Every year, businesses lose 3 billion dollars to winter storms. How can you protect your business from all that property damage, downtime, and lost revenue?
According to FEMA, 40–60 percent of businesses affected by a disaster never re-open. With such high stakes, it’s not just “good practice” to make sure you’re ready—it’s vital. If a snowstorm is in your forecast, follow this guide for tips on how to prepare for a snow emergency.
Snow Emergency Advisory Levels
Most states use three advisory levels to inform citizens of snowy conditions:
- Level 1 – Roads are hazardous
- Level 2 – Driving is discouraged
- Level 3 – Roadways are closed
The mayor or governor is responsible for sending weather alerts. How will you know there’s a snow emergency? Keep an eye out for any of the following:
- Mass text messages
- Reverse–911 phone calls
- Emergency TV broadcasts
- Lighted signals
Some states use different alert systems. Know the details of all three levels and tailor your preparations to each scenario.
The first state of a snow emergency is the tamest and usually involves 2–4 inches of snowfall. Roadways are considered dangerous but drivable. Still, exercise extreme caution. Roadways could be icy with low visibility.
This level of emergency is usually called after 4–8 inches of snow. Wind will blow it around and cause drifting, so you should only drive if it’s absolutely necessary. Icy roads are almost guaranteed.
Call your employees and encourage them to telecommute. Car accidents during level 2 snow emergencies are too common. Keeping your people safe at home will give you and their families peace of mind.
8–14 inches of snow will usually bump the response to level 3. In this case, the law only allows emergency vehicles on the roads. It goes without saying that you should keep all employees at home. Stay safe and stay indoors.
Parking rules change during snow emergencies, so watch out for “parking prohibited during snow emergency” signs around your business. Blocking one of those routes during any snow emergency might result in a parking ticket or even land your vehicle in an impound lot. Alert customers and employees to move vehicles to off-street lots to accommodate snow plows.
Emergency Snow Plan
“By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” The adage is just as true when it comes to winter storms. The best way to minimize losses and keep your business running is by preparing for the worst.
You should order your preparations into two categories: business-focused and employee-focused.
If you don’t protect your facilities and equipment, your employees won’t have any work to come back to. Use these tips to take stock of your readiness.
Check Your Insurance
The first step is also the most important to disaster recovery. If your insurance plan provides sketchy coverage for winter storms, you may want to step it up. Be sure to read the fine print and insure all your sensitive equipment.
Restore Electricity and Water
Make a plan to restore one item at a time. Focus on the core functions: heat, water, emergency lights, servers, and temperature-controlled rooms. Get backup generators to run the basics while you work on the rest.
Keep supplies on hand in a winter storm—you won’t be making trips to the hardware store during an emergency. Rock salt or another deicer will help melt ice on driveways and walkways. Sand will improve traction. Snow shovels or powered snow removal tools can keep surrounding areas clear.
Find Who’s Responsible
Are you renting your space? Depending on the contract’s terms, you might be responsible for clearing snow. Determine who is responsible for restoring heat, electricity, and water utilities in an emergency. You should also find out who maintains your emergency and heating equipment. Is it you, your landlord, or a third party? No surprises!
Repair and Fortify
Remember that roof repair you’ve been putting off? It’s time to patch that up. In a snowstorm, the weight on the roof could cave it in, leaving you with much bigger problems. Repair any broken windows, cracked siding, or unsealed entryways. Then, weatherproof those areas with extra caulk, door sweeps, and insulation.
Ye Olde Paper Records
Keep paper records for all vendors and suppliers. A storm could take down your servers and halt your pipeline. If that happens, you’ll still need to contact your entire supply chain and inform them of the change.
Arrange for Snow Removal
This job is too big for a single snow shovel, make a plan to have a snow plow clear snow from your premises. Snow and ice removal should be a first priority once the immediate threat has passed. The roads will be handled by public works, but sidewalks and parking lots will be your responsibility. Not only does this limit your ability to do business, but slippery conditions are a major liability.
Your employees are the life force of your business. Take care of them during emergency situations. It’ll boost morale and show them that you care for their wellbeing. Set up a company-wide alert system that pushes notifications to all employees. This way, they’ll be in the loop.
Payment and Safety
If you close your business due to inclement weather, you must pay all exempt employees as if it’s a working day. If you close for part of the day, you must pay them for the time they missed.
What if you’re still open and an employee decides to stay home due to weather? You can force them to use vacation days—in theory. At least 50% of the U.S. population telecommutes. You should try to arrange a situation where they can work from home.
Even if telecommuting isn’t possible, consider paying employees a full day anyway. They most likely feel unsafe on the roads or have to care for a child due to school closures. Showing empathy for them will go a long way toward employee satisfaction.
Preparation is the only thing standing between your business and disaster. Even the smallest steps can save your business and keep your employees safe. Take smart precautions today to protect them both.