially during the critical April-June timeframe.

  • Know your area. Have a process in place that identifies high-risk areas near your business location.

  • Visit the NOAA website or listen to the radio and television news reports. Sign up for text alerts or other available local alert systems specific to your community.

  • Pay attention to changing weather patterns, especially during peak tornado season. Identify the visual and audible danger and warning signs described by Ready.gov:

    • Dark, greenish sky

    • Large hail

    • Large and dark low-lying cloud

    • Loud roar

Practicing

After you have trained your employees on basic tornado education, practice your emergency plan and company tornado protocol.

  • Test your plan frequently both during and outside of peak tornado season to ensure new employees are educated and confidently versed on procedures specific to your company.

Reducing the Damage

You cannot prevent tornados, but you can take steps to prevent major property damages caused by tornados. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends these structural considerations to protect your existing or potential business property:

  • When remodeling or replacing building components, consider retrofitting for roof bracing or replacing doors and windows with wind-resistant materials.

  • During construction of your business, make sure the contractor implements high wind-rated products and state-of-the-art techniques to minimize risk.

  • Identify and remove landscaping risks such as trees that could fall onto buildings or office structures.

  • Inspect and improve infrastructure hazards such as power lines or loose building components.

Severe weather planning is essential to protecting your business and your employees. For additional resources on tornado planning, please review the following resources:


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