In 2021 the U.S. will see an above-average number of hurricanes, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).1 How can educational facilities prepare for a hurricane or other severe weather event? One important way is by working with an experienced facilities management provider.
Atlantic Hurricane Season runs June 1 to November 30, and the states most likely to experience hurricanes2 are:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
From kindergartens to universities, schools across the country hold the safety of their students above all else. During hurricane season in particular, educational administrators face difficult, unpredictable challenges, especially in the southeastern U.S. where hurricanes are more likely to happen.
Keeping everyone prepared can reduce property damage and help administrators, staff, students, and their families get back to normal after a hurricane. Here are some essential steps to help prepare your school for hurricane season.
Review your emergency plan
There’s a strong chance that your school already has an emergency plan in place, and that it’s reviewed regularly.3 However, as more and more schools move to contracted facilities management services, emergency plans may need to be updated to reflect a new partnership and revised standard operating procedures.
Include your custodial, grounds, and maintenance teams in the planning and review process. A trusted facilities management provider will have additional resources and expertise to complement your current efforts. By inviting them into the process, you can gain thoughtful feedback on how to best protect your people and preserve your assets.
Here are some questions to ask your Facilities Management (FM) team when updating an emergency plan:
- What can we do to make our grounds and landscaping more resilient and weather-resistant?
- If we are a designated emergency shelter, how can we help create a safe, clean, welcoming environment?
- What can we do to preserve expensive systems like boilers and HVAC systems?
- How will our facilities management provider prepare in terms of staffing, management, and schedules?
- How will information be shared with between administrators and facilities teams before, during, and after a hurricane?
Don’t wait until a hurricane warning is issued, because it may already be too late to take certain precautions. Early preparation is key to responding on time when you’re protecting students, staff, and the broader community.
Secure your buildings and grounds
While storm path forecasts often show potential landfall locations upto a week in advance, storms can and do quickly change path and intensity. It’s important to prepare well in advance. Here are some things to consider.
How can we fasten and secure buildings and other elements to prevent damage?
- Remember, hurricane-force winds can turn landscaping materials into dangerous projectiles that can break windows and doors. Consider replacing gravel or rock in your school’s landscaping with shredded bark. It weighs less and won’t cause as much harm to your buildings.
- Minimize the harm of falling branches by checking regularly for weak or damaged limbs and keeping trees and shrubs trimmed.
- Cut back on possible water damage by sealing outside vents, outdoor electrical outlets, sprinkler hose connections, and any other spot where pipes or cables go through a wall. Ask your facilities provider to recommend products and timing and include this work in your school’s preventative maintenance plan.
- Invest in fitted storm shutters to protect glass doors and windows, or plan to cover windows with plywood panels when a hurricane is approaching. Regardless of how you choose to protect your school’s buildings, acquire necessary supplies in advance, and make sure your facilities provider understands the plan.
- Maintain and clear drainage areas around campus and parking lots to prevent local flooding.
Are modular buildings and portable classrooms prepared for a weather emergency?
- These days, many schools use modular buildings and portable classrooms to meet changing space requirements. They can be installed quickly and are relatively affordable – but can also be more susceptible to storm damage.
- If your grounds include portable classrooms or offices, make sure you know how to secure them against hurricane-force winds. Ask the portables manufacturer or provider for detailed specifications about portable/rental structures at your school, and work with your grounds and maintenance teams to carry out pre-storm preparations. If possible, the best course of action would be to move occupants to a more permanent, more resilient structure, like a concrete or brick building.
- Another note about portable classrooms: Because they’re relatively easy to install, they also can be an important part of your hurricane recovery plan by providing classroom space as soon as possible while permanent facilities are cleaned, repaired, or rebuilt.
Are school records, papers, books, and computer equipment safe?
- Whether electronic or on paper, important school records can be destroyed during a hurricane, especially by storm-related water damage. Improve the chances of emerging with school papers intact by keeping them in a specialized, stormproof space, or by storing them on a higher floor to avoid floodwaters. At the very least, opt for high shelves in a single-story building.
- Many educational facilities across the country are moving to digital record-keeping. By storing records online, you solve the issue of water-damaged paper records – but you still need to protect the digital documents.
- Make sure all digital records are backed up offsite, and work with your facilities management partner to secure spaces like libraries, computer labs, and multimedia centers.
Have we provided our staff, students, and facilities team with the information they need?
- A current inventory of equipment and supplies helps keep things running smoothly if you need repairs or replacements after a hurricane. It can document losses, speed up the insurance claims process, and ease the process of applying for disaster aid.
- Work with your facility services provider to create a full and up-to-date inventory of vehicles and machinery such as floor-care equipment, commercial mowers, and electric housekeeping carts.
- Keep a detailed inventory of mechanicals as well: heating and cooling equipment, lighting, and security systems, for example. Do the same for groundskeeping and custodial supplies, including cleaning solutions, fertilizers, and other potentially flammable materials.
- In addition to an equipment inventory, your emergency team should also review and share information about electricity, gas, and water shutoffs – to save precious time in case of an emergency.
- Communication is a big part of any school’s emergency response – before, during, and after the emergency. Your facilities management partner can be a huge help. Talk with your facilities team in advance about how you’ll stay connected and share information.
Are there resources available to help our school develop a comprehensive emergency plan?
Yes! Here are a few places to start. As we mentioned, the most important purpose of any emergency plan is to keep students safe. The facilities management aspect of your hurricane response is just one facet of a comprehensive approach.
For more information on hurricane safety – from school buses to designated shelter areas – check out these reputable resources.
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools: Planning for Natural Hazards
- U.S. Department of Education: Natural Disaster Resources
- National Weather Service: Severe Weather Preparedness Guide for Schools
- FEMA: Sample School Emergency Operations Plan
- National Association of School Psychologists: Resources to Assist States Recovering from Natural Disasters
WORK WITH THE RIGHT FACILITIES MANAGEMENT TEAM
Want to know more about how the right facilities management partner can help your educational facility manage a severe weather event? Contact us at [email protected].
The illustrations, instructions, and principles contained in this website are general in scope and for marketing purposes. We assume no responsibility for: managing or controlling customer activities, implementing any recommended measures, or identifying all potential hazards.
3SchoolSafety.gov: Emergency Planning