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Extreme weather events are forcing many organizations to look at their risks for natural disasters and evaluate their response plans.

Extreme weather has recently been seen across the world, seemingly all at the same time. Although natural disasters are part of life, there have now been several instances of compounding disasters, where two or more hazards are present. This weather phenomenon is forcing many organizations to look at their risks for natural disasters and evaluate their response plans. 

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Compounding Disasters, natural disasters
Damage in Lake Charles, LA after Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, hit Louisiana in August 2020. (Credit: Adobe Stock / Alex)

 In recent years, there have been many examples of compounding disasters and lack of resources. These include Lake Charles, Louisiana in 2020. Within a 10-month span, Lake Charles had four federally declared disasters: Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta, a freeze, and flood depleted the area of essential resources. Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta were only six weeks apart from each other, leaving the area with extreme hurricane fatigue. Businesses dealt with infrastructure damage from not having the time and resources to secure their assets before the next disaster hit. This led to longer business outages and more severe damage across the entire region. 

Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

More recently, compounded disasters led to the devastating wildfires in Lahaina that burned just over a couple thousand acres of land and commercial buildings. It has become the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the century. While the initial cause of the Lahaina fire is not certain, the island had a confluence of weather elements that aided the blaze. Hawaii has averaged about two degrees warmer than it was 60 years ago. The increase in temperature causes vegetation to dry out faster, leaving it susceptible to faster burning and at a quicker rate. The dry conditions were compounded by hurricane winds coming from Hurricane Dora that passed through the Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii and a high-pressure zone north of Hawaii. While the hurricane did not make landfall, the wind gusts flowing from the low-pressure hurricane to the high-pressure zone encouraged the spreading blaze.

Compounded Weather Disasters And Non-Weather Events

In addition to weather-related events, there are cases of compounding disasters that have non-weather consequences as well. Non-weather disasters can include pandemics, national security conflicts or wars, environmental concerns, or financial crisis. Any of these non-weather-related disasters can be damaging to businesses when also faced with a severe weather event. This stresses the importance of having additional resources on hand, but also being flexible in the approach. 

These examples of compounding disasters lead to the question: How do you plan and prepare for two or more disasters? Here are four suggestions:

1. Creating A Dynamic Response Plan

It is critical that organizations have response plans that are dynamic and allow for quick course changes. Setting up a dynamic response plan means thinking outside the box and understanding what risks and weather hazards are possible. While most organizations might have a response plan for different weather types, the recommendation is to include additional contingency plans on individual hazards within the plan. An example of a dynamic response plan would be a severe thunderstorm response plan that includes contingencies for lightning, wind, and flooding. Dynamic plans permit businesses to operate at the highest level possible within the risk scope. The flexibility in a dynamic plan also gives an advantage when facing compounding disasters. Contingency plans allow organizations to break down the risks in each disaster and address them individually. 

2. Allocating Resources 

The key factor in preparation is to ensure you have resources in place and can allocate properly in the event of a compounding disaster. Supply chain disruption is the component most often not accounted for in response plans and can lead to more damage and delays in getting business back to operation. Compounding disasters emphasize the need for a dynamic response plan, especially when it comes to distributing resources wisely. Reserves of important supplies such as water during extreme heat, sandbags for tropical events, and salt for winter hazards must be available and quickly replenished to protect employees and assets. Adequately outfitting each location and employees in advance reduces loss and damage. Seasonal inspections of all equipment, reserves, and PPE are recommended to ensure everything is functional and ready to go. 

3. Safely Storing Important Documents

In a disaster, important documents such as insurance coverage and employee files may need to be accessed quickly. It is essential that these documents are housed digitally and as a hard copy. In a seasonal inspection of equipment and resources, it is also advised to inspect employee information and review insurance coverage. Understanding what is covered by your provider will also be helpful for building response plans and making critical decisions during an event. 

4. Keeping An Eye On Alerts

Monitoring weather alerts and warnings from a trusted and credible source will give organizations more time to respond. Staying up to date on national and local news will provide valuable insight into any significant events or outages that may affect an organization or reduce resource availability. 

Shannon Copeland is an industry manager for StormGeo and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Meteorology. During her tenure, she supported numerous research initiatives focused on severe weather, emergency management, and disaster preparedness and recovery. As an Industry Manager, Shannon supports StormGeo’s outreach strategy and aids in identifying weather-related risks to businesses and their employees.

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