Oh, The weather outside is frightful…

Preparing for winter weather with a comprehensive emergency response plan.

While winter weather is fast approaching, with some areas having been hit already, there’s still time to shore up your emergency response plans.  This time of year can often bestow the “perfect storm” conditions – freezing temperatures, rain, sleet, snow, and ice – presenting challenges to buildings, properties and people.  And, considering that recent winter seasons have brought snow or ice to 49 of our 50 states, no area is immune to these factors (even states below the Mason-Dixon Line are vulnerable!).

Now, let’s consider your emergency response plan.  Most likely, it includes severe weather conditions like tornadoes and floods.  Does it include provisions for winter weather?  If not, you may be wondering where you should start and what you need to consider when contemplating winter emergencies…here are some useful guidelines. 

Start at the top

Start with your roof.  You need to know the maximum snow load capacity as indicated in your building plans and specifications.  If these aren’t available, or don’t include the snow load, you should obtain an engineering analysis of the roof design.  Ensure that your plan addresses how you will monitor and remove snow accumulation on the roof.

Check your pipes

In addition to the snow load, develop response plans for burst pipes that include turning off the water supply and thawing or repairing damaged piping.   If frozen piping affects your fire protection system, your property insurer should be notified.   Many property carriers publish specific instructions on fire protection system impairments.  Make sure your emergency response plan includes these instructions.

Monitor your power

We often count on emergency generators to kick in when power is lost.  What if your generator fails?  Your plan should include provisions for purchasing and maintaining fuel supplies to power generators and to provide back-up heat.  Provisions should also be made to monitor and respond to carbon monoxide build up in vulnerable areas, including those adjoining boiler rooms, indoor parking areas, fireplaces, and wherever supplemental heat may be utilized, keeping in mind that most carbon monoxide poisonings occur in December and January. 

Make sure your emergency response plan also includes provisions for computer server and data back-up in the event of a power failure.  Server room temperatures will need to be monitored to maintain the efficacy of components in these areas.  Does your plan include provisions for isolating and securing energy sources?

Clear the way

Your plan should also include protocol for treating walking surfaces, including sidewalks and parking lots.  A formal snow/ice removal plan should be part of your emergency response and should address both daytime and nighttime shoveling and salting.  Contractors should be identified in advance of the winter months and certificates of insurance obtained.  Insurance limits should meet those recommended by your insurance carriers.  And don’t forget to identify back-up contractors, in the event that your primary contractor is unable to perform his/her duties.  Even if your business performs its own snow removal, you should have a contingency plan in case your employees are sick and/or your equipment malfunctions or fails to keep up with snowfall.  Identify preferred snow pile locations in your plan to avoid exacerbating conditions.

You may also wish to use GL and property claim history to identify those areas most prone to injury and damage during prior winters, and include provisions to monitor these areas and mitigate potential risk. 

Consider your employees

In addition, your emergency response plan should include appropriate preparation and response to flu and other virus outbreaks.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website is a great resource for this.

Ultimately, the best emergency response plan is only as effective as the employees who implement it.  Take steps now to ensure that your employees are trained and aware of their responsibilities under the plan.  Paraphrasing from Winston Churchill, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”     

Contact RCM&D Risk Consulting or your Account Executive to review your existing plan or to develop a new one to help minimize the potential impact of winter weather on your business or organization.

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