Extreme weather topped the list of global risks at the end of the 2010s. And if the raging Australian bushfires are any indication, businesses ought to be buckling up for a turbulent new normal this decade, too.
After all, extreme weather events can devastate facilities and other physical assets, raise insurance premiums, and compromise worker safety – not to mention productivity. So, what can businesses do to improve their resilience to worsening weather patterns?
For starters, business leaders must be clear-eyed when it comes to the extreme weather vulnerabilities specific to their geographies and regions. Examples of the typical natural disaster season in the U.S. (alone) include the following:
|Natural Disaster||Typical Season||Typical Geographic Region (US)|
|Severe winter weather||1 November - 1 March||Northweast, Midwest, Mountain West, Northwest, selected parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic|
|Flooding||1 March - 30 June||Northwest, Mountain West, Midwest|
|Tornadoes||1 March - 30 June||Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic|
|Hurricanes||1 June - 30 November||Gulf Coast and along the Atlantic seaboard|
|Thunderstorms and lightning||1 March - 30 September||Central Plains, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest|
|Hailstorms||1 March - 30 September||East of the Rocky Mountains|
1 Mach - 1 June
1 June - 1 November
Mountain West, Pacific West, Southwest
Meanwhile, around the world, the typical disaster season keeps getting longer. Because of global warming, for instance, destructive tropical cyclones (see below) are more likely to occur during what were formerly colder periods.
|North Atlantic||1 June - 30 November|
|East Pacific||15 May - 30 November|
|West Pacific||May - November|
|North Indian Ocean Basin||April - December|
|Australian/Southwest Pacific Basin||November - April|
|Southeast Indian Ocean/Australian Basin||October - May|
|South Indian Ocean Basin||October - May|
Understanding this changing weather risk profile will help business leaders prepare accordingly – routinely training their staff on natural disaster and emergency evacuation procedures, rigorously enforcing hazard checks, doubling down on the maintenance of heating and cooling systems, and, of course, developing or updating extreme weather crisis plans.
Indeed, according to best practice, the initial risk assessment is the first step to developing and implementing a severe weather emergency plan. But before beginning that plan, it’s critical to consider a couple of factors, namely the plan’s purpose and scope. In other words, business leaders should lay out what they are trying to accomplish with the plan, and what material will be covered in it. Be specific. And remember, goals and objectives vary depending on the design of the site (building location), available resources, as well as level of coordination with external agencies.
When tailoring the plan to the site’s design, specifically, leaders should consider consulting a qualified engineer or architect, preferably someone who has advanced knowledge of and experience with the building in question. That person will go on to identify safety zones within the structure, normally small interior rooms, bathrooms, windowless interior hallways, as well as explicitly proscribe areas to avoid, usually larger rooms (like cafeterias or auditoriums) with expansive roofs.
What else does the severe weather plan accomplish? It outlines roles, responsibilities, and duties for site supervisors and other staff members centrally involved in responding to and managing the emergency, usually members of the Crisis, Emergency, Safety, and/or Facilities teams. Essentially, a well-conceived plan covers all of the following:
- Well-articulated protocols to follow during severe weather incidents
- Clear definitions of teams assigned to the incident
- Roles, responsibilities, and expectations for all team members (and staff)
- Clear action plans to execute
- An evacuation strategy
- Other high-level considerations to follow
Finally, operational resilience isn’t merely achieved by severe weather disaster planning, even if the plan itself turns out to be incredibly robust. Preparedness is only one element of the resilience and incident management lifecycles. Business leaders should also have a clear sense of how their organization will recover from a natural disaster, as well. To bolster resilience more broadly, download our handy how-to guide to developing a severe weather action plan:
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