A message from Robert C. Wallace, Client Technology Specialist at Barnes Dennig and a member of the Business Emergency Planning Association:

“Tornado Season” is upon us, and we need to be prepared at work just as we do at home.

3-4-12 tornado
A tornado ripped through Moscow, Ohio, and other local towns last week. Photo from cincinnati.com.

The spring months are historically when we see most tornado activity, but they can and do happen year-round. Most tornadoes – including those that hit the region last week – occur between 3 and 7 p.m., a time when most of our employees are in the office or commuting home. In 2011, there were 1,625 confirmed tornadoes which resulted in 551 fatalities and more than 28 billion dollars in damages; 92 deaths were in businesses, 33 in vehicles and 7 outside.

There are things businesses should do to prepare for tornadoes: 

Before a tornado strikes

  • Conduct emergency drills to familiarize employees with the layout of the building. Select the safest place for you and your employees to hide and make sure everyone knows this location in advance of a tornado.
  • Keep supplies of blankets, batteries and flashlights handy. Have cell phones fully charged.
  • Use a battery-powered weather radio with a tone-alert feature to keep you informed of watches and warnings in your area. A tornado watch means conditions in a given area make a tornado likely, and a tornado warning means a tornado has actually been spotted.
  • Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. You can make trees more wind-resistant by removing diseased or damaged limbs.

During a tornado

  • Go to the safest places to wait out the storm — usually the basement or a tornado shelter. If you have no basement, take shelter in a small room in the center of your business on the lowest floor, such as a restroom, closet or maintenance room. If your business is located in a high-rise building and you can’t get to a basement, go to interior hallway areas and stay away from glass walls and windows, no matter how small.
  • Do not use elevators for shelter. If the building loses power, you may be trapped in the elevator for a long time.
  • Protect yourself from flying debris. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets, if possible.
  • Structures with wide-span roofs, such as auditoriums, theaters and warehouses, are particularly vulnerable and should be avoided.

After a tornado

  • Account for all employees and attend to any victims’ injuries.
  • Use extreme caution if re-entering a building, as moving through debris presents further hazards. Watch for loose plaster, drywall and ceilings that could fall.
  • Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.

Prepare your Business for Disasters Big and Small

Business Continuity Planning is a formal process that organizations should go through prior to experiencing a disaster or business interruption.  The process helps to identify areas of vulnerability and aids companies in mitigating losses.  Planning and testing the plan also teaches management and employees what to do in the event of an emergency much like we teach our children what to do in the event of a fire or tornado.

There are plenty of resources available to help you get started, including a local non-profit organization. Business Emergency Planners Association (BEPA) offers quarterly workshops free of charge to help small businesses learn more about preparedness. To learn more about BEPA, go to www.mybepa.org and plan to attend their Tornado Preparedness workshop May 9th at the Greater Cincinnati Red Cross chapter.

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