Preparing for Windstorms during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Without proper planning, the threat of windstorms combined with COVID-19 is a recipe for disaster

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1st, and the forecast is a higher than average probability of a major hurricane impacting the Caribbean region, Gulf of Mexico, and the US eastern coastline. On the other side of the globe, the 2020 Pacific typhoon season begins in May and is anticipated to be an active one.

Already contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, this hurricane and typhoon season will provide additional challenges for businesses, impeding emergency response efforts, as windstorm preparedness tasks may conflict with quarantine and contagion prevention requirements.

To help prepare for the 2020 hurricane and typhoon season, this guide offers useful advice and reminders to deal with today's challenges and help weather the storm – whether your property is currently idled, or otherwise just resuming operations.  

Pre-windstorm planning: here's what you can do now

  • Closely monitor the weather forecasts to quickly anticipate next actions to take.
  • Review and adapt all your Emergency and Natural Hazards Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Plans for the current pandemic conditions.
  • Update the contact information of your employees, vendors, and contractors involved in windstorm preparedness and recovery tasks.
  • Contact and confirm availability of essential employees and contractors needed for the key actions and tasks of the windstorm preparedness plan.
  • Review your inventory of materials and equipment needed for windstorm preparedness and recovery tasks, such as storm shutters, plywood, etc., and order materials now because shortages in supplies are expected.
  • Confirm availability and needs for fuel and other resources needed for your operations; be cautious of storing these additional resources or fuel on site as they potentially create protection challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is limiting the resources to prepare for severe windstorms.

Review, update and adapt your windstorm preparedness plan

Hurricanes and typhoons pose a serious risk to coastal areas worldwide, and with the advent of climate change we expect these only to increase in frequency and severity. Adequate planning before a windstorm arrives is the key to minimizing losses. Take this time to review your existing windstorm plans – from pre season preparedness to in-season preparedness, all the way to post storm measures. We've outlined best practices in our windstorm preparedness guide to ensure you are best prepared to withstand a high wind event.

Pandemic response considerations to facilitate windstorm preparedness

  • Closely follow the directives from local authorities to determine when you can restart operations and what restrictions apply to your site and employees.
  • Consider conducting a re-layout of work stations and common areas at your workplace to maintain safe distancing.
  • Resource management will be key as mass transportation for your employees will be limited, as will personnel, materials and resources for preparedness tasks.
  • Ensure adequate stock of cleaning materials and personal protection equipment such as face masks, gowning, hair and shoe covers, and gloves.
  • Increase cleaning and sanitizing frequencies of surfaces at your workplace.
  • Alcohol-based cleaning and sanitizing fluids should be stored in a separate and protected, non-combustible space or UL listed flammable liquids cabinet.
  • Provide contact barriers such as glazing or transparent plastic panels in areas where there is frequent contact with the public.
COVID-19 has affected countries all over the world

Windstorm preparedness for Idle and Vacant Properties

The same hurricane or typhoon that can damage a facility or operating plant can result in far more severe damage to an idle or vacant premise.

Oftentimes, heating and air conditioning systems are compensated to reduce utility costs during idle periods but if not managed properly, can result in pipe freezing / bursting exposures for colder climates. It's necessary to be especially mindful of potential freezing temperatures during the latter part of the typhoon season.

In vacant buildings, regular inspections and/or building maintenance are often reduced which can result in large losses in the case of an extreme weather event. Lack of roof inspection, for example, could lead to roof leak or even collapse during a heavy rainfall due to clogged drains and/or excessive loading. Facility managers should ensure that drains and scuppers are not clogged and be aware of sagging roof conditions.

Should the idle property be located in a high risk location for windstorms, glass windows should be boarded up to prevent breakage and water flowing into the building. In addition, broken windows and doors should be repaired and a complete inspection conducted after any major windstorm event to check for damages.

Ultimately, the robustness of an operation is only as good as the plans and procedures in place for the event. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a learning opportunity for all businesses, whether idled or not, to re-examine and revisit Business Continuity Plans to bolster operational resiliency.

Additional considerations for business restarting operations

In additional to preparing for an active windstorm season, many operations are also in the process of restarting operations. Restarting of manufacturing operations following idle periods can increase the susceptibility to loss such as environmental release, fire, explosion, or machinery breakdown, especially because perceived stress and pressure on both the equipment and workforce is typically higher than during normal operation. 

Unfortunately, we are aware of a number of such incidents in recent weeks across Asia and Europe from these and other industries. Pre-startup safety reviews are one approach used in the chemical industries to reduce the likelihood of loss, relevant also after prolonged equipment outages, and some of those general principles are very valuable for other industries as well. Essentially, this may involve a detailed checklist used prior to restart and considers all aspects relating to topics such as changes since previous operations, staff and resources including training, access and security, fire protection and emergency response, ignition sources, machinery and process inspections and safeguards, and housekeeping for example.

Critical is to follow restart procedures and OEM guidelines carefully, and take time needed to do things safely.

Contact your Swiss Re Corporate Solutions Risk Engineer, Account Engineer or representative for additional information or assistance with developing your Windstorm Preparedness and Response Plan.

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Disclaimer: This checklist is intended as a guide to property loss prevention and to aid in preparing for a windstorm event. This document should not be regarded as a standard and should not be referenced as supporting material in the event of a loss. Please do not distribute without permission from Swiss Re Corporate Solutions Ltd and its subsidiaries and affiliates. Under no circumstances shall Swiss Re or its Group companies be liable for any loss or damage resulting from use of this document.

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