Disaster preparation starts now for severe weather season
By Steve Campbell
May 23, 2023
Hurricane Ian tears through Florida. Tornadoes pepper states throughout the Southeast and Midwest. Significant floods hit California. Another above-average wildfire season was ablaze in the West in 2022. These are just some of the major natural disasters that hit the U.S. in 2022 or early 2023. They are proof that you can never be too prepared for disasters and severe weather.
For rental businesses, both big and small, preparing for possible natural disasters is the key to getting your business back on track. It’s also important for those in your community who turn to rental stores following a disaster. They’ll look for equipment such as skid steers, chainsaws, generators, pumps and more to assist with their recovery.
While most severe weather events have a higher chance at specific times throughout the year, disasters can happen at a moment’s notice — with or without warning. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and be aware of what you need to do before a disaster strikes.
For all weather events, know your important first steps:
- Stay informed on weather details.
- Back up important documents off site.
- Secure equipment on site.
- Review plans with your employees.
- Contact customers who have your equipment.
Before, during and after disasters, stay in contact with your employees to give them updates on the business and also to stay up to date on their personal situations. Check out types of natural disasters below and specifics for how you can be prepared.
Hurricane season in the Gulf Coast and Atlantic states begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30. While these are key dates to know, hurricanes don’t follow a calendar. The year 2022 was the first since 2014 to not have a named storm prior to June 1.
The off-season is the best time to prepare for hurricanes. Key starting points are to:
- Know your vulnerability and likelihood of damage based on your location.
- Create a preparedness plan.
- Define employee tasks in case of a hurricane.
- Inspect your property and make repairs regularly to areas that could sustain damage.
Before a storm arrives, make sure to anchor or strap down any outdoor equipment and move it inside if possible. If evacuation is required, planning ahead on this step will help you get to safety faster. Move any equipment to higher ground or higher shelving as flooding is always possible with hurricanes.
Heavy rain and storm surges are common causes of floods, and often are included with hurricanes, but high water in your area can happen without storms too. Melting snow or heavy rain upriver can cause major flooding further south. There also is the chance of dams or flood walls breaking, which can send water where nobody expected.
When you know flood waters are a potential:
- Keep an up-to-date listing of your rental inventory along with pictures and/or videos.
- Have shut-off valves installed on all sewer connections.
- Store ground-level equipment on higher shelves inside and move outdoor equipment and vehicles to higher ground.
- Begin to stockpile sandbags plus have mops, squeegees and other clean-up products ready.
Also, be aware of electrical outlet locations. If needed, have an electrician move electrical components at least 12 in. above the expected flood levels.
Driving through flooded roadways also is a key concern with floods. Do not drive on water-covered roads as even a small amount of fast-moving water can cause problems. According to the National Weather Service, just 6 in. can knock over and carry away an adult, 12 in. can carry away a small car, and more than 18 in. can carry away most large vehicles, including SUVs, vans and trucks. There also is the threat of what is under the water that can cause damage.
Tornadoes can happen any time of the year and any time of the day. While there are certainly warning signs the threat is coming, it’s important to think ahead and take all watches and warnings seriously. Skies can turn dark quickly and storms that include tornadoes can pop up.
As with other severe weather events, before severe storms reach you:
- Have your emergency plan in place.
- Know where to take shelter.
- Back up all customer information and important documents off site.
- Secure your equipment.
- Have a way to handle phone calls once the severe weather has passed in case landlines are knocked out.
For anyone living in areas impacted by wildfires, you know the danger. A small spark in a dry climate can have devastating consequences. From 2017-2022, wildfires have burned more than 38 million acres across the U.S. According to weather experts, this increase in wildfires is caused by extreme drought and heat, which has been fueled by climate change.
If a wildfire threat is coming your way:
- Follow the most up-to-date information on fire paths.
- Be ready to evacuate and know your evacuation route.
- Have a well-maintained inventory record with pictures and/or videos.
- Put important documents in fireproof locations and upload to the cloud.
- Keep all windows and doors closed.
- Limit your exposure to dust and smoke.
Wildfires are not to be messed with. They can spread quickly, burn down structures and cause fatalities. If instructed to evacuate, do so immediately.
Multiple earthquakes occur every day in the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Most of these are small and insignificant with very few people even aware they occur. Certain areas are more prone to earthquakes, which include the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. While these small earthquakes won’t do damage, you need to be prepared for a big one that can cause catastrophic damage including gas line explosions, water main breaks, damaged buildings, buckled roads, collapsed bridges, fires and more.
Areas that are more prone to earthquakes need to have a detailed plan, but everyone should be aware of what to do in case one strikes their area. Precautions include:
- Ensuring your building meets current codes for seismic resistance.
- Repairing any cracks in walls, beams and foundations to maintain stability.
- Communicating an earthquake plan with employees and where to take cover.
- Having flexible connections and break-away shut-off valves on gas and chemical lines.
Major earthquakes can cause severe damage in a matter of seconds. Once it ends, stay out of damaged areas and affected buildings, shut off valves in damaged lines and prepare for aftershocks.
Immediately following a disaster, make sure to contact your insurance company to file a claim and provide as much information as possible. Take photos of damage, sort through equipment to understand what is salvageable, protect your property from further harm and pick up any equipment that was damaged while out on rent.
For more information on how to prepare for disasters and to create a plan, view the Disaster Planning and Recovery Guide from the ARA Foundation and Disaster Planning Checklists on RentalU at ARArental.org/rentalu. Click on the red “Safety and Risk Management” box then find the guide and checklists under “Safety and Risk Management Resources.”