Hurricanes may not strike as suddenly as earthquakes or tornadoes, but they are still unpredictable and can cause an unparalleled amount of damage to infrastructure, property and human life. Specifically, when hazardous materials are present at a facility, damage from water and wind to commercial real estate is a serious concern for businesses located in vulnerable areas. These areas include most of the coastline along the Gulf Coast, the southeastern U.S. and lately, more frequently on the eastern seaboard.
Each September, National Preparedness Month reminds us to make sure our businesses, schools, and communities are prepared to weather the storm with these disaster-preparedness tips from our team of experts.
Assess Risks and Current Procedures
The first step towards hurricane preparedness is a full evaluation of the site itself. Your location’s proximity to the coastline or other bodies of water is important, but there are many other factors to consider, as well. Hurricane damage is not limited to high winds and flying debris. In 2020, Hurricane Laura alone caused over $8-12 billion in damage and losses to residential and commercial real estate.
Our consultants look at flood zone risks, site drainage features and barriers, soil composition, local geography and structural materials to identify potential vulnerabilities to both wind and storm damage as well as storm surge and flooding. Facilities housing potential contaminants and all procedures related to their handling, are priorities during the assessment to ensure the health and safety of the public during an emergency.
This proactive assessment includes a thorough evaluation of all risk-management and emergency measures already in place. Some of these procedures can be adjusted and integrated into a broader emergency and disaster recovery plan. Businesses also need to consider all of the applicable laws and regulations relevant to their industry, location and specific nature of their operations.
Create an Emergency Plan
The ability to react quickly to an emerging crisis can make the difference between a minor setback and a complete disaster. Every commercial site at risk of severe hurricane damage should have an updated and established emergency response plan. This plan provides employees and decision makers with a framework and essential checklist when facing an imminent storm. Procedures for providing emergency power, developing mitigation controls, ceasing volatile operations and bolstering chemical storage areas are just a few examples of what may appear in an emergency plan.
Emergency plans are not a “one size fits all” solution, and should not only be customized to your unique business, location and employees, but also regularly evaluated and updated as needed. Once created, it’s also important that all current and new employees are properly trained and made aware of new policies and procedures as they happen in case of an emergency event.
Develop a Disaster Recovery Strategy
Even if the storm only lasts for a day or two, the impact of a hurricane can linger for much longer. Unprepared sites can become seriously contaminated or structurally unsafe, which can cripple business operations on the premises for months or even years. That’s why businesses should have a disaster recovery strategy in place that they can implement to address issues arising from storm damage that accounts for every aspect of how it operates.
Damaged commercial sites should be inspected as soon as possible after hurricane activity subsides. Signs of chemical contamination, water intrusion or structural damage can represent a serious threat to the safety of workers and other personnel onsite, as well as the surrounding environment and communities. It’s also important to quickly address sources of ongoing damage, particularly when there has been flooding. A thorough disaster recovery plan includes steps to address concerns in order of priority and severity, providing a roadmap for the remediation process.
Remediating Damaged Sites
Some of the risks associated with hurricanes are unavoidable, even with a comprehensive emergency and recovery plan. Following the post-storm assessment, commercial property owners have to find an affordable and effective way to get back to normal operating conditions. The sheer complexity and scope of hurricane remediation can be overwhelming, but with the help of experienced environmental and engineering consultants, business owners can rest assured knowing that their property is well taken care of.
Atlas offers comprehensive disaster recovery support, including:
- Initial water damage assessments, including moisture intrusion surveys
- Asbestos, lead paint and other contaminated material assessments that may be required prior to demolition and removal of any storm-damaged materials
- Structural damage evaluations and assessments, including welding, concrete, foundation and roofing inspections
- Water damage moisture mapping services, as well as observation and third-party oversight of microbial abatement activities
- Program management and construction management
- Grant management services in support of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program: preliminary damage assessment, grant funding eligibility and recovery implementation phase, project delivery
- Air quality consulting, including fence line air monitoring in extreme cases of chemical releases and fires
- Testing and monitoring of indoor air quality for noxious fumes to ensure there are no fugitive emissions or releases
- Contaminated waste management, chemical containment, characterization and disposal management
- Chemical release and spill response and initial abatement activities
- Assessing, monitoring and mitigating impacts to soil, surface water and groundwater
- Utility restoration to the facility
Atlas is currently providing environmental investigations in the southeast Louisiana region in response to Hurricane Ida. Following the devastating 2020 CAT4 Hurricanes, Delta and Laura, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Atlas also provided immediate Industrial Hygienist support in the wake of significant flooding and continues to provide program management, construction management, and grant management services to the City of Lake Charles in support of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.
Despite the unpredictable nature of hurricanes, there are measures companies can take to mitigate the risk of damage to life, property and the environment before a storm hits. Identifying and prioritizing the numerous risk factors impacting a particular site can be difficult on its own, and businesses have to do much more than that to survive a hurricane disaster. That’s why Atlas offers advanced solutions to support clients in all of their hurricane preparation and remediation efforts. Contact us today to discuss our comprehensive consulting services or to learn more about the risks hurricanes pose to your commercial property.