COVID-19 has upended just about everything in the world today.
Our business and personal lives, the economy, the way we shop. Little has escaped the pandemic.
But there is one thing that is immune to COVID-19–the risk from natural disasters.
Hurricanes, earthquakes and wildland fires will still come. The Atlantic hurricane season is around the corner, typhoon season is underway, and flood continues to be the most prevalent and costly natural disaster.
The presence of the coronavirus will make little difference in the destruction that these disasters bring. If anything, social distancing and idle factories will only make the devastation worse.
Businesses, particularly those idled by COVID-19, need to take special care to ensure their facilities are protected from the ever-present threat of natural disasters.
Idle doesn’t mean abandoned: Identify key personnel, ensure security
While stay-at-home orders and essential-employees-only directives may make it impossible for facilities to operate, it’s vital that these facilities stay protected.
Idle should never mean abandoned. Security should always be present, emergency response teams at the ready and fire protection maintained.
In defining who is an “essential employee,” businesses and community leaders should recognize as essential a business’s facility manager, its emergency response teams and its maintenance workers. These essential workers need to be on site to minimize any risks to the facility.
Businesses also should consider installing technology like webcams or leak detection systems that allow remote monitoring of the facility.
COVID-19 shutdowns are likely to result in shortages of supplies or parts necessary for building and machinery repair. A business’s emergency response team should carefully review the most critical equipment on site and ensure supplies are on hand to maintain that equipment. This is particularly true of a facility’s fire protection system.
For some manufacturers, COVID-19 means ramping up instead of shutting down. Many of our clients produce vital medical supplies and are adding shifts, activating production lines or shifting production to new factories. These clients should not lose sight of natural hazard dangers and should consider the availability of staff to respond to natural hazards because of the added workload.
Natural disasters don’t stay home: Be ready
Stay-at-home orders mean there may be no one at an idle facility to put flood or hurricane protection in place and assembling a team of people to build a sandbag barrier goes against social distancing principles.
Weather forecasts should be closely monitored from afar. Temporary protections, like hurricane shutters and temporary flood barriers, should be put in place well in advance of an impending storm and, if possible, before work-from-home orders are advised. In fact, there’s no harm in doing that today.
For facilities that are still open, facility managers should explore protective measures that are always ready or that deploy automatically, like flood doors or pop-up barriers. Long-term solutions, like permanently elevating sensitive equipment/controls above flood levels, are always worth exploring.
For hurricanes and windstorms, permanent measures include adequate securement of the roof and rooftop equipment and minimizing outdoor storage. Items stored outside can quickly become projectiles that can be blown into the building during a storm.
Be prepared: Build your emergency response
In the face of COVID-19, being prepared is more important than ever. Facility managers should already have emergency response plans in place for whatever natural perils they face. In these uncertain times, it is better to execute on those plans well ahead of time in the event personnel aren’t available if disaster does strike.
For those in need of some help getting ready, visit the NatHaz Toolkit on fmglobal.com. The toolkit also provides resources for protecting your facilities against earthquake, flood, wildland fire and wind.
Visit FM Global’s COVID-19 Update page
FM Global clients: Contact your client service team for any assistance you may need.