Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters: Severe Weather

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When it comes to emergency and disaster preparedness, I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been at smaller operations where consideration to accommodating natural disasters is non-existent; staff is expected to come in to work a full brew shift despite blizzards, flash floods, or collisions suffered in transit. I’ve been at larger organizations where the emergency action process is written, practiced regularly, and is nothing but unfinished business; planning for a disaster of any sort begins hours to months in advance.

In both cases, the aftermath of a weather disturbance or natural disaster has always concluded with “we could have handled that better.” So the question is: when the skies unleash, what are you going to do?

Many times when I ask what folks are going to do to keep their staff safe in the event of an emergency, their answer is usually in the form of a question, and not in the Jeopardy kind of way: “Uh, you just call the police, right?” or “Um, wow, well I think we have some kind of plan in place. Can I get back to you?” Emergency action plans should be clearly defined, and anyone on staff should be able to recite how they are supposed to respond. The responsibilities and actions may differ in complexity based on a person’s job title. A shift apprentice brewer may have an action as simple as saying, “I text my boss before I come in. A production manager or facility owner may have a more intensive list of things to cover.

Emergency action plans may include response to medical emergencies, fire evacuation plans, and more of the weather-related items such as shelter in place, early release, and/or facility shutdown. The purpose of an emergency action plan is to keep employees safe and minimize response time. When it comes to weather, if the conditions outside are truly dangerous (slick roads, flooded roads, closed roads, multiple accidents), is it really worth it to require an employee to come in because there’s a brew schedule? Some emergencies are difficult to anticipate, but it is always wise to take a proactive approach to forecasted inclement weather, as this type of emergency can generally be predicted.

Example of How to Prepare for Inclement Weather

Still not sure where to start? Here’s an example of what my organization does to prepare for inclement weather. Smaller organizations may be able to simplify their processes but, in either case, it’s recommended to have emergency plans in writing and to review these plans with employees regularly.

  1. When inclement weather is in the forecast, we start the day before. With the National Weather Service, there’s plenty of access to forecast reports. If the skies are looking scary and there are warnings of big snow or precipitation, we usually get put on alert to start looking outside and paying attention to the local news.
    • Think essential: In the case of a brewery, you may consider brew and production staff as essential, especially if you choose to be gung-ho on a brew day. It is up to the employer to decide, but in our case, we designate “essential” as facility maintenance and security type staff only.
    • Be creative: If it looks like it’s going to be bad, supervisors in our organization might talk with staff the night before and tell them to work from home. Work from home, you say? How does that work at a brewery? Back when I was working in breweries, we always had little research projects that we wanted to work on but could never find the time to do. On one occasion, we were given the opportunity to get paid for doing technical research on a snow day and it turned out to be quite productive. On another occasion, I had a manager who just decided to pay folks for staying home and staying safe—anyone who came in with an injury from a sledding incident got to buy pizza for the shift team and go up on the wall of shame.
  2. On the morning of an anticipated weather disturbance, there is a small group that wakes up early (around 4:00 AM) to assess the severity of a storm and decide on whether or not to call a “snow day” before employees start their commute. This group usually consists of our vice president, facilities/maintenance manager, site services manager, and sometimes the manager of health and safety. They contact each other via phone and text, report how the weather is looking from their homes, and begin to track road and traffic conditions on the local news.
  3. Factors we consider:
    • Road conditions: We have staff coming in from all over the region, so we don’t just assess how the roads are where our facility is located. We look at all of the highways leading in from surrounding cities and suburbs. Also, we are located in a region that embraces sustainability and bike culture, so we have the to think about bike paths and bus delays.
    • School closures: Many people who work here have kids. If kids are off of school or day care centers are closed, many are going to miss work anyway.
    • Storm path: It may be stable at 4:00 AM, but if the storm looks like it will worsen throughout the day, we may just call it early to avoid having staff come in just to be immediately sent back home in even worse conditions.
    • Plowing: We have to plow a private road that leads up to our flagship facility, and we have experienced a few instances where the plows malfunctioned and were unable to complete the job. If the main drive is treacherous, people stay home.
    • Facilities: Our facilities manager often ventures out early to assess roads and to ensure that our actual facilities are still in shape for occupancy. Do we have heat, water, power?
    • Others in area: Find out if other local businesses nearby are electing to close for the day.
  4. By 5:00 AM the decision is made. Because we have a larger staff, we will notify our staff using an emergency notification system which is through a service called EverBridge. Everyone gets a default message in their email, but there is an option to get texts to your cell phone as well. This service is provided to all staff and visitors. Since we have many employees, we may also notify local media/news agencies. Alternatively, smaller operations can have a simplified “committee” and rely on group text or email.

#LessonsLearned and points to get you started:

  1. Have a plan for medical, fire, and weather emergencies.
  2. Post those plans in a common, accessible place such as a company safety manual or internal website.
  3. Review the information regularly (at least annually).
  4. Don’t be stubborn. Remember that the safety of your staff comes first! If the conditions are dangerous, don’’t make your staff go out and brave them solely out of convenience for the production schedule.

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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