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Natural Disaster Preparedness: Important Protocols for Your Organization

Across construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and other industries, National Safety Month is being celebrated throughout the month of June. First established in 1996, the purpose of National Safety Month is for employers and organizations to remind workers of the importance of safe behavior on-the-job. And while of course safety should be a primary training focus all 12 months of the year, dedicating June to reviewing important safety-related topics is beneficial to organizations and employees alike.

During the first week of Safety Month, organizations are encouraged to re-visit their emergency preparedness and related protocols—particularly as it relates to natural disasters.

Setting Up an Evacuation Plan

Did you know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all organizations to have a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place? This EAP should include detailed instructions and guidelines for evacuating or sheltering in-place in the event of an emergency. In a natural disaster situation, choosing between evacuating and sheltering in-place can be challenging—which is why there should be detailed, written protocols to follow in the event of a hurricane, tornado, or other type of natural disaster. Safety managers should keep in mind, however, that local authorities will have the ultimate say in regards to an evacuation; even if EAP protocol dictates a shelter-in-place scenario, employees will be required to evacuate if local authorities (such as police) give orders for a mandatory evacuation.

In developing an evacuation plan, safety managers should keep a few key considerations in mind. For starters, it is important to have a clear chain of command through which an evacuation can be ordered. From there, the type of natural disaster as well as the type of building should be taken into consideration. For example, it may make more sense to evacuate from a one-story building during a flooding scenario than from a high-rise.

A well thought-out evacuation plan should also include detailed diagrams showing all evacuation routes and exits within the building. These routes should be well-lit and unobstructed at all times. An EAP should also include important information for employees on:

  • Notifying emergency personnel
  • Reporting damage to safety systems as needed
  • Staying calm while protecting themselves and others

Preparing for Common Natural Disasters

Depending on where your business is located, there are a number of natural disasters to which your organization could be exposed. Being aware of the types of natural disasters able to affect your employees and planning for them appropriately is a must. Specifically, detailed preparedness instructions for each potential natural disaster should be included in your organization’s EAP—and employees should be trained regularly on these guidelines. When possible and appropriate, practice drills can also be a great way to refresh workers’ knowledge of natural disaster preparedness protocols.

Earthquakes

An earthquake occurs when rock beneath the Earth’s surface shifts and/or breaks, thus causing a sudden and rapid shaking or vibrating of the ground. And while technology has come a long way in predicting when an earthquake could be imminent in a certain area, this type of natural disaster tends to occur most often without warning. When an earthquake occurs, there are many ways in which your organization’s workers could be put at risk. Some of the most common injuries sustained in an earthquake include those from being struck by falling objects, though it is also possible for fires to start when an earthquake causes the rupture of a gas line or electrical line.

There are plenty of steps your organization can take to prepare for the possibility of an earthquake, such as:

  • Having designated “safe spaces” where employees can shelter away from windows and tall furniture (preferably against an interior wall)
  • Practicing “drop, cover, and hold on” protocol regularly
  • Being aware of the risk of potential aftershocks following an initial earthquake

Floods

Flooding is one of few natural disasters that can occur anywhere and at any time. When heavy rains are forecasted, the likelihood of flooding may be predictable—but in instances of flash flooding, this is not always the case. Drowning is the most serious and obvious threat to workers in the event of a flood, but flood waters can also pose an electrocution risk.

One of the best ways to stay prepared for a flood is to keep an eye on local warning systems, especially in areas where flooding is more common. Radio and television stations will broadcast flood/flash flood watches and warnings when a threat is imminent. In general, employees should be prepared to move to higher ground at any time in the event of a flood—and your building specifically should have an evacuation plan in place for getting to higher ground on-foot as needed, as well as notifying rescue crews or other emergency personnel of your location.

Hurricanes

Most common along coastal areas, a hurricane is a tropical storm that is capable of producing sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more. In the United States, there are designated “Hurricane Seasons” for both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but it’s important for organizations in coastal areas to be prepared for these severe tropical storms year-round.

Some of the best ways to prepare workers for a hurricane include:

  • Having an evacuation plan and practicing it regularly
  • Creating a “safe room” for situations where evacuation is not possible
  • Being prepared to follow instructions from local authorities

Tornadoes

Tornadoes occur when strong, rotating winds are produced from the base of a storm cloud directly to the ground. And while weather monitoring technology makes it possible to predict and warn in advance of many tornadoes these days, they can still occur anywhere and at any time.

In most cases, workers should be instructed to shelter in-place in the event of a tornado. As part of your organization’s emergency preparedness plan, you should have a shelter location somewhere in your building; this should ideally be an underground area, or at least an area on the interior of the building away from doors, windows, and outside walls. In the event of a tornado warning, workers should be trained to:

  • Recognize alarm systems warning of a tornado
  • Take shelter in the event of a tornado warning
  • Have a plan for taking head counts and helping those with disabilities seek shelter

Wildfires

wildfire can occur anywhere and at any time—and unfortunately, these fires can spread very quickly when the conditions are right (high winds and low humidity, for instance). In the event that your building is threatened by an approaching wildfire, having an evacuation plan is key. In addition to this, it’s a good idea to create a “safety zone” around your building whenever possible by removing combustible materials and vegetation from the 30-foot radius around the building (when safe to do so). This can help to reduce the likelihood that your building will be affected by the fire. Still, workers should know the proper evacuation routes and procedures to follow to keep themselves and their fellow co-workers safe.

Having preparedness and evacuation plans in place for common disasters in your area is a must for any organization. Looking to maximize the impact of your natural disaster preparedness training? Contact the IMPROV Learning team today to find out more about how we can help.

 

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