(Updated June 2023)
Flooding, structural damage, and fallen power lines are only a few of the potential risks retail stores can face in the event of a hurricane, leading not only to product and revenue losses but also the inability to provide essential items to the communities they serve. Even a small tropical storm can have devastating effects. However, by having the right plan in place and taking a proactive approach, retailers can come out of any emergency with little service disruption, if any. And it all starts with a thorough hurricane preparedness checklist.
To learn more about the steps grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers should take in preparing for a hurricane, we spoke with Cristee Monahan, VP of Central Operations for City, who oversees preparations and recovery efforts for weather events in the Southeastern U.S. — of which there have plenty in recent years. She provided us with a step-by-step hurricane preparedness checklist as well as some best practices for keeping facilities safe and secure during hurricane season.
Hurricane Season 2023 Predictions
The 18 climate disaster events that took place across the U.S. in 2022 amounted to $171.5B in losses. According to researchers at Colorado State University, while they predict the 2023 Atlantic season will be below average, we will still see 11 to 15 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Of these, between six and eight are predicted to reach hurricane status, and two to three of these hurricane storms could become major hurricanes.
Plan Phase: How to Get Ready for Hurricane Season
“At City, we follow a Plan, Prepare, and Protect model,” explains Cristee. “While there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for storm preparation, by following this general approach, we’ve been able to help our partners get through a number of severe weather events without major incident over the past several years.”
City’s recommended checklist begins with the following steps in the Plan phase.
Step #1: Conduct Location Surveys
Preparing for hurricane season should start well before the season begins for retail store operators. The first step? Executing a comprehensive survey of all stores, digesting those surveys, and taking action. Aim to complete all surveys before June 1, the official start of hurricane season.
If these surveys sound like a massive undertaking, that’s because they are. Facilities managers should check every last detail on site to ensure the building is secure and take an inventory of vital supplies such as storm shutters, dock pumps, and backup generators.
Make sure everything needed to secure the building from the storm is on site, including all the needed parts, and that they’re operational. Coach store operations to make sure they know what’s there and how to use it.
During the survey process, facilities teams should secure the stores by clearing the rooftop and parking lot of debris and take care of any other issues uncovered by the surveys.
Step #2: Draft a Preparedness and Communication Plan
While surveys are being conducted, it’s time to get a head start on the year’s storm preparedness plan, ideally in March.
In this step, store managers, associates and FM partners collaborate on a preparedness plan that ensures all buildings, customers, and associates will be protected in the event of a threatening storm.
The plan should include the following provisions:
- Assignment of vital functions to specific internal or external resources
- Communications plan for dealing with impending storms
- A form of emergency communication in case main lines are lost
- How to manage the business if access to the workplace is limited by road closures, floods, or debris, or if power lines are down
The tactics will be different depending on the size, accessibility, and location of each store. Nevertheless, all stores should follow a similar plan.
If you have an emergency response plan from the previous year, revise it for the new season and communicate all the steps facilities managers should expect in order to make sure everyone is completely aligned.
Prepare & Protect: Preparing for a Hurricane
At this stage of the game, all the surveys have come in, their findings have been addressed, and the facilities leadership has finalized a hurricane preparedness plan. As of June 1, hurricane season begins and FM teams should tune in daily to the forecast to keep abreast of weather patterns.
The following steps are implemented “the moment there’s an inkling of a storm,” says Cristee. She reminds us, “The best way to protect is to be prepared.” The biggest mistake she sees facilities leaders make at this stage is not to expect the unexpected. For example, during the 2022 season, Hurricane Ian was expected to hit Tampa but the storm hit south of Tampa.
It doesn’t matter what the weather channel says. You have to be prepared for anything.Cristee Monahan, VP of Central Operations at City
“Just imagine the devastation if you prepared all your workforce supplies for only the Tampa area and not everywhere,” Cristee says. “These storms are completely unpredictable. It doesn’t matter what the weather channel says. You have to be prepared for anything.”
Step #3 Get Organized
Once a storm threat has been identified, activate your team for response and start liaising with facilities managers for all locations in the path of the storm. Double-check any risks uncovered in the surveys, and make sure you have enough internal and external resources who can be on call on weekends and after-hours as needed.
Step #4: Secure All Locations
Work with your FM partner and/or internal resources to check for safety risks and secure all buildings prior to the arrival of the storm. This may include:
- Laying out sandbags
- Building out water dams
- Protecting glass and entrances with shutters and shields
- Securing refrigeration technology
- Clearing the exterior, including the roof and parking lots, of any potential debris
- Securing loose items such as bike racks
While this step will be tailored to the needs of each location, the element that will be consistent is the active communication. Conduct a meeting and take action every day as needed until store impact.
Step #5: Gather Supplies
Ensure all locations are properly stocked with a hurricane kit containing emergency supplies and equipment such as:
- Water dams
- Sump pumps
- Backup generators
- Visqueen or other heavy-duty plastic wrap, which can be used to wrap refrigeration cases to prevent food loss in case of a power outage
Test generators and other emergency equipment, ensuring they’re fueled up, charged, and ready to go.
Contact any external support vendors to confirm they’re ready to supply fuel and other materials, make repairs, and assist with reconstruction if needed. Additionally, make sure your team has access to a fleet of mobile generators that can be deployed at any time. For this, a strong vendor and supplier support will be key. A transport plan is also important to ensure supplies arrive in a timely manner, especially in the case of road closures.
Step #6: Hunker Down Safely and Monitor Store Conditions Remotely
“In order to serve their communities, every grocery chain will want to stay open as long as they possibly can while it’s safe,” Cristee says. “Most stores tend to close around 12–24 hours before impact in order to ensure associates have adequate time to secure their homes.”
By tracking conditions upon store closure during and immediately after a storm, facilities managers can determine which stores need the most attention and can start formulating a plan even before teams have had a chance to do a walkthrough.
In this way, a monitoring system is key to a speedy storm recovery, Cristee explains.
“City’s cloud-based monitoring system allows us to have visibility into all sites by continuously collecting data on refrigeration equipment and alerting us to any outages,” she says. “We also maintain connectivity to full-store generators to monitor their functionality, including fuel levels.”
By the time the storm has passed, Cristee’s team knows if any stores have lost power and where to recommend focusing efforts after the storm passes. “We’ve already got a leg up on recovery efforts,” she says.
|Post-Storm Recovery Tips
What steps do facilities managers need to take after the storm? Check out these Retail Store Storm Recovery Best Practices.
Integrated Facilities Management Storm Support
While using a hurricane preparedness checklist and following the steps above will vastly improve a retailer’s chances of protecting their stores from damage and loss, Cristee believes one of the most important ingredients of City’s weather support is the strong relationship between City’s dedicated disaster recovery teams (known at City as “Storm Troopers” ) and their store managers.
In other words, choosing an IFM partner who operates on a partnership-based, self-perform model can be a game changer for retail businesses when it comes to disaster readiness. “This spirit of partnership is ultimately what makes the difference between a destructive storm season and a successful one,” she says.
City’s proactive storm services, along with frequent communication and guidance, are only a portion of what City’s partners received with the fully integrated City model. Learn more about our integrated facilities management program.