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Next Time Mother Nature Hits, Be Prepared

Over the next several months, the chances are good a hurricane will strike the U.S. While you can't fully prevent the damage a devastating storm will do, taking steps now could save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.

Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province in China, is a well-known manufacturing center and port city. On August 10, Saomai, a Category 5 typhoon, slammed into the area, causing more than 400 deaths and destroying thousands of homes and buildings. According to the Shanghai Daily, a local paper, Wenzhou lost more than 81 people, $563 million in revenue, 18,241 homes and 78,554 buildings as a result of the typhoon.

The Chinese Government’s Official Web Portal says China is facing its most severe natural disasters in six years. This year, the storms have started earlier and have been stronger, causing more than 2,000 deaths and economic losses of $20 billion as of August 15.

Saffir-Simpson Scale. For larger version, click here(c) 2006 Factory Mutual Insurance Company. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Meanwhile, just as the U.S. is remembering the devastation of Katrina a year ago, forecasters are calling for 12 to 15 big storms in the U.S., with between 7 and 9 hurricanes and 3 to 4 hurricanes above category 3 levels before the season ends on November 30.

Even in the face of potentially catastrophic storms, however, manufacturers are far from helpless. Taking preventative steps now could save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.

John Janachowski, a principal and practice leader with the Revere Group in the Business Continuity and Security Planning Solution Center, says one of the most important steps a manufacturer can take to protect against natural disasters is to create a Business Continuity Management Program (BCMP). A BCMP outlines what is important and what needs to be recovered as soon as possible, as well as the financial loss incurred if it is damaged or if there is downtime.

Within the BCMP, threats are analyzed, and risk mitigation strategies are laid out in the event that an emergency arises. Hurricanes, for example, provide advanced warning of their approach, giving manufacturers time to back up data and spread inventory to other plants. The sudden on set of a tornado, on the other hand, makes some form of data recovery necessary.

Rick Davis, Vice President of Ace Bayou, New Orleans, says he lost everything as a result of Katrina. Davis said his company had no contingency plan.

“We were expecting a day or two away from the office. We were ill-prepared. We are better prepared now, but it’s like closing the barn door after the horses have left,” he said.

The company had expected to move from its temporary location to its new site in mid-April, but the building still has no phones or water. Electricity was restored just last week.

Understandably, it is difficult to rebuild what was lost from Katrina. Ace Bayou is one of the companies that remained in the area, but many others did not. Davis says he drives through an empty industrial area and sees homes that have been destroyed on his way to and from work every day. He describes the anniversary as “sad and somber, a milestone showing how bad it was. It shows there is more work that needs to be done.”

Manufacturers need to establish test plans and then check those plans regularly. Once you choose a strategy for disaster protection, it must be updated to follow changes within the organization to make sure the plan stays current and that it is still effective.

Redundancy may be costly, depending on the size of the company, but it can prevent total shutdown of operations, or at least facilitate reorganization following a natural disaster. If your company is located in an area where hurricanes are common, having multiples and backups at other locations will keep operations moving, even if a storm destroys one of the facilities.

In the event of a worst-case scenario - a facility gets demolished, there's no backup -  there is always data recovery. A data recovery company can take a drive that was submerged in water and take it apart to get the files back.

A computer damaged by Katrina

“If the drives are wet, keep them wet,” says Jim Reinert, Senior Director of Software and Services for Ontrack Data Recovery. “If it dries out, sediment can dry onto it, making recovery more difficult.”

Of course, while hurricanes and typhoons may be the most common natural disasters, everything from earthquakes to extreme heat can disrupt manufacturing production.

In the summer months, overheating can occur and cause drive failures for computers. Keeping computers and similar equipment cool is a must. Increasing processor speed means increased power requirements which means more cooling is necessary. Surge protectors guard against power surges and an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) offers protection for equipment that cannot be shut down abruptly.

Tropical storms bring with them powerful winds that can flatten an entire building in matter of minutes. Category 5 storms have winds of over 187 mph. While most buildings would be hard-pressed to survive winds of that magnitude, there are precautions to ensure that the facility has a fighting chance.

One of the potentially weakest areas of a building is the roof. FM Global, a commercial property insurer, suggests screwing down the flashing, one of the areas that is likely to fail. The corners are likely to fail first, so move sensitive equipment away from them. For windows, laminated glass is impact resistant and can keep openings from being compromised. In the event of an earthquake, it also adds flexibility. 

If roofs and windows are properly secured, they are less like to fail during a storm. Less rain means less damage, and as an added precaution sensitive equipment and inventory can be moved onto pallets or waterproof tarpaulins can be used.

According to building code expert Nanette Lockwood, a Profesional Engineer, opening protection (on doors and windows) can cut loss by up to 50 percent. She notes that a study by Louisiana State University showed that if roofs had been secured and windows converted to impact-resistant glass, $3 billion in losses could have been avoided.

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