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Natural Disasters: Proactive steps retailers should be taking

Wade Scheel
Wade Scheel

International forecasting site AccuWeather estimates the total damage and economic loss caused by Tropical Storm Barry – the largest environmental emergency in recent months – will be $8 billion to $10 billion. The estimate includes damage to homes and businesses, as well as job and wage losses, farm and crop losses, contamination of drinking water, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses and the long-term impact from flooding, such as the lingering health effects to those on the Gulf Coast.

As the above illustrates, it is imperative that retailers are prepared for emergencies caused by the high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding that stem from natural disasters. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season – which runs through Nov. 30 – as a whole will be near-normal, forecasters still predict a likely range of nine to 15 named storms which could become hurricanes.

Because it can be hard to know for sure when and where a disaster may strike, tropical storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a threat to be taken seriously. Below are proactive steps to make sure your stores are ready for any environmental emergency.

STEP 1: Create an Emergency Response Plan

In the case of an environmental disaster, all of your store locations need to be aligned on an emergency response plan. Retail executives should assign roles to employees and train them well in advance of a severe weather event. Responsibilities might include customer communication, as well as hazardous waste segregation, storage, labeling, sealing, and other responsibilities.

Communication is key during any disaster, and an appropriate emergency response plan should also include proper communication protocol. Cell service is often compromised during extreme weather, so it is important to have updated contact information for every employee on hand and to establish alternative ways to communicate.

In addition to reviewing emergency plans, be sure to communicate emergency response contractor information with key employees, including 24/7 contact information.

STEP 2: Check that Hazardous Waste is Safe and Secure

In addition to destruction and financial devastation, natural disasters can present communities with significant health, safety and environmental risks in the form of hazardous spills and leaks. To reduce the risks of injury, review your hazardous waste inventory regularly and ensure proper compliance when you are alerted of a possible natural disaster in the area.

If possible, hazardous waste should be removed prior to the arrival of severe weather – however, that standard can be nearly impossible when a storm is well on its way. If your retail location cannot remove all hazardous waste, please ensure containers are in a secure area and verify proper closure. Whenever possible, move hazardous materials and wastes that must remain on-site to elevated storage areas and confirm that storage containment systems, such as flammable liquids cabinets, are sufficiently closed.

Lastly, to avoid reactions in case of a spill, make sure waste is properly segregated. Solids and powders can be covered in plastic and secured properly, and the correct lids should be securely fastened on containers. Containment areas should be set up and properly cleaned. It is also recommended to keep spill kits available and well-stocked.

STEP 3: Find an Experienced Partner

One of the most important things a retailer can do in preparation for hurricane season is to find an experienced third-party emergency response partner, which may differ from your chain’s day-to-day waste disposal company. Partnering with a specialized company allows for flooded retail locations to be restored any damages inflicted by the weather and reopen faster.

Your dedicated emergency response partner can connect suffering locations with a nationwide network of compliance experts, facilities, equipment, and subcontractors so you never have to deal with a disaster alone.

Without an agreement in place, it can take more time for an emergency response partner to access and service a store location during a hurricane, as their priority will be tending to customers first. Therefore, it is important to find the best emergency response partner for your retail location before or early in hurricane season, rather than waiting until the damage has been done.

Wade Scheel is the director of governmental affairs for Stericycle Environmental Solutions, which assists numerous Fortune 500 retail customers with hazardous waste transportation and disposal, industrial cleanup, household hazardous waste, site restoration, emergency response services and more.

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