Planning for the Storm

Sep 21, 2017

Natural disasters are an ever-present threat, and there’s evidence to suggest they’re occurring with greater frequency and severity. Recently, Texas and its neighboring states were left devastated by the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey. Just days later, Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean and delivered a destructive blow to South Florida.  According to NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information 2016 claimed the 2nd highest annual number of U.S. billion-dollar disasters, shortly behind 2011. Given the unprecedented amount of damage left by both Harvey and Irma, 2017 is expected to top both record-high years.                               

If a natural disaster struck your facility, would your company and employees be prepared? Your answer to that question could determine whether your employees escape injury and whether your company survives or fails in the disaster’s wake. Natural disasters can injure a company’s employees, damage property, disrupt operations, and threaten its future viability. Though businesses can’t control natural disasters or prevent them from occurring, they can prepare for them by developing an emergency preparedness and recovery plan. Such a plan can protect human health while helping the company swiftly re-establish normal business operations.

First Things First

Companies have several options for drafting a plan: They can prepare their own, hire a consultant, or work with local and/or state agencies.

For recyclers who lack such firsthand experience or need assistance developing a plan, FEMA offers the Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry, a free, step-by-step guide to emergency planning, response, and recovery for businesses of all sizes. The guide presents information on specific disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, as well as general information on preparedness. The “Ready” campaign—a joint effort of FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—also provides information to help businesses prepare. Though these do-it-yourself resources are helpful, it is often beneficial to get outside help from third-party professionals.

Building an Emergency Plan

Though each recycling facility faces its own set of natural disaster risks based on its geographic location, climate, access to transportation and emergency services, and more, the process of developing any emergency preparedness plan can follow the same basic outline, experts say.

  • Assemble a team. Start by putting together a group of employees that will develop, manage, and update your company’s disaster plan. FEMA’s guide suggests having the CEO or plant manager lead the group to demonstrate management’s commitment to the plan.
  • Assess your risks. Natural disasters can take many forms, so begin by assessing which ones could affect your operations. Each type of disaster requires its own preparations and responses to mitigate or eliminate the risk. After identifying potential or likely disasters, assess the impact each could have on the company, including your supply chain or customers.

Part of risk assessment is considering your plant’s physical structures and layout. If employees have to seek shelter at the facility—such as during a tornado—are there areas on site to shelter them?

Risk assessment also means identifying essential business functions. Determine how long your company could withstand an interruption and what it would need to re-open. Additionally, identify an alternative, temporary location from which your company could operate after a disaster. Be sure to review your company’s insurance policies as well, to ascertain which losses will be covered.

  • Form a plan. After you identify your company’s risks, develop a plan to address them. Procedures should spell out how your staff will respond before, during, and after a disaster. Basic plan features should include procedures for warning employees and visitors of any impending danger; providing escape routes, if necessary; protecting vital records and assets; and getting the company running as soon as possible—even if it’s from a temporary location.

    A thorough plan should identify more than one evacuation route in case the initial one is blocked, designate meeting areas for employees, and have a system to account for every individual at the facility, including visitors, when the disaster occurred. Your plan also should have information about community evacuation routes, facility shutdown procedures, and plans for assisting employees who might need transportation, the FEMA guide says.
  • Communicate effectively. Communication—before, during, and after a disaster strikes—is a key component of any emergency preparedness plan. Your plan should designate one or more people who are responsible for informing employees about potential dangers as well as those who will contact customers and vendors after an event. Identify whom you would need to contact internally and externally during a crisis, and keep their contact information up to date. Don’t expect to be able to use traditional communication methods such as land-based telephone lines or cell phones, experts say. Companywide text message alerts and check-ins—which require less bandwidth than voice transmissions—are a smart alternative.

    After a disaster, a company spokesperson should inform the public that the facility is recovering to dispel any rumors of its closure.

  • Consider your equipment and technology needs. Emergency preparation also means protecting data and equipment as well as having the right equipment to expedite recovery. For the latter, consider backup equipment and systems such as gasoline-powered pumps to remove water, alternative power sources such as generators, and battery-powered emergency lighting, experts suggest.

    On the data side, ensure company leaders have quick access to insurance documents, and maintain off-site backup storage of critical company records, customer data, and other information.

  • Train and practice. An emergency preparedness plan won’t work, of course, unless you train employees on its features and their responsibilities. Ensure the company is ready to implement the disaster plan when a disaster strikes by practicing implementation at least once a year through full-scale drills.

As your employees work through the drill, they should consider how to react during the first minutes, hours, days, and weeks of the event. The more companies practice their plans, the better prepared they’ll be.

In the wake of a natural disaster, when life returns to normal, review how your company and personnel handled the crisis and the effectiveness of your plan.

This blog post was adapted from “Weathering Any Storm,” Scrap magazine, July/August 2012, by Nicole Meir, communications intern for ISRI.

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