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Workplace Disaster Planning Takes the Spotlight in the Wake of Hurricane Devastation

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In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, businesses throughout the country have had another wake-up call as to how important disaster planning is to help minimize property loss and protect their employees. Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the surrounding area caused massive flooding with thousands of businesses having to dig out from the devastation. The energy industry, for example, was temporarily disrupted: At the height of the storm, 20 Texas oil refineries were closed or partially shut down, taking out nearly one quarter of total U.S. refining capacity and temporarily throwing thousands of Texans out of work. Hurricane Irma caused losses of 50% to 70% to the state’s citrus crop in portions of South Florida. Last year the value from Florida citrus was $1 billion. Florida ranks second in orange juice production to Brazil.

These recent natural disasters underscore the fact that they can hit anywhere and hit hard. It’s critical, therefore, to make sure that all businesses have in place a workplace emergency plan. In looking at a workplace disaster plan, keep the following in mind:

  • Have a comprehensive plan customized to the business and industry served. An effective hurricane survival plan should be written down and reviewed annually. For many companies, an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is required by OSHA, therefore hurricane planning can be considered as a part of the EAP planning and reviewed each year.
  • The plan should address policies and procedures for employee safety regarding hurricanes, business continuity and contingency plans in the face of damage to the business' facilities, and policies for dealing with employees, customers and vendors, etc.
  • Key elements of an effective plan, according to OSHA, include:
    • Conditions that will activate the plan
    • Chain of command
    • Emergency functions and who will perform them
    • Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
    • Procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors
    • Equipment for personnel
  • Determine procedures and individual crisis management responsibilities. Identify which personnel are required to be on-site in the days surrounding a hurricane, as well as which personnel are essential to business function, whether required on-site or not.
  • Be sure to communicate areas of accountability and responsibility for key personnel as well as how to perform their emergency-response duties effectively.
  • Coordinate with others. Understand the hurricane-response plans of other businesses in the area as well as police, fire department, hospitals and utility companies. Communicate with suppliers, shippers and others with whom the firm regularly does business.
  • Prepare employees. Communicate the hurricane plan with company personnel; ensure understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations for every employee.
  • When reviewing an emergency plan, assess changes in the business or to the community that may affect the firm’s hurricane response plan and make the necessary changes each year.

RPS provides many types of businesses throughout a broad spectrum of industry segments with end-to-end insurance solutions, including in the energy, agribusiness, manufacturing, construction, and healthcare sectors. Disaster planning is key for these and all industries in mitigating the potential for devastating losses.

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