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Tropical Cyclone Oma – Is Your Business Ready?

Tropical Cyclone Oma – Is Your Business Ready?

Living in Australia brings a lot of excitement.  State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Lee Lin Chin’s Twitter account … you just never know what will happen next.

But another excitement that we would probably prefer to avoid is tropical cyclones.  These annual visitors wreak serious havoc and can pose significant threats. 

Most people are probably familiar with how to make their homes storm ready.  But businesses need to prepare too! Has your organisation considered how to prepare for and mitigate the effects of tropical cyclones?

If not, it should have.  Serious negative impacts to organisational quality, OHS and environmental management from cyclones can prove disastrous.  So here’s a quick list of what you might like to take into account when preparing for adverse weather:

  • First, the basics.  Ensure your emergency preparedness and response plan is up to date, and people know what to do and when to trigger the plan.  Ensure training has been conducted and workers are aware of the chain of command.  Have useful telephone numbers and other details handy, and make sure you’re staying well apprised of forecasts and emergency services’ instructions.
  • Prepare for high winds.  Are there items, plant or equipment around that could become airborne?  Put them inside, tie them down, dispose of them – just prevent them becoming a projectile.  And don’t forget about environmental impacts – could the winds blow materials or equipment away or over?  Don’t forget to secure those skip bin lids!
  • Prepare for heavy rain and flooding or rising waters.  Could your organisation be flooded?  Are your drains and gutters clear?  Will workers be able to get home if flooding or storm surge is an issue?  And again, don’t forget about environmental consequences.  Move items to higher ground or shelving; use sandbags or bunding; prevent overflow or runoff of environmentally hazardous materials.
  • Prepare for power failures and surges.  Will your critical electronic equipment and emergency lighting still work?  Do you need a generator or other backup power source?  If you’re planning on working remotely until the storm passes, does this rely on power at your premises (e.g. to power a server)?  Ensure your critical and expensive electronic equipment has power surge protection, or consider unplugging it.
  • Prepare for utilities not being available.  Internet, water, gas and telephone could be unavailable as well as electricity. 
  • Prepare for damage to your infrastructure and other resources.  Do any last-minute repairs or maintenance that might minimise the fallout.  And buildings and equipment can usually be repaired and replaced, but have you thought about resources such as your electronic data?  Losing electronic data can prove disastrous if it can’t be recovered.  Check that your backup arrangements are suitable, and at the very least, do a backup, ensure that the data is able to be recovered, and store the backup in a safe place.
  • Speaking of repairs and replacement requirements, have you checked that your insurance is up to date, paid and adequate?  It’s boring but important.  A copy of the policies can also be handy.
  • Prepare to not be able to access your organisational premises.  You might have already considered the direct impacts of business being put on hold, but what other impacts could be felt?  Will workers’ pay be processed?  Can you access emails remotely? 
  • Check in with your neighbours.  Are they making adequate preparations?  Do their operations present hazards that you’ll need to take into account?  It pays to work together.  If not, that pile of scrap steel they’ve been stockpiling in their yard might end up through your company’s windows!
  • And at the end of the day, prepare to not be able to do business for days or weeks.  What could the impacts be on your interested parties, such as customers or other locations of your company?  Think about critical services that your site may provide to others, and determine if these services are able to be moved to another existing site, or if temporary premises may be required.  A disaster recovery and/or business continuity plan may be appropriate.

And don’t forget the after-effects of the cyclone.  Cleaning up can be very dangerous, and if workers will be involved in doing this, you’ll need to manage the possible risks.  Sharp or awkward items, downed powerlines, foul water, hazardous materials, damaged buildings, mould, mosquitoes, animals sheltering, psychological effects; the list goes on.  Ensuring that your OHS management arrangements cover these situations is vital.

This is not a conclusive list, so please make sure you take into account your organisation’s own individual characteristics, resources, location, etcetera. Obviously staying safe is the most important consideration when a cyclone bears down, but by also considering other impacts beyond health and safety, your business can be up and running and recovered from the storm sooner rather than later. 

Do you have other ideas for how to make businesses cyclone ready?  If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments. 

And to everyone else impacted by Tropical Cyclone Oma, stay safe.