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Weathering the Storm

How facilities managers can prepare for and handle weather disasters.

By Annika Tourlas

Preparing for extreme weather disasters is a daunting prospect for facilities managers. From flooding to hurricane winds, severe weather can strike without warning, and the impact on a facility can be devastating. It's important to take the necessary precautions before a storm hits to avoid any unexpected surprises that might harm business.

These precautions do more than protect your storefront. They protect your customers, employees, products and the company’s reputation. As a facilities manager, your day-to-day operations occur behind the scenes. However, when disaster strikes, you’re the one who swings in to prepare and recover.

Tom Dawson, Roofing Source
Tom Dawson, Roofing Source

“Preparedness, in my mind, means you’re being proactive and have a plan in place,” said Tom Dawson, Director of Operations and Sales at Roofing Source. “Anytime you have a plan in place, you and your team can operate more stress-free.”

To mitigate risk and damage, you must develop an understanding of proper management techniques for each type of major weather disaster: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, snowstorms and more. Any of these occurrences have the possibility to halt operations for extended periods.

Facilities managers must have all bases covered. However, that’s easier said than done. Supplier partners can come to your aid in these times of crisis.

Paula Kirk, Powerhouse
Paula Kirk, Powerhouse

“We can provide our clients a kind of ‘easy button’ for both disaster preparedness and recovery,” said Paula Kirk, Vice President for Facilities Maintenance at Powerhouse. “It allows our clients to focus on their core business while we can help focus on preparing for any disaster events.”

Additionally, there are resources and best practice guidelines to help you tackle whatever comes your way.


Hurricanes are the only natural weather disaster you can see rolling in. Therefore, there are measures you can take ahead of time to ensure your business’s safety.

You can beat the storm by keeping an eye on weather forecasts and predictions. Awareness of possible hurricane activity helps facilities managers prepare the storefront for flooding and high winds with enough time to evacuate or return home safely.

Melissa Marria, Ulta Beauty
Melissa Marria, Ulta Beauty

“Hurricanes provide more lead time for disaster preparation given their forecast but can tend to change trajectory quite quickly,” said Melissa Marria, Facilities Manager at Ulta Beauty. “In the event of a hurricane, you have the opportunity to protect your space. You have a couple of levers that you can pull, a couple of items at your disposal that you can execute to better prepare that space for any type of wind or water damage.”

Once a hurricane is on your radar, there are several measures you can take to prevent excess damage:

  • Make sure sump pumps are working.

  • Board and secure windows and doors.

  • Turn off non-essential equipment.

  • Place sandbags around the perimeter.

  • Strap down and secure all rooftop units.

  • Clear debris from drains and gutters.

All these proactive steps can help you avoid long-term damage to your facility. However, the recovery process will still need your undivided attention. Routine communication with supplier partners can advance the clean-up and reopening procedures.


While floods are an effect of hurricanes, floods frequently occur from heavy rainfall that facilities managers can’t prepare for. Nevertheless, the two weather disasters share similar precautionary steps:

  • Identify the locations of flood hazards.

  • Make sure sump pumps are working.

  • Place sandbags around the perimeter.

  • Clear debris from drains and gutters.

However, there isn’t always time to ready your storefront before the water comes rushing in. Having a secure recovery plan and flood insurance policy is essential to reduce the impact on your business.

“A large rain event can be a disaster,” Kirk said. “Suddenly, there’s flooding that you don’t even think about. You originally were just thinking, ‘Oh, I have a rainstorm coming.’ You must make sure that you’re thinking through anything that can happen.”


If your facilities are in areas of the country impacted by tornadoes, you’ll know that by the time vortex forms, you don’t have time to prepare a facility for its impacts. Therefore, the majority of the efforts are in the recovery stage.

The process may begin by having a structural engineer assess the damage and determine if repair is an option. If it is, the clean-up effort begins. Alternatively, if the building is beyond repair, the company will decide if rebuilding is the next step.

Because of the severity of tornado damage, your partnerships are the biggest tool in your toolbox. “Preparedness is making sure that I have the right contractors in place to have boots on the ground immediately, before anybody else,” Marria said. “It’s building that partnership, fostering that partnership and ensuring all parties understand the protocols, processes and timelines.”


It’s important to remember that the winter season can cause major damage. Large snowstorms are hazardous and can cause store closures during the busiest time of year. Facilities in the Northeast and Midwest may not experience having to board their windows for a hurricane, but snow removal is a common recovery effort.

Facilities managers should regularly check their buildings to ensure the structure can support expected damages if weather disasters strike. When it comes to snowstorms, the roof is a major building feature that must be kept up to code and date. The roof must be able to handle the weight of snow, rain and hail during winter.

“Any roof is susceptible to a hurricane, heavy snow or hail. But it’s more than the just type of roof,” Dawson said. “Is it a low slope? Or is it a steep slope? There's a different scope that you would have for a low sloped roof versus a steep-sloped roof.”

Understanding the roof type and what efforts you’re making to maintain its quality is key to surviving the snowstorm.

Communication is Necessary

Transparent communication with employees, partners and customers is crucial. Without communication plans before the storm hits, recovery and clean-up efforts can extend ideal timelines, leaving many out of a job.

Marria insists on daily communications until the facility reopens after weather disaster damage. “It might be one call a day, or it may be two calls a day. Any information that we have, we provide to the business continuity team, so everybody knows what is going on,” she said.

Resources to Help

If you’re reassessing your facility's weather disaster plans, many resources are available to help you figure out what measures make the most sense for your building, staff and employees.

“There are many websites, particularly weather websites like NOAA and websites with weather daily updates,” Kirk said. “There’s a lot of white papers on the subject. Even within FM companies, we share best practices across accounts. There’s a lot of resources out there to help.”

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