As weather changes, so do the risks that affect any commercial property. The combination of powerful cold, wind and moisture create threats for a business that are wholly different from those it faces throughout the rest of the year. This risk is compounded for those businesses that operate in warmer climates because they are even less prepared for winter weather than their neighbors to the north.
If you're a business owner or facility manager, it is important that you begin your winter preparations early so that you are not caught off guard by a winter storm. For your benefit, our winter preparedness specialists have crafted this outline of important steps to take in order to safeguard your business from a winter storm. Whether your region is accustomed to frigid winters or you’re on the warmer gulf coast, these tips will keep you prepared for any kind of winter threat.
Analyze your risk
Before diving into the specific threats associated with winter weather, it’s important to first determine the liability your facility is potentially exposed to. If your property is located in Hawaii, for example, your risks from winter damage are nearly nonexistent when compared to those of a property in New York. For this reason, consider the following examples of questions to ask when assessing the vulnerability of your commercial property to winter storms:
- How frequently does your area face freezing temperatures?
- Is your property at particular risk from wind threats or wind direction?
- What is the history of snow in your area?
- Does your facility vacate or shut down for winter holidays or weekends?
- How does the temperature in your facilities change when your equipment is not in operation?
The answers to these questions, and the specifics of your business operation, will determine the level to which you need to create contingency and emergency preparedness plans for winter weather.
Once you’ve determined the potential exposure of your business, now it’s time to consider the actual threats you will face from severe winter weather.
While dangerous weather and precipitation is a threat, the freezing temperature itself is one that has the potential to damage your property even without a single inch of snow or gust of wind. When the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), all of the moisture present in your facility will begin to freeze if not supported by some other heat source. Not only does this render them completely inoperable, they also risk permanent damage or even bursts that cause further harm.
This can include many essential components to your facility’s support systems such as fire protection sprinkler systems, air conditioning & HVAC, plumbing, control lines and process piping, water tanks, fire pumps, and even more unexpected components. Whether you’re a factory with dozens of utility lines supporting your production or a multi-family complex with a complex network of plumbing and fire safety, any freeze-up of your systems has the potential to be devastating.
Key to avoiding freeze-ups is developing a system support and freeze plan to prepare your facilities for the season’s risks. Survey and audit your facilities to ensure your properties are prepared for temperature change. Monitor the climatic conditions regularly so that you are aware of potential incoming winter events. Arrange for personnel to be on-call during these events so that they can respond quickly to any structural failures. Maintain facility temperature above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even outside of production or while vacant, so that infrastructure systems are always protected.
Another risk, particularly in snow-prone areas, is the threat of facility collapse. When snow begins to accumulate, it can stress the infrastructure of your facilities in ways you do not expect. For instance, the weight of snow can cause a roof to cave in on itself. This is especially true if you live in an area that does not typically experience snow and your property does not have roofing designed to support that sudden, additional weight.
Even worse is the subsequent damage that follows the collapse of a commercial roof. Any kind of collapse will likely also destroy fire protection infrastructure, electrical wiring and conduit, gas lines, and of course any equipment or assets stored underneath the damaged roof. Additionally, the water from the snow has the potential to add even more damage to your facility walls, flooring, and inventory.
To avoid the risk of collapse, it is essential to perform regular maintenance to your gutters and drainage systems to allow moisture to flow freely away from your roof. Additionally, you’ll want to continuously inspect your roof’s structure and health to identify weaknesses that may put you at risk from collapse. Lastly, during the snowy season, ensure that you have a plan in place for regular removal of accumulated snow so that the weight never surpasses the load capacity of your roof.
There are even more threats to be aware of as a result of winter weather. For example, flooding and water damage becomes even more dangerous during cold seasons. As the temperature drops, the very ground itself freezes and can no longer absorb water. Once this occurs, new rainfall and melted snow cannot be absorbed causing it to runoff in unpredictable ways.
Additionally, you’ll want to take special care to ensure any personnel or guests are safeguarded from winter conditions as much as possible. Watch out for ice on sidewalks and waterways to prevent falls or slippery surfaces. Prevent snow buildup in high traffic areas and employ a removal plan during snow season. Avoid allowing floor mats to build up excessive moisture.
Preparing for the aftermath
While preparation is key to avoiding any serious impact from winter weather threats, sometimes life can prove unpredictable. If your facility cannot afford the risk of major infrastructure damage or any kind of operational pause, it is paramount that you identify a trusted recovery partner that you can count on at a moment’s notice. When winter weather strikes, you can count on Cotton GDS to be prepared for the aftermath.
Get ahead of the winter storms by contacting a Cotton representative today. Our experts can help you review your company’s winter preparation plans and identify areas of improvement. Call our 24-hour hotline at 877-511-2962.