Emergency Action Plan: Severe Weather

Various properties are exposed to severe weather such as winter storms, tornadoes or hurricanes. For the most part, a given property will be exposed to either tornadoes or to hurricanes, depending on location. Winter weather can occur in most of the country. An adverse weather warning system is used by the National Weather Service to classify various conditions, progressing from the less severe “watch” to “warning” when the storm becomes imminent. Tornadoes are much less predictable than hurricanes, arise more quickly, and often jump around within an area instead of following a more plot-table course. The behaviors for the various storms are outlined below, with general information immediately following.

Some facilities are so constructed and situated that they are or can be used as a shelter in times of community emergency. If your facility falls in this class, the information listed in the paragraphs that follow for hurricane preparation applies. If your facility would not be used for such, either because of construction type, location (low ground, adverse exposure to high winds, extensive large trees immediately around the building, etc.), or other considerations, then the preparation is much simpler. On the day you receive notification, you inform patrons as they leave after their activities that the facility will be closed until after the storm passes. You then protect windows, sandbag low areas if necessary, secure outside items (or bring them inside), lock the door, and leave. Unfortunately, after the storm you must face basically the same scenario as if you were a shelter.

Assuming the facility would be used for a shelter during a hurricane, the preparations for the tornadoes and hurricanes are similar, including the maintenance of the following emergency supplies:

  • tools, including wrenches to shut off utilities
  • blankets/sleeping bags
  • portable battery-powered radio
  • portable battery-powered flashlight
  • food (canned or dried)
  • water stored in plastic airtight containers
  • first aid kit
  • fire extinguishers-ABC
  • extra batteries
  • eating utensils
  • can opener
  • pails with covers

For hurricanes, the following items are advisable, but can normally be obtained as the storm proceeds through its stages, as the hurricane usually takes much longer to develop than a tornado.

  • plywood for protection of plate glass windows
  • burlap bags for sandbagging
  • rope for lashing down of storage sheds, and other material that cannot be brought inside

The means of protecting people and property is as different for the two types of storms as the speed in which they approach. For tornadoes, there is little that can be done to protect property other than bring loose furniture and similar items into a sheltered place. Much more can be done to protect against the storm surge and the flooding that often accompany the hurricane. Personnel protection is also different, as tornadoes normally are such that evacuation of the area is impossible, while evacuation may be the best protection in a serious hurricane. During a tornado people need to get to the lowest level of the building in a corner, or under a substantial structural member, and stay away from windows. In a hurricane, people normally go to upper levels that will be away from any water that accompanies the storm. Windows are to be avoided in both types of storms.

Storm Procedures Immediately Before a Hurricane

When a hurricane watch is issued (a storm is expected to hit in 24-36 hours): 

  • Executive Director:
    • Monitor radio and TV for storm information.
    • Keep department managers posted on storm’s activity.
    • Monitor the progress of preparation in facility.
    • Relocate essential records, money, and office machines to an upper level.
    • Inform the patrons via the front desk of the storm’s activity and the organization’s precautions.
    • Determine how many employees will be available to work during the storm.
  • Facilities Manager:
    • Fill the organization’s vehicles with fuel and park them on a high, protected area.
    • Install storm windows/plywood over lower windows.
    • Move tools that may be useful during and after the storm to a safe place.
    • Begin filling sandbags for later use as needed.
    • Transfer furniture from lower levels to upper-level storage or meeting rooms.
    • Relocate outside furniture/etc. to vacated rooms.
    • Remove any stored items from electrical rooms, mechanical rooms, or sump pump rooms.
  • Kitchen Manager (if present):
    • Transfer at least 3 days supply of canned goods and other non-perishables to an upper floor room.
    • Transfer cooking utensils, Sterno, and candles to a room near the food items.
    • Purchase and store 3 days supply of paper plates, plastic utensils, and trash bags near the food items.
    • Clean and sterilize the drinking water containers.

When a hurricane warning is issued (storm is expected to hit within 24 hours):

  • Executive Director:
    • Notify patrons and staff that the storm will hit soon.
    • Continue monitoring progress of the storm.
    • Have employees who will work during the storm move their families into the facility.
    • Plan activities to keep the guests entertained.
    • Keep the latest storm news available.
    • Coordinate the department managers activities
  • Facilities Manager:
    • Check the emergency generator, emergency lights, tools and supplies.
    • Disconnect the power to all the low-lying portions of the facility.
    • Secure all rooftop and lower-level doors.
    • Begin sandbagging areas subject to flooding.
    • Move as many linens to upper floors as storage will allow.
    • Fill all tubs and sinks with water for drinking, washing, and sanitation.
    • Prepare staff to aid other departments as needed.
  • Kitchen Manager (if present):
    • Fill the water containers and store them with the food.
    • Turn refrigerators and freezers to their coldest settings…do not open unless absolutely necessary.

Storm Procedures During a Hurricane

  • No one leaves, except for extreme emergency.
  • Sandbag as needed.
  • Evacuate to upper floors if needed (and available).
  • Watch for flooding conditions. Continue to use public utilities until they fail.
  • Open leeward windows to release pressure.
  • If the eye passes directly overhead, be prepared to close those windows previously opened and open the ones on the other side of the building.

Storm Procedures After a Hurricane

  • Make certain the storm is over before leaving shelter.
  • Check for injured or missing people. Do not move any that are seriously injured. Apply basic first aid.
  • Check for natural gas leaks. Leave building if leak is discovered or suspected.
  • Do not use electricity if the circuitry is damaged, if it is wet, or if gas leaks are suspected.
  • Be careful of falling debris and broken glass.
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Assume they are energized.
  • Enter any building very cautiously as dangers may be hidden.
  • Use only a flashlight when checking for injured persons or damages.
  • Make temporary repairs to limit further damage to property and reduce potential for injury to people.
  • Survey damages.

Terminology Relating to Winter Storms

A winter storm may consist of freezing rain, sleet, ice, or heavy snow. The most important pre-planing consideration is the proper monitoring of a winter storm. Understanding the terminology used by the weather service in reference to storm warnings can assist adequate preparation. They include:

  • Freezing rain and freezing drizzle — rain that freezes as it strikes the ground and other surfaces forming a coating or ice.
  • Sleet — small particles of ice, usually mixed with rain. If enough sleet accumulates on the ground it will make travel hazardous.
  • Snow — snow of steady nature that probably will continue for several hours, unless accompanied by the qualifiers intermittent, occasional, or flurries.
  • Wind Chill — the effect of wind, in combination with actual temperature, which increases the rate of heat loss to the human body.
  • High wind watch — sustained winds of at least 40 miles per hour or gusts of at least 50 miles per hour or greater are expected to last for at least 1 hour.
  • Winter storm watch — potential severe winter weather conditions in your area (freezing rain, sleet, snow) may occur either separately or in any combination thereof.
  • Winter storm warning — severe winter weather conditions are imminent.
  • Heavy snow warning — expected snowfall of at least 4 inches in twelve hours or 6 inches in 24hours. The term can denote lesser amounts where winter storms are infrequent.
  • Blizzard warning — sustained wind speeds of at least 35 mph accompanied by considerable falling and/or blowing snow. Visibility is dangerously restricted.

Storm Procedures Before a Winter Storm

  • Maintain sufficient sand, ice melt, and/or snow shovels to clear your walks and stairs.
  • Service and winterize the heating systems before the winter season begins.
  • Check fire protection systems frequently to prevent freeze ups and assure that all systems will operate properly in winter conditions.
  • Mats and/or runners should be available to absorb moisture from incoming shoes.
  • Warning signs or cones should be available to warn staff, members, and staff of potentially hazardous floor conditions.
  • Arrangements for prompt snow plowing of the parking lots should be made in advance. If this service is provided by an outside entity, certificates of insurance should be required and maintained.
  • Arrangements for prompt shoveling and de-icing of sidewalks, walkways, and steps should be made in advance. Again, if done by outsider, certificates of insurance should be required.
  • If the storm arises quickly, notification of facility users should be made so they can leave before the storm hits. If it is evident that a storm will close the facility, users should be informed as they leave that the facility will be closed until after the storm.

Storm Procedures During and After a Winter Storm

  • Heat should be maintained during the storm. If there is the possibility of heating failure, temporary heating should be arranged to prevent freezing of pipes, etc. Such action will require a watchman if the heat source is open flame, such as from kerosene heaters.
  • Floor condition should be constantly monitored during inclement weather. Mats should be placed at all entrances, cones placed to warn of potential wet floors. Each staff member should take ownership of floor condition.
  • Ensure that the prior arrangements for snow and ice removal are being fulfilled. Monitor all parking lots, walkways, etc. for possible re-freezing of melted snow on all pedestrian areas.
  • Exterior doors should be kept clear of snow and/or ice accumulations so that they can be opened. The doors should be cleared prior to reopening the facility, or kept clear during the storm if the facility is open.
  • The build-up of icicles and frozen snow masses on roof overhangs, rain gutters, and overhead fixtures should be prevented or controlled. Any build-up that develops while the facility is closed should be removed prior to reopening.
  • Outside recreation areas should be closed until free of ice and snow.
  • Emergency areas, fire lanes, fire hydrants, and fire protection equipment should remain available and accessible during the storm, or at least cleared prior to reopening.
  • Piles of snow should not be allowed to obstruct the view of pedestrians in the parking lot or of traffic that is entering or leaving the premises.