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Emergency Planning for Severe Weather

Planning ahead will help you weather any storm and get back to work faster.

Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, windstorms and other weather-related emergencies cause billions of dollars in damage in the United States each year. 2017 was a record setter, with $306 billion in damages. 

With climate scientists predicting that climate change will cause more extreme weather events in the future, including stronger hurricanes and more intense rainfalls that lead to flooding, protecting your project investments by planning for weather emergencies is smart no matter where in the country you’re located or what weather you’re used to.

The specifics of preparing for each type of storm vary, but the basics remain the same:

  • Develop a written emergency plan with a checklist to ensure that you complete every task.
  • Determine the right time to stop work, secure the site and evacuate employees. (For a hurricane, for example, that could be 24 hours before the storm is due to hit.)
  • List the procedures you’ll follow to prepare for and to make it through the emergency.
  • Procure any necessary materials and equipment (generators, tie-downs, rope, plywood, etc.) you’ll need.
  • Protect electronic equipment and back up any data that it has collected.
  • Make sure your emergency response equipment is in working condition and gassed up, ready to go.
  • Designate people to oversee each task to make sure it gets done.
  • Have all insurance information readily available.
  • Have a team ready to assess the damage after the weather event has passed.
  • Develop a plan to keep your workers informed about what’s happening and to alert them when it’s time to return to the jobsite.

Here are some best practices for different types of weather events.

Wind storms

When heavy winds are predicted:

  • Clean up the jobsite to make sure there’s no debris that could fly away and cause damage. 
  • Remove any dead limbs from nearby trees that could become flying missiles.
  • Remove or safely secure any hazardous chemicals on the site.
  • Protect any materials or equipment that could be blown away or moved; store them indoors if possible.
  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions for securing equipment (such as cranes) in high wind conditions.
  • Brace any building components and secure any roofs that are under construction.
  • Cover windows and doors to protect them from flying glass.

Flooding/heavy rains

If heavy rain or flooding is predicted:

  • Evaluate the potential for flooding on your site so you’ll be ready to react on short notice.
  • Store materials as high off the ground as possible or relocate them to another site.
  • Move equipment to higher ground or offsite.
  • Store/move chemicals to a spot where they won’t be swept up in the flood waters.
  • Turn off the electrical supply to the site.
  • Use sandbags to prevent water from entering buildings. 

Hurricanes

Hurricanes bring both high winds and heavy rains. The best way to prepare is to follow the site precautions for both. In addition, you should:

  • Keep up to date with the latest weather reports.
  • Allow sufficient time to prepare the site.
  • Don’t assume that your site will be safe because your location doesn’t appear to be in the storm’s predicted path. Hurricanes have a habit of taking last minute detours, so if you’re anywhere within a few hundred miles, assume you’ll be hit and prepare accordingly.

RELATED: Prepare Now for Hurricane Season

Tornadoes

Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes strike with little warning, so you have to be ready to respond immediately if there’s an alert.

  • Assess each jobsite with an eye towards keeping your workers safe during a tornado. Is there a basement or sturdy building nearby where they could take shelter?
  • If there is no underground shelter, identify places where they could go. Avoid buildings with flat, wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums. Look for rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block and a heavy concrete floor or roof system. Stay in the center of the room, avoiding doors, windows and outside walls.
  • Keep your jobsites tidy and materials secured to limit damage from flying debris.
  • Review tornado procedures with your crews frequently so they’ll know what to do.

Lightning storms

When a thunderstorm is looming:

  • Get workers off any tall structures, such as rooftops, scaffolding, utility poles and ladders.
  • Remove workers from heavy equipment such as bulldozers, cranes and tractors.
  • Identify safe locations where people can wait out the storm.
  • Keep everyone away from materials or surfaces that conduct electricity, including metal scaffolding, utility lines, water, water pipes and plumbing. 
  • Unplug any sensitive electronics, such as computers. 

While it does take time to prepare for potential weather events — every jobsite is unique and emergency plans should reflect that — your efforts will pay off should a devastating storm hit. Having a plan ready to implement means that not only will your workers, materials and equipment be better protected, you’ll also minimize damage and be able to get back to work as quickly as possible.

RELATED: Reducing the Impact of Weather on Construction Schedules

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