Posted in Disaster Preparedness, safety plans and procedures, Tornadoes, Winter Weather Hazards

El Niño & the Risks of Unpredictable Weather 

Tornado icon.The early January storms in Southern California brought not only rain and wind, but also a rare tornado warning for Los Angeles and San Diego (which would have likely rained fish tacos!). While the warnings didn’t pan out, meteorologists agree that 2016 will bring an increased chance of storms of many types across the entire country.

Thanks to El Niño, emergency management professionals across the country are gearing up for what may be a banner year for weather. In fact, citing a worrying El Niño storm pattern this winter that could rival flooding in 1997 and 1998, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has prepared a 66-page Severe El Niño Disaster Response Plan targeted to milder climates such as California and other western states. I would read the whole thing, but it’s hard for me to turn the pages since I don’t have opposable thumbs.

What exactly is El Niño? As the official mascot for RJWestmore, leaders in disaster preparedness training, I need to know such things!  Technically, it is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO). In simple terms, bands of warmer ocean water develop near the equator. This abnormally warm ocean water then alters the atmospheric conditions to produce unpredictable weather events. Here are some tips for handling several potential facets of El Niño weather and tips for preparing your building for severe weather. I also have some “Carolina style” BBQ tips if that is relevant? They always seem relevant to me.

Perform Storm Water Inspections of Your Properties

Conduct a property walk-through to spot water drainage problems that could be aggravated by El Niño storms. While on the walk-through:

  • Check drainpipes and other piping used to channel rainwater. Be sure these are free of debris to potentially handle large quantities of water. I once backed up a drain at the firehouse. I’ll admit it was probably too much bacon grease. Review storm patterns and associated damage from previous years to identify potential problem areas.
  • If your building has water pumps, ensure they remain in good working condition. Remove debris from strainers.
  • If storm drains are severely backed up, you may need to hire a professional who has tools such as cameras to quickly identify and solve the problem.
  • We’ve got some serious surveillance equipment in our doghouse—the “Cat Detectormatic 9000” and the “Ultrasonic Porkchop Finder 2.5.” They were great investments.
  • Test the drainage system for leaks. This is especially important in areas that house electrical equipment.
  • Does your building have ground-level storage or parking areas? Check the grading to identify areas which may be susceptible to flooding. Sandbags and other measures can help channel water flow away from high traffic areas. Whiskers and Tabby tried to help once by pouring cat litter into shopping bags; it didn’t work out.

Managing Snowfall

The Weather Channel’s Winter Storm Central details the typical effects of El Niño and La Nina relative to snow patterns. The hope is that the subtropical or southern-branch jet stream, typically turbo-charged during strong El Niño, will deliver long-awaited relief for at least some in the West. However, no one can equivocally guarantee that the drought will end even if El Niño performs as expected. The good news is that, so far this year, California is already experiencing heavier snowfall than normal, with several feet reported.

Winter City
How to Handle Snow:

  • Use chains. Necessary even if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, snow chains provide the traction necessary to escape snow-packed surfaces, though they remain relatively useless for traversing slick ice. Thankfully, as Dalmatian, I have all-time, four-wheel drive and amazing stability. Practice putting chains on your car in the comfort of your driveway instead of opening the package for the first time while you are stranded at the side of the road during a blizzard.
  • Keep exhaust pipes clear. If the pipe is blocked while the car is running, shovel an area around it for the gases to escape, instead of allowing them to filter back into the car.
  • Work with other motorists. If you are stranded during a snowstorm, make contact with other people so you can pool resources such as food, water, charged devices, and other items from your emergency supply kit. Dogs do this at the dog park, usually by sniffing each other.
  • Stay with the vehicle. Unless you have veered off the road, stay with the car as it will provide a certain degree of shelter.

Prepping your Building

Rain, tornadoes, and snow from El Niño could lead to a wide range of disaster threats this year. Here are some tips to help you (and building occupants) survive and resume normal operations as quickly as possible:

  • Use backup generators to provide a source of electricity to run sump pumps and to provide essential services to stranded occupants. You also need electricity to check your favorite Twitter accounts. My handle is @RJtheFiredog. I’m well on my way to reaching 2,000 followers! Feel free to tweet and follow me too for some sage advice.
  • If applicable, paint your building (especially wood trim) with treated paint, which will repel water.
  • Conduct flood-proofing of your building, including the use of sandbags, attention to gutters, altering rooflines, and other fixes. FEMA has an extension section devoted to flood-proofing. I know I talk about bacon a lot, but just consider the use of congealed bacon fat as an amazing waterproofing sealant. You can use that fancy “caulk” stuff, but I’ll take bacon fat any day!

The effect of El Niño are global, with NASA predicting “weather chaos.” A theme of El Niño weather events is their unpredictability, with unusually-timed floods, blizzards, and the potential for tornadoes in unexpected places. Planning for the unexpected is a requirement for building and safety managers, so follow best practices to protect lives and property in 2016.

Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think safety all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in be prepared for emergencies, safety plans and procedures

Celebrating National Preparedness Month

Black PrepWhy is September National Preparedness Month? The month was chosen, in part, to honor the victims of the September 11 attacks and, also, because it is the start of hurricane season. Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Preparedness Month is intended to promote individual and business safety preparedness to effectively manage man-made threats such as terrorism as well as natural disasters. If I had my way, it would be “Devouring Pork Chops Best Practices Month,” but I suppose safety readiness is more important. While safety should be of utmost concern every month, it’s useful for companies to designate a month for review and adjustment of safety plans and procedures.

Here are some initiatives that property managers can take during National Preparedness Month:

Use Available Resources

My pal, Ready Wrigley, has some great visual tips for reminding folks to be prepared.
My pal, Ready Wrigley, has some great visual tips for reminding folks to be prepared.

The Ready.gov website has a wealth of free safety resources:

  • Information about becoming a safety leader, with classes offered through FEMA, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and other organizations.
  • Disaster-specific information and appropriate responses are offered for power outages, chemical hazards, severe weather, floods, and dozens of other scenarios.
  • Information about disaster kits, including wise food choices (pork chops, sausage, baby carrots are my suggestions) and management of water resources is crucial for waiting out a major emergency.

Revisit Disaster Plans

National Preparedness Month is an ideal time to take a critical look at your building’s disaster plan. Learn about best practices for disaster management and make sure that your plan matches up to the latest advice. Perhaps your building has changed since the creation of the last plan, with a new addition or additional parking structure, or an influx of new tenants? I added a wing to the doghouse, and it’s easy to get lost in the place. You thought the Palace of Versailles was imposing…

Walk through every part of the plan to be sure it still makes logical sense for current conditions. You should also talk to tenants to ensure they have copies of the plan and to address questions and concerns. Work with the tenants to nominate floor wardens and other volunteers who can aid others. Offices that allow pets are more common, so there should be notes in the plan about helping four-legged visitors.

The disaster plan should not only cover ways to safely evacuate or handle dangerous situations, but should also provide a roadmap for getting back to normal operations. Tenants will want to return to work as soon as possible following a disaster, so retain the services of various construction/plumbing/ electrical contractors that might be needed for repairs or inspections following a disaster.

Focus on Communication

The official motto of the 2015 National Preparedness Month is “Don’t wait. Communicate.” My motto when it comes to table scraps: food on the floor, and new shoes is “Don’t wait. Obliterate.” The focus of the theme is to encourage proactivity among individuals to create and talk about disaster plans. For building managers and owners, communication is crucial to disaster planning:

  • Alert tenants and other parties about how to access disaster plans and keep them updated about any changes.
  • Use social media and other channels, such as mobile apps, to send crucial information about upcoming disaster threats or distribute communications after an emergency occurs.
  • My communication technique is simpler. I bark at the mail carrier and whine when I don’t get ground chuck freshly prepared for dinner.

By simply communicating what is being done, property management shows they care about the wellbeing of tenants and understand the importance of transparency of communication.

Review the Details

fema-stan_mediumIn addition to reviewing your disaster plan, take time in September to check other areas of your preparedness. One of the keys to being prepared is to be proactive, which means checking to make sure you and your tenants have the tools, supplies, and information they need to best handle an emergency.

Here are some areas to check during National Preparedness Month:

  • Check fire extinguishers for expiration dates.
  • Perform routine maintenance and inspection of sprinkler systems.
  • Review insurance coverages.
  • Restock emergency kits with flashlight batteries.
  • Review food and water expiration dates.
  • Review evacuation plans with staff members.
  • Mandate that “bring your pet to work day” becomes an entire month…and that it coincides with the food truck visits.
  • Make sure designated “safe spot” meeting areas remain ideal.
  • Monitor property management staff members’ knowledge about emergency procedures, including how to shut off water or gas lines, if necessary.

Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think about disaster planning all of the time–not just during September. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives.