In recent weeks, several cases of severe natural disasters have hit the United States. Hurricane Laura made landfall on the coastline of Louisiana, with its storm track traveling through the eastern part of the country. In western states, over 90,000 acres of land have been destroyed by wildfires due to dry weather and high winds, while the Midwest region faced a derecho, which produced wind gusts of up to 112 mph. The derecho alone left over 1 million businesses and homes with significant property damage and no power.
The point is this: your dealership and employees need to plan and prepare for severe weather far in advance of it happening. Employees will need frequent training and reminders. You’ll need to check your facility for areas prone to specific weather events. And when severe weather affects your dealership, you’ll need a plan for resuming operations.
Here are some tips on how to get started:
Assess Your Severe Weather Risk
You’re likely already aware of the main severe weather risks your dealership is prone to based on your business’s location, but have you considered the less common severe weather events in your area? As an example, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has stated that more than 20% of claims they receive from property owners are located in low-risk and moderate flood zones. The severe weather risks you’re least prepared for can be the same severe weather risks that you’ll have the most difficult time managing or recovering from. You’ve heard it often, but for good reason — expect the unexpected.
On that note, remember one severe weather event doesn’t eliminate the risk of other severe weather incidents. We’ve evaluated countless emergency response plans for businesses, and one component businesses often overlook is the risk of coinciding disasters.
Let’s say you’re managing a fire near your service area, while a tornado is bearing down on your dealership. If this sounds like a near-impossible situation to manage, then you’ve discovered the exact reason why it’s necessary to have a plan in place to act fast and mitigate the risks of the situation.
Identify Your Hazards
When you think of severe weather, don’t forget the more controllable, internal hazards that could increase your risks.
Take inventory of chemicals within your facility that could spill or harm employees. Common fuels and chemicals at your dealership may include gasoline, parts cleaner, brake wash and cleaning supplies. Properly store these in a location where they’re less prone to ignite or cause damage, while noting their flash point and proper extinguishing agent. For ongoing questions or guidance, OSHA has a list of flammable liquids, with specific mention of automotive service stations.
Other strategies to include in your plan are:
- Inspecting exit doors, alarm systems and exit lights frequently. Note that emergency exit doors can swell during the wintertime.
- Placing visible signs throughout your facility to help visitors and employees identify the nearest emergency exits.
- Establishing a plan for staff or visitors who may have a medical disability that need assistance during a severe weather emergency.
- Identifying and training staff on where emergency shut-offs are.
Determine Your Emergency Equipment and Recovery Plan
Once you’ve identified your severe weather risks and internal hazards, it’s time to consider the resources you’ll need to manage or recover from severe weather. For starters, make sure your facility uses different alarm responses that allow your employees to act fast and understand the severe weather they’re reacting to. Many businesses have opted for voice systems to avoid this confusion, while others have integrated their alarms with mobile phones and computers.
In most cases, tools and technology such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems can be very useful during severe weather — but only with proper testing. It’s better to identify problems in a training session than in an actual emergency.
Keep the following supplies and equipment on hand at your dealership:
- Tape for glass windows and doors
- Medical supplies and automated external defibrillators (AEDs)
- Flashlights and batteries
- Portable radios
- Emergency wind-up lighting
- Rain gear and rubber boots
- Blankets, coats, and heaters
- Food and water supplies that will last twice the quantity of your employees for seven days
It’s possible severe weather may also leave your dealership unusable. To prepare for this scenario, identify a secondary facility with large outside space, preferably outside of your town or city, where your dealership could resume operations and park vehicles.
Train and Retrain Your Employees
When it comes to severe weather, your employee training directly impacts their ability to respond properly. Start by having all employees contribute to your dealership’s severe weather plan to create a shared sense of ownership.
Within your plan, determine which members of your team — and their backups — will be responsible for inspections, emergency shut-offs, contacting local authorities and emergency medical assistance. Any employees assigned to help in medical situations should also have prior training for CPR and defibrillator use.
Once roles are assigned, it’s time to put your plan into action. Conduct drills for each weather disaster your dealership could face—including unannounced drills to gauge employee readiness. To simulate the urgency of a severe weather incident, establish a set timeframe that employees must meet.
Base your drill frequency on:
- Your dealership’s shift schedule
- How effectively your employees execute each drill
- How often your dealership experiences employee turnover or new hires
- Your location’s seasonal risk for severe weather
Depending on this criteria, you may start with weekly or monthly trainings and slowly transition to quarterly exercises. Facility inspections, however, should remain frequent and consistent throughout the year to help ensure your dealership is prepared.
Finally, don’t forget to extend an invite to local first responders and your nearest fire department. Not only will this help them train your employees, but it also familiarizes them with your dealership’s layout if severe weather strikes.
Remember, emergency response is about preparation, and preparation starts with your dealership’s leadership team. If you instill a commitment to safety and accountability, your team will follow. Stay safe, stay prepared, and continue to follow the advice and resources from OSHA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.