Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters: Hurricanes

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This event occurred during Hurricane Harvey.

The skies were getting darker and the urgent weather alerts were buzzing in on my phone at a more frequent rate. It was a Friday and the hurricane was anticipated to hit landfall in our region within the next 8-12 hours. While no one wants a hurricane to roll through the neighborhood, it was convenient that it was waiting for the weekend to swing by. There wasn’t much that we could physically do to prepare. In designing our facility from the ground up, the owners had taken extreme weather into consideration, so there was at least a certain degree of structural engineering that we could hope would stand up to gale forces and intense precipitation.

Plywood was placed to support the large storefront/tasting room window. All of the other windows we had were small and on the leeward side of the building so it was decided that we did not need to spend time boarding them up. Flood waters were not anticipated, so we didn’t make any efforts to put sandbags or barriers at the base of the doors. We were at the peak of our seasonal production capacity and all of our cellar tanks were weighed down and full with product. The kettle and hot liquor tanks were partially to completely filled with water. It wasn’t common practice for us to store any items or equipment outside but we made a pass around the exterior to make sure we didn’t have anything lying around just waiting to be taken up by the wind. Our lot was mostly flat so we didn’t have too many trees or branches to worry about. We did what we could to make sure that the compressed gas cylinders were capped and secured to protected walls as opposed to structural pylons. We weren’t sure if the outdoor silo was going to be leak-proof so we transferred as much grain as possible into our indoor storage bin and sealed the top down with plastic wrap and duct tape. As far as keeping things at the right temperature was concerned, we had no emergency backup for our chillers or glycol system pumps, so all we could do was cross our fingers that the outdoor temperatures would stay cool and hope that the power wouldn’t cut out. There were no mandatory orders of evacuation or even pre-evacuation, but management allowed us to leave early to go grocery stores and do any home preparations we needed to do.

By Saturday we were hit with substantial rains and wind which carried on throughout most of Sunday. The brunt of the storm was south and east of us. The power had gone out on Saturday night. The hurricane got downgraded to a category 1 storm by Sunday.

On Sunday we got a wellness check-in text and facility status update from our manager. Most roads were clear and there were still no evacuation orders in our area. The facility had held up just fine. The brewery owners had invited the staff and our families to come in that evening for a group dinner as they had propane stoves, plenty of excess water, and food in the pub kitchen storage.

The power outage lasted until Monday afternoon and we were given the option to come to work in the morning. We donned headlamps to try to do some work. After a few hours, we decided our efforts for the busy week ahead weren’t all that important in comparison to what was happening to our community around us. We pilfered some low-fills and went home to spend an extra afternoon with our families.

In the end, although we made it through the hurricane relatively unscathed we didn’t really have an action plan for the event.

Lessons Learned

Here are some #LessonsLearned and points to remember:

Watch Weather Status and Be Prepared

In cases of impending weather, it is important for employers to be aware of forecasts and timelines. Employers are ultimately responsible for how they manage their response to inclement weather. While profits and production schedules are important, brewing tasks may not be the same level of urgency as things like health care. Things can wait.

Keep non-essential staff at home from the get-go and be willing to send employees home before the conditions get too dangerous. Be aware that if you wait too long, it might be necessary to have shelter or accommodations in place for your staff.

Also, take the time to remind staff to have a safety plan of their own. Track the weather and news reports so that you can be aware of storm status, evacuation orders, and avoid sending your staff out into dangerous conditions. Be understanding and flexible if employees feel that the conditions are unsafe.

Have a Plan in Place

Develop an emergency action and business contingency plan. Make a checklist of what needs to be done to prepare the facility for a storm so that prep work can be completed as quickly and effectively as possible. Know the numbers for critical personnel such as staff, legal, and support agencies. Make sure any business documents are in waterproof containers or on a digital back-up of some sort.

Have any safety questions or lessons learned stories? We’d like to hear from you! Email us at safetyexchange@brewersassociation.org

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