Planning for a disaster can be unpleasant but it is necessary for a business. Tornadoes can occur with little or no warning and are one of the most dangerous natural disasters, accounting for 40% of catastrophic losses in the United States each year.
In the event that your company experiences tornado damage or loss, use the following checklist to help manage the situation and minimize business interruption.
1. Notify Essential Contacts:
This includes emergency response contractors, your insurance carrier/broker and any other primary or emergency contacts that require notification. Depending on your facility type, you will need different vendors or contacts on your emergency list. For example, a senior living facility will need to plan to contact anyone who assists with moving residents out of a damaged building. A medical facility may have expensive equipment in the building and will need to contact anyone who can help minimize further damage or double check to confirm the equipment is still in working order.
Your emergency contact list should be planned in advance and should think through any and all scenarios from outright physical damage to smaller issues that may not be as apparent. Oftentimes buildings may seem intact, but small particles or dust can be pulled into an HVAC during the storm, causing air quality problems inside the building. Brainstorm and secure emergency contacts for all aspects of the building that could face damage.
2. Minimize Additional Damage:
Taking steps to prevent damage beyond your initial discoveries is key. Included in the language of virtually all insurance policies is a disclaimer holding the “insured” accountable for taking steps to help reduce any further damage. If a business is self-insured, minimizing damages will also save on restoration costs.
For example, if your facility has minimal damage and is safe to enter, you may notice smaller issues like standing water in your facility and fabric that has absorbed the standing water, remove the fabric as quickly as possible if it is safe to do so. If it is not safe, be sure to document why. Smaller actions like moving fabric and furniture away from windows or standing water can make a big impact on the overall cost of damage.
3. Execute a Communications Plan
In addition to those who are part of the recovery process, it will be necessary to inform staff members who will be charged with internal/ external communication to employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders as to what is going on and expected next steps.
If the storm is isolated, keep in mind that cell phone towers tend to get jammed up or broken in severe weather and communication can become more difficult. Sometimes picking up a burner phone on a smaller network can help, or driving outside the immediate area to find better service.
Disclaimer: At time of writing, COVID-19 has transformed workplace communication, most likely for good. It may be appropriate to use some of the new digital tools the pandemic has made necessary in your workplace, including Slack, Zoom and other long-distance communication software. After initial emergency contact calls and damage clean up, consider hosting a scheduled Zoom meeting to keep employees in the loop on building damage and future plans.
4. Assess the Damage:
The recovery team should begin the task of damage assessment as soon as reasonably possible upon receiving the authorization to return to the facility. Take the time to document the loss, take photos and identify any potential hazards.
Note that people usually are eager to jump right into their building and assess damage, but that can be a very risky move. Your roof could be compromised and cave in if disturbed, as could parts of the walls or floors. It’s usually best to err on the side of caution and wait for a professional cleanup crew to enter the building
5. Restore Fire Protection:
After a tornado, your building’s water system may be disrupted, meaning you have no fire suppression. Make sure the water system is turned back on and/or your backups are functioning. Additionally, check that pipes are not ruptured before attempting to use or test any water systems.
To safely reoccupy a facility, the fire protection/suppression system must be operable or adequate alternatives must be established.
6. Begin Preventative Maintenance: Once there is no danger associated with the effects of the storm, begin the process of protecting property and equipment.
- Determine with absolute certainty that it’s safe to begin preventative maintenance within the facility. This means the structure is sound and any potential dangers like standing water are absent.
- Shut off gas and electricity if it is safe to do so. It is especially important to shut off these utilities if your building has clear structural damage.
- Shut off any damaged, non-main water lines to nonessential or unoccupied rooms like employee break rooms or empty offices.
- Check that pipes are not ruptured
- Save your most valuable items in order of priority, starting with essential documents and moving to machinery and furniture items.
- Identify any sources of flood and, if needed, stop any leaks.
- Begin preventative maintenance without ensuring the facility is safe to enter.
- Shut off your main water valve in case fire suppression is needed.
- Grab items to save as soon as you see them, regardless of priority or value.
- Panic or think without a clear head. Having a plan in place prior to storm events is only effective if you default to your predetermined methodology for storm damage restoration.
7. Start the Reclamation Process:
Begin the cleaning and restoration process as soon as possible after running through initial post-tornado protocols. The majority of damage in tornados will actually most be water with some wind elements. Exposure to water can cause irreparable damage if not addressed in a timely fashion.
Water damage is easier to get covered by insurance, but many businesses are actually self-insured, meaning they have set away money to cover losses from damage. To avoid higher than necessary costs, it’s critical to cut losses and clean up damage as quickly as possible.
8. Keep Tabs on Costs
It is crucial to your business and your insurance carrier that people in the organization track the costs associated with the claim process. Make sure you can readily identify and capture expenses directly related to the claim.
There is no specific way to capture evidence for claims, but try to photograph things that can become damaged quickly. For example, drywall quickly wicks up water, so get a picture of your walls before they become bloated with moisture.
The biggest thing to remember is that safety always comes first. If you are able to safely enter the building and document damage for insurance, then do so. If you doubt the situation is safe, wait for a professional damage restoration service to arrive. Once a restoration company is on site, they can quickly document damage with the eye of an experienced professional.
That’s why it helps, especially with this step, to have a restoration vendor already setup. Restoration vendors can provide you with a pre-approved rate schedule or set pricing. When you’re facing roof damage or unexpected destruction from the storm, time spent negotiating can be time wasted. Preparing in advance for costs can keep you on schedule for faster repairs.
Revisit your disaster recovery plan and cost schedule on an annual basis. If you have added a product line or upgraded your facility in any way, your disaster plan should reflect this to better estimate costs. When you establish an agreement with a pre-approved restoration vendor, besure to ask about costs up front. You should either be grandfathered into a standard price that remains the same over the years or you should be made aware of any inflation-based increases that will occur in the future. If your vendor is not transparent and up front with their answer regarding your cost questions, consider this a red flag.
9. Enact Temporary Repairs
As an extension of reducing any further damage, temporary repairs should be performed if they will save, protect or preserve property/equipment, and to improve personnel safety. This may mean boarding up windows that have blown out from the building and securing these areas to avoid further damage from weather events that reach the building’s interior through the window space. Additionally, check your roof and make sure it is secured to minimize further damage.
Keep tarps and boards on hand for this purpose. Additionally, add temporary security to your emergency contact list. If your building is filled with expensive equipment, security on-site can ensure protection from potential thieves coming in through boarded-up entrance points.
10. Complete Final Repairs and Replacement
Once all parties involved in repair have agreed on scope of services required to return to pre-loss condition and funds have been authorized, finalize repairs or if necessary replace “totaled” items.
Having a pre-loss agreement helps immensely with this step and many of the prior steps. A pre approved vendor will know your emergency contacts, the equipment in your building that needs checked and covered, the points in your building that need damage control and how to respond to your call for assistance.
Tornadoes are one of the most sudden or unexpected disaster events. Hurricanes and tropical storms usually come with warning, giving you time to secure your facility. But tornadoes usually do not provide the luxury of time. With a plan and pre-approved vendors, you can get back to business quickly and with minimal interruption.
ServiceMaster Recovery Management Can Help
As your business takes its steps to recover from the storm, ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) will be there to restore your property back to pre-storm conditions.
ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) is a commercial disaster restoration company designed to provide businesses with a large loss recovery team they can trust to deliver consistent quality service. SRM has command and control centers strategically positioned throughout the U.S. staffed by team members experienced in large loss and disaster recovery.
SRM has the capability, control of quality and control of service to handle large commercial projects anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. ServiceMaster Recovery Management provides you with a one-touch solution, from initial emergency response to total restoration, minimizing business interruption and helping mitigate claim severity.
If you’re in need of a pre-approved restoration vendor to assist with your tornado preparedness planning, look no further. SRM’s Priority Response Program provides you with the resources to create, update or review your disaster recovery plan at no cost to you.