By Diane M. Calabrese / Published March 2015
The vernal season truly shines a brighter light on all activities, perhaps none as important as preparedness. Yes, a plan for dealing with the unexpected should be ready and refined across the year. Yet springtime—when everything is jumping—puts a focus on readiness.
From severe storms and floods to the complexity of working during a less-than stable weather interval, contractors, manufacturers, and distributors must take the time to assess and plan. Spring and preparedness have an inextricable link.
A contractor who works across spring in a region with an elevated threat of severe weather reminds us that balance is the key. “Springtime in eastern Oklahoma can be very deceptive weather-wise,” says Mike Tucker, owner of Code Blue Power Services in Catoosa, OK. “Wild temperature swings, strong winds, tornadoes, and quickly developing storms occur often.”
The vagaries of the weather cannot be ignored. “These can be major concerns for a power washing contractor like us, simply by nature of the work itself,” says Tucker. “Being outside on rooftops or in an open parking lot leaves us vulnerable to high winds, lightning, etc.”
Planning for the worst possibility is part of the job. “Many different job site locations require intentional thought for seeking shelter in case of inclement weather,” says Tucker. “At our company, we have included local weather apps on our phones to keep us aware of changing weather conditions. And during stormy conditions, portable lightning detectors allow us to temporarily discontinue work when lightning gets close.”
Preparation is never just a one-time event; it is ongoing. “Reviewing what to do in rapidly changing weather situations regularly keeps everyone on the same page and safe,” says Tucker. “It is easy to get caught up in your work and discount your surroundings, so we have found the apps and detectors to be helpful tools.”
The tools that keep everyone informed should an abrupt change in conditions occur ought to be coupled with a well-tempered outlook. And Tucker has one. “Keep calm, wash on,” he says.
Late spring brings the official arrival of hurricane season. Though tornadoes can be a threat in any month, hurricane activity typically falls between June 1 and November 30. The good news about hurricanes is that watches and warnings provide a longer lead time for preparedness.
“We live in Texas, and the weather seems to have its extremes every season,” says John Purswell, CEO of Alklean Industries, Inc. in Pasadena, TX. “However, our most destructive weather in a widespread way is hurricane season.”
With that, the hurricane threat is still an intermittent one. “We may go 10 years and only get near misses and then what seems like all the other drills—when a hurricane is in the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane does not turn. Or, when it does turn, it turns directly into where you live.”
The significance of a hurricane is great. “There are not many other events that take a city the size of Houston and kill power to the entire city,” says Purswell. “Imagine the fourth largest city in the United States and all its suburbs with no traffic lights, major flooding, and you can’t buy food for sometimes 60 miles or more away because the stores have lost power and all fresh food is condemned because of the loss of refrigeration.”
It’s not just the food supply that is disrupted. “There is no place to purchase fuel for 60–100 miles—and when you get there, the line is around the block and the amount dispensed is rationed,” says Purswell.
“What you have when the lights go out and the trees start falling—plus the flooding—is what you have to get by on until the infrastructure is restored,” says Purswell. “We have lived through hurricanes since we started in business.”
With so much experience, Purswell explains that he can tell us emphatically what his customers are not thinking about when they consider what they must order and resupply. They are not aiming to get their washing equipment going, order detergent, or pay the bills to unsecured vendors. That means that in addition to coping with whatever damage and inconvenience a hurricane has wrought, a vendor must be able to confront a clean-up period when there are likely reduced sales and cash flow.
“There is certainly a large economic hit that goes with the personal struggles following most storms,” says Purswell. As such, preparedness should also include the proverbial rainy day fund to carry a business across a period when sales may ebb.
As recovery from a storm proceeds, there will be an uptick in sales. In fact, there may be additional sales to replace damaged equipment or parts and supplies, as well as to support cleanup efforts.
The advent of spring is often coupled with more sales. “Spring season is our peak season here at Pro Chem Cleaning Systems,” says Greg Blanchard, the owner of the company based in Arlington, TX. “Customers’ purchasing patterns show that they usually stock up with new equipment, chemicals, and extra parts.”
With buyers likely to purchase more in spring, being ready for them requires good projections and solid inventory. “As the owner, I team up with all my managers to forecast sales in all departments to determine how much inventory we will keep on hand for the spring season,” explains Blanchard.
Spring also affords the opportunity to offer incentives to purchasers. “This is a good time to get discounts for bulk purchasing and pass along ‘spring clean’ discounts to customers,” says Blanchard.
Whatever surprises spring brings along with all its wonders, the season is an excellent time to reemphasize safety. The focus will serve whether confronting the effects of a tornado, flood, or hurricane—or an earthquake, wildfire, or extreme accumulation of ice or snow.
For assistance with preparation, visit Ready.gov, the federal government website that offers an array of free publications with advice on emergency preparedness. Then, make a plan.
Start with the basics. In addition to mandated OSHA training for employees, consider first aid training. Many employees who are church or scouting leaders will have such training, but it’s a good idea for everyone to know what to do to stabilize an injured person before medical assistance arrives.
Make sure that employees who are office- or plant-based know where to shelter in tornadic weather. Be certain that employees working outdoors know when to stop.
Determine how employees will be contacted after a storm to verify their safety and whereabouts. Realize everyday communication systems may be down.
Consider the day after the day of the event. If there is structural damage to the business or equipment has been lost, how will the business continue to function? Review insurance and offsite options. Data backup for distributors and manufacturers is not an option in 2015; it’s a necessity.
Incorporate thinking about how the business will reach out and assist employees who have experienced losses. Some employees have lived through losses. Query them about what helped most, and what would have helped them.
Involve everyone in preparedness. Safety in spring and across the year no longer includes only the response to disruptive natural events. Plans for recovery from a terrorist attack must be made, too.