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March 31, 2022

Emergency preparedness for extreme weather events

Chad Price

Emergency preparedness is a topic we traditionally publicize in the spring, and for good reason. This is the season where tornadoes and hurricanes spring up and remind us that Mother Nature loves to flex her strength now and then.

However, this last winter in the mid-west has shown us being prepared for emergencies at any time of the year is critical. In addition to the aforementioned hazards, we often face threats throughout the year from wildfires, flash flooding, blizzards, earthquakes, and associated power outages.

Protecting your employees seems daunting at first, but it only takes a few steps to keep them out of harm’s way in a crisis.  Let’s review:

Identify Your Exposures

Understanding the hazards in your geographic region will help you be ready when problems arise. Tornadoes have traditionally been a problem in the mid-western U.S.; however, in recent decades they have increased in frequency in other regions. Wildfires are a common problem in the west, and hurricanes threaten the southeast and eastern coasts. Knowing your exposures is the first step to preparedness.

Early awareness is also key. Your local municipality may use severe weather warning sirens for example, so understanding their meaning and interpreting them correctly is important. FEMA offers an emergency alert app/text service for your phone, and a battery-powered NOAA weather radio can ensure you receive alerts even when the power goes out. Highway traffic cameras can be viewed to monitor road conditions for your mobile employees.

Create a Plan

Once you have identified the hazards you need a plan to follow in order to protect everyone. Written emergency procedures ensure that everyone knows what to do, and where to go, when an emergency strikes. Identifying storm shelters and fire evacuation routes ahead of time keeps guesswork out of the equation. You should have procedures and equipment in place for when the power goes out. Have an accountability process in place to ensure everyone is counted when evacuations are needed. Think outside the box: “what if” we had two disasters at once..?

Practice the Plan

However, plans alone are not enough. Like any life-safety critical program, you must practice what is in the plan. Educate your employees first. Give them the knowledge they need to be safe. Then conduct tornado and fire drills to educate employees on where to go when the alarm sounds. Have your response teams practice contingency procedures for things like power outages, fire sprinkler malfunction, or flooding control. Practice makes perfect, and split-second decisions can be dangerous when workers are not sure where to go or what to do.

The time to develop strategies is “now”, in order to protect your workers when emergencies arise. Give them the plans, the knowledge, and the experience they need to ensure everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.


OSHA Emergency Preparedness and Response

FEMA notification app

FEMA basic preparedness guide