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What Is Your Storm Vulnerability

Overview

Your evaluation should include an assessment of the physical vulnerability of your surroundings. The most effective way to ensure your business survives a natural disaster is to do everything possible to prevent damage to your:

  • Facility
  • Equipment
  • Supplies and Materials
  • Important documents, critical records and patient information

You can perform a simple inspection of your property, or hire an expert to do it for you. This is the time to inventory and document your office contents. Take photos, create a video record and update your supply lists.

Secure one copy off site and maintain one for yourself. You may want to provide your insurer with a duplicate. Keep copies of equipment invoices that document model numbers, acquisition costs and other identifying information. Update your property records whenever you make a new purchase or eliminate stock.

Related Worksheet : Inventory Record

Facility

Much of what you can do to protect your physical surroundings will depend on whether you own your building or lease it from someone else.

If you own your property:

Perform a thorough inspection of the building "envelope:" roof, walls, windows and doors.

  • Are there items outside your office that are potential hazards?
  • Check the things attached to, or adjacent to, your building. Do you have signs, furniture or advertising items that could become dangerous, airborne projectiles?
  • Is that charming awning a good marketing tool, or a potential liability?
  • Could dislodged materials become barriers to rescue personnel?

Don't forget to look around the property for trees and other landscaping that need to be trimmed. The Red Cross recommends keeping commercial plantings to a minimum to reduce fire hazard. Trim branches before the hurricane season. Once an alert has been issued, municipalities may not be able to remove trimmings in time.

If there is a fire hydrant near your office, keep it clear of obstructions and debris.

Use a checklist as you inspect your office property. The one provided in the worksheets section is not intended to create a comprehensive building report. Instead, it focuses on items that are vulnerable to storm damage. In general, it should not take more than one hour to perform a "walk through" of your property. If you feel you need assistance, hire a certified inspector or other construction professional. Don’t overlook "free" help such as a county extension agent or local fire marshal.

If You Lease Your Property

You still can use the provided inspection checklist, but share your observations with your landlord. Ask him or her to make needed repairs or modifications. It will protect the landlord’s investment in the long run. You might want to consider adding a clause in your lease to provide for an annual disaster preparedness inspection.

Equipment

Do you keep radioactive, hazardous, chemical or pharmaceutical supplies on site? If you do, you and your staff are well aware of how dangerous it would be if the equipment’s safety features were compromised through damage or loss of containment.

Be aware of your vulnerabilities.

  • Install equipment in rooms that are protected as much as possible from incursions of wind, water and light.
  • Be aware of EPA regulations regarding storing chemicals.
  • Items such as nitrous oxide have a high street value for looters. Make certain you have a secure place to lock up pharmaceuticals if you have to evacuate your building. Keep the key with you.

Supplies and Materials

Where do you store paper products that could be easily damaged by water?

Reams of paper and other administrative supplies are fairly inexpensive to replace, but supplies may be limited after a widespread storm. Consider keeping at least some of them in plastic boxes or sealable, plastic bags. Gauze, syringes, face masks, cotton products and patient bibs are just a few of the things that would be destroyed if subjected to water.

Keep a supply of record-storage boxes on hand. You can purchase and store them flat, and they'll save valuable preparation time if you need to remove files quickly.

Critical Records and Patient Information

  • What kinds of records do you keep regarding patient history and care?
  • Where do you maintain fiscal data?
  • Is your material computer-based or handwritten?
  • Do you have a system of backing up electronic files?
  • Are they stored away from the office for safekeeping?

Ideally, you will have a secure, off-site place to store duplicate records and computer backups. Loss-prevention specialists suggest you select a location at least 50 miles away. If you keep them nearby, consider purchasing fire-resistant, water-tight storage for critical files.

The average time needed to recover from a total loss of computer data varies from a matter of hours to two business weeks. This process can be delayed further if you have to find someone to do this after a widespread, catastrophic event. Data recovery is entirely dependent on how often, and how well, you performed backups. Test your backup systems! Many recovery plans have failed because operators thought they successfully copied files from one source to another, only to discover their backup disks were empty.

Dental film is particularly vulnerable to damage from light and water. The film is plastic, but it is treated with a gelatin-like substance to capture an image. It is vulnerable to improper and excessive handling, abrasions and folding. High humidity or moisture can cause mold and leave artifacts embedded in the emulsion the film was treated with. These artifacts cannot be removed. Even worse, full submersion can cause the film's coating to disband from the plastic—making all restoration efforts impossible. Consider producing duplicates that can be stored off site. There are a number of vendors who supply equipment to make this task easy and affordable.

Related Guide : Vendor Resource Guide

Power Failures

  • Most of us think of electrical outages as an inconvenience, but how much revenue would you lose if your power systems were down for an extended period?
  • Does your insurance policy cover this peril?
  • Electrical components will have to be replaced if they are subjected to water. Temperature extremes will damage some types of electronic equipment, files and other materials. What would you lose if you lost your air conditioning?

You should give serious consideration to the benefits of a backup power system.

Generators are available in a wide variety of styles and price ranges. Your building's size and contents, and the power needs of your equipment, will determine the appropriate unit for you. Since this varies from office to office, you should consult an electrical specialist. Your local power company may offer this service at no charge, so check with them first.

There are two basic types of generators—standby and portable. Both will run as long as they have fuel.

  • Standby generators are permanently installed and integrated into the building's electrical system. They are equipped with an automatic transfer switch that will activate auxiliary power when needed and shut it off when it isn't. This switch will prevent the unit from feeding power back into the utility lines and protect the generator when power is restored. Standby generators have fuel-driven engines that can be connected to a natural gas line, or run off the gasoline or diesel you supply. They must be installed by a licensed electrician, who will secure the necessary permits and notify the power company that the system is in place.
  • Portable generators usually are smaller and generally used to provide only most vital services. Their capacity is measured in wattage. They have small fuel tanks that need to be re-filled periodically—usually every few hours. Smaller units have pull-cord starters, much like a lawnmower. Some larger ones feature on/off switches that are easy to use.

The larger the generator, the more it will cost.

  • Small (4,000–5,000 watts)
    $300–$1,300

    This size should power basic survival items, such as a refrigerator, sump pump, furnace fan, computer or small appliances.
  • Medium (6,000–9,000 watts)
    $2,000–$3,800

    A medium-sized generator should supply most small office lighting, typewriters, computers, copiers, etc.
  • Large (10,000+ watts)
    $8,000-more than $10,000

    Consult with your electrical specialist to determine what equipment you would be able to power.

Remember—all generators operate with gasoline or propane. These resources may be in short supply after a major storm. If you keep a supply on hand, make certain you can store it safely and in accordance with applicable regulations. Large, permanently installed units sometimes are connected to gas lines that may be shut down during a major disaster.

Related Worksheet : Calculate the value of purchasing a back-up generator

Communication Devices and Networks

  • Cell-phone towers, computer networks and land based phone systems might be down in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. How would you communicate with your employees in such an emergency?
  • Will you be able to contact officials and those who can assist you?
  • If the phones are working, will you spend most of your time making calls?

Establish a central communications point from which information can be gathered and disseminated. It could be a central location or a telephone number outside your exchange area. Make sure employees have the number and understand how and when to use it. Set up a relay system so each person called can notify another. If local systems are down, make contact with the Red Cross or one of the other rescue agencies. They usually supply a community with portable communications equipment as soon as possible.

The Amateur Radio Relay League also can help. Their volunteer ham radio operators work through defined networks to transmit vital information. Get to know a volunteer in your area who can provide you with information now and vital assistance later.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has established a nationwide network of radio stations that broadcast continuous weather information, as well as security alerts as they are issued by other government agencies. It is critical that your office be equipped with a NOAA radio that will automatically alert you to hazards. Make sure the model you purchase has a battery backup in case you lose power.

Helpful Hints

  • You can get a rough idea of how much backup power you will need by checking your utility bill. One kilowatt equals 1,000 watts. Divide your average monthly power usage by the number of days per month your office is open. This will give you an idea of how much power you use on an average day, but it will not indicate peak usage.
  • Every electrical appliance carries a label (usually on the cord) that will indicate the maximum wattage needed to operate it.
  • For specialized equipment, such as an X-ray machine, check your owner's manual or consult with the vendor from whom you purchased it.
  • Some electrical appliances and motors can be damaged if they are not pulling recommended minimums of power. It is important that the generator you select is of sufficient size to provide minimum current.
  • CAUTION: Never plug an emergency generator into outlets or circuits that are connected to normal electrical systems. They could feed power back into delivery lines, putting emergency workers at risk.
  • CAUTION: Gasoline-powered generators never should be used indoors because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. They should be used outside only.

Thank you to the Florida Dental Association and Florida Dental Health Foundation for providing significant contributions to this content, which were funded in part by the American Dental Association Foundation.