Preparing for hurricanes this season

As I write this, the Atlantic hurricane season is getting cranked up. With Debby twisting her way around the Gulf of Mexico, it looks like we could be in for a very interesting hurricane season. We have been blessed with relatively calm seasons these past few years, and with the forecast for fewer hurricanes for the Atlantic Basin this year, it would be easy to get complacent about preparedness. Don’t do it!

As we have also learned from past hurricanes, the effects of a storm are not just felt at the coast but also many miles inland. You must take active steps to reduce the impact of any storm on your employees, the public you serve, and the publicly owned property for which you serve as stewards. Prior planning will help lessen the effects of the storm, reduce potential loss of life and property, and help you to recover faster.

In North Carolina, the state Emergency Management Division has proven itself many times at being able to respond to an emergency situation. Most, if not all of you, have detailed plans for community response to a hurricane, but don’t forget that county government and services, although interrupted temporarily, must be ready to resume as soon as possible. Given this, there are certain things you should be prepared to do before, during and after a hurricane to enhance the county’s ability to serve the community and protect valuable assets.

As with previous years, we feel it is important to provide you with our annual preparedness checklist that you can use to make sure you are prepared for the upcoming season:

Before:
  • Have potential areas vulnerable to natura l disaster losses been identified, and measures taken to reduce the impact of the disaster on areas and items?
  • Have internal emergency procedures been reviewed and exercised? Do employees and managers know their individual roles in an emergency situation?
  • Do employees and the public know evacuation routes out of facilities, and out of the area?
  • Are there pre-storm procedures in place to secure buildings from high wind and flood damage?
  • Are plans in place for communicating with employees and other key organizations before, during and after the storm?
  • Do all county employees have possession of a county ID or other form of photo ID?
  • Has a list of critical county employees been provided to the Emergency Management Director and made available to the EOC? Are there established procedures to back up and/or recover digital data that could be lost during a storm?
  • Are backups in such a format to allow for easy transport, and have designated employees been made responsible for the security of the back-up files?
  • Are there procedures in place to resume critical operations and business functions at a remote location equipped with sufficient work stations, access to telephone, computer systems, etc.?
  • Are several assembly points established throughout the county where county employees can report after a storm has passed, in the event of not being able to communicate electronically?
  • Are extra batteries charged, or chargers moved to buildings equipped with emergency generator power?
  • Has essential technical expertise been identified to assist in securing data systems and media prior to storm landfall?
  • Are vital key records and documents secured in place or transported to a safe place for later access? If left on site, are all papers on pallets or off the floor, to avoid flood damage?
  • Have fleet vehicles, to include public safety vehicles, been dispersed geographically in order to minimize damage and insure survivability of the fleet?
  • Has 1 employee been designated as being responsible for collecting damage information on facilities and vehicles, and communicating with Sedgwick CMS or the county’s insurance carrier?
  • Are equipment inventories updated and made available off-site to speed up replacement?
  • Are employees allowed extra time to secure their homes and personal effects?
  • In the event of an evacuation, is a list maintained of any employees who remain behind, such as law enforcement or other public safety officers?
  • Has the power and gas been turned off in each facility prior to evacuation? Has a predetermined signal been established that a facility is secure and unoccupied?
During:

  • Have employees been directed to stay indoors, away from windows, and if possible, to move to the downwind side of the building?
  • Has any building designated for sheltering county employees been marked in order to easily locate occupants in the event of a collapse?
  • Are employees that remain behind provided with means to maintain radio contact with law enforcement, fire/rescue or the county Emergency Operations Center?
  • Has a method been established whereby the EOC communicates that the storm has passed and it is safe to leave shelter?
After:

  • Have staff and all employees involved in recovery been warned to avoid downed power lines and to remain off of roofs and other structures until a damage assessment can be made?
  • Has a central point of contact and assembly location and/or incident command center been determined should immediate access to damaged buildings be unavailable?
  • Is there a damage assessment protocol that can communicate information about the amount of damage to buildings and safety and environmental considerations and initiate the claims procedure?
  • Does this protocol or plan provide for securing inaccessible and damaged sites?
  • Have emergency accounting and reporting procedures been established to accurately measure and track the extent of property and financial losses?
  • Has staff been informed not to enter into any contract or to allow recovery services to be performed without contacting Sedgwick CMS or the county’s insurance carrier first?
  • Is there a plan in place to allow effective communication with employees, customers, key vendors, the media, public officials and the general public?
  • As county employees report in, is a way established to identify where he/she can be located and a means of communication established?
  • Is there a plan for providing assistance to employees and their families? Can transportation be provided to accelerate a return to work?

Note for Members of NCACC Risk Management Pools

For counties and organizations in the NCACC Risk Management Pools, we contract with an independent field adjustment service that will respond as soon as possible after a storm has cleared. In addition, Sedgwick CMS has pre-negotiated pricing with recovery contractors that can provide the needed services for member counties. Do not enter into any agreement with a recovery or restoration service until you have spoken with Sedgwick CMS.
Hurricane season continues until November. Even if your organization has been spared the effects of hurricanes in the past, it is wise to prepare for the 2012 season. Although no 1 can completely predict when, where and with what intensity a weather-related incident will strike, organizations can protect and preserve their people, facilities and operations best by being prepared for the worst.
You may not be able to control the weather. But you can control the impact it has on your organization and the services you provide to citizens.