The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a mild winter for most of the United States, and public health officials are optimistic about the safety and effectiveness of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, winter commands our respect and will dole out its share of frigid temperatures, powerful winds and blinding blizzards.
Large organizations, such as universities and federal agencies, and state and local governments are charged with protecting people in the face of extreme winter weather events. Corporations also must be ready to sustain operations through whatever winter holds in store. And that means preparing to battle the elements armed with a comprehensive emergency plan.
The modern response to winter weather events
Building winter emergency plans is no trivial undertaking, but fortunately, many resources are available to guide safety teams and emergency managers, including tutorials and sample plans provided by FEMA. Today, emergency professionals can also refer to best practices from the discipline of critical event management (CEM) and use AI-powered technologies, like CEM platforms, to prepare more effectively.
Fueling these technologies is the vast array of data emergency teams can collect and synthesize into intelligence to predict extreme weather events and model various disaster scenarios to create contingency plans. And by leveraging the latest intelligence processed by CEM platforms, emergency teams can monitor—in real time—the movements of employees, emergency personnel, vehicles and equipment, as well as the safety of facilities.
In this article, we share tips for winter weather planning to protect equipment, supplies and facilities, and we begin with the most important resource of all: people.
When winter disasters strike, safeguarding people is top priority. Essential preparations include the following:
- Prioritize emergency kits: Large organizations should encourage employees to assemble emergency kits for the office with enough supplies to shelter for three days. (See this checklist assembled by FEMA.) Businesses must provide delivery personnel with kits in case they become stranded, and emergency managers should recommend that residents stock kits for their cars and homes.
- Conduct evacuation and sheltering drills: Ensure you have documented plans to inform people when and where to seek shelter—and be ready to launch evacuation plans at any time. But a plan is only as good as its execution, so run test drills to identify and fix any weaknesses.
- Encourage remote work: Organizations should create plans for people who can perform their duties remotely. Strive to provide a remote experience that reflects the onsite work environment by supplying employees with the same applications and collaboration tools. Before the season, test the remote environment with employees who aren’t used to working at home and check the speed and security of their internet connections. A seamless remote experience leads to fewer employees risking their lives to battle snowstorms and icy conditions to head into work.
- Ready critical communications: First, be ready to issue timely alerts about impending winter disasters and disturbances. Second, build a crisis communications plan to update everyone on the latest storms and their effects, such as road closures, downed power lines, flooding and traffic accidents.
Readying snow removal equipment and supplies
To ensure field teams can stand up to winter weather, outfit them with well-maintained tools of the trade. Gather, inspect and prepare supplies like shovels, ice choppers, salt and sand and ready your:
- Snow removal equipment: At every organization and agency, tune up snowblowers, tractors and plow trucks and make this equipment easily accessible when a storm strikes. Repair damaged parts, check filters and fuel and oil levels and verify that engines start and run properly.
- Vehicles: Large organizations often contract companies to remove snow and ice. Examine contractors’ preparedness plans and review their performance from previous seasons. For organizations that handle their own snow removal, ensure vehicles are equipped with snow tires, which provide up to 50 percent more traction in winter than all-season radials, as well as chains in higher elevations and where required by law.
- Fleets: For businesses that own delivery trucks, give every vehicle a thorough checkup before the season to safeguard drivers when conditions deteriorate. Additionally, document a regular maintenance schedule and stick to it.
As internet-of-things (IoT) technologies mature, more organizations are outfitting vehicles and essential equipment with GPS-enabled sensors; this enables corporate teams and emergency managers to track their movements, warn road crews of threats and reroute drivers to safer roadways or shelter.
Preparing facilities for winter’s worst
Whether an organization leases or owns buildings, it must develop a comprehensive picture of every site. Identify buildings that make reliable shelters, locations of emergency exits and optimal evacuation routes. Create a maintenance plan for every building that includes shoveling rooftops to prevent collapses and clearing snow and ice from all walkways, ramps, garages and shipping and receiving docks to prevent falls. Emergency managers should do the same for their offices and encourage community residents to prepare their households accordingly.
Additionally, inspect, test and tune up all critical building systems, especially HVAC, as well as those for communications, security, fire suppression and power redundancy. Enter the information about these systems into a database or risk intelligence platform, such as a CEM platform, which enables real-time monitoring of these vital systems during winter emergencies.
Keep close tabs on power outages, which can knock out heating systems. As part of your winter weather planning, install generators outdoors and away from windows to protect occupants from fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
With so many potential issues to consider, preparing for winter weather disasters can seem intimidating. But with today’s data-driven approach to emergency management, which features modern risk intelligence technologies and a growing body of critical event management knowledge, getting ready to tackle critical winter weather events has become far less overwhelming and much more effective.
Learn more by downloading our Guide to Best Practices for Managing Winter Weather Critical Events