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Is Your Store Prepared for Hurricane Season?

Last year’s hurricane season was the most expensive in U.S. history. According to National Geographic, early estimates indicate the country suffered more than $200 billion worth of damage from 17 named storms in 2017, which is substantially higher than the previous record of $159 billion in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

With hurricane season quickly approaching yet again, it is more important than ever for retailers to be prepared for emergencies caused by high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding. One of the most dangerous – and costly – mistakes a retailer can make is neglecting to prepare their hazardous waste in these types of weather-related emergencies.

Preparation is key
Preparation is crucial to safely and compliantly handle emergency spills caused by fierce winds and flooding. Not only does proactive planning minimize the damage inflicted to your retail location, it can also lessen health risks to your customers and staff as well as reducing your environmental liability.

Whenever flooding takes place in a retail location, the residual water damage can create a variety of hazardous waste situations. For example, a flooded retail store means products – which may contain hazardous materials – become damaged or are deemed unsellable or unsalvageable. These products must be segregated according to waste stream and properly disposed of as a hazardous waste.

Create an emergency response plan
To prepare your retail store and staff for this hurricane season, as well as mitigate the risks of damage and environmental harm, it is vital to create an emergency response plan.

When devising an emergency response plan in anticipation of a hurricane, there are several factors to consider. For example, staff should ensure all hazardous chemicals are secured safely outside of potential flooding areas, as well as identify which hazardous wastes can be generated. Staff should also understand which type of reporting and paperwork must be completed after an incident.

Securing hazardous waste already on site
Hazardous waste should be removed prior to the arrival of severe weather, but that can be nearly impossible when a hurricane is coming your way. If your location cannot remove all hazardous waste, there are several safety precautions to follow when securing the materials that will remain on site.

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. Known waste areas should also be cleared out in advance of a major storm. Whenever possible, move hazardous materials and wastes into higher storage areas and ensure that storage containment such as flammable liquids cabinets are sufficiently closed.

Employee preparation
The more time you spend preparing your staff members on how to react in the case of a hurricane-related emergency, the more well equipped you will be in managing these situations safely and in compliance with regulations. Once your retail location has created an emergency response plan, it should be reviewed with all employees.

A great practice when preparing for potential flooding is to develop an internal triage system. In this case, a triage system would mean that trained internal employees are prepared to walk through the store after a storm to identify which products or materials should be pulled for further waste segregation.

Waste segregation
To ensure a successful emergency response in the wake of a major storm, members of your emergency response team should possess extensive expertise and specialized knowledge of hazardous substances and proper waste management.

As employees examine these materials, they then can determine the next steps for the damaged products. Not all damaged products will need to be disposed of – there’s a chance that even if items are deemed unsalable on their retail shelves, they can still be sent to a salvage facility where they can be donated to an organization in need.

Since hazardous materials must be profiled for disposal, it’s essential they’re processed and handled accordingly. Hazardous materials that have been damaged and are now waste must be profiled before disposal. Throughout this process, sampling and analytical testing may need to be conducted to determine the best way they should be processed and handled. When sorting the materials, it’s best to determine which components may be recycled, or otherwise repurposed, to reduce the total amount of waste resulting from the emergency response cleanup.

Emergency response 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. Whenever a natural disaster or flooding occurs, an emergency response partner is necessary to help you reopen flooded retail locations as quickly as possible.

By engaging an emergency response team prior to hurricane season, you can receive valuable insight from these experts that will help you minimize spills and any damage inflicted by severe weather. By following their recommendations, such as moving and securing hazardous materials before the storm arrives, you can take preventative steps to reducing your emergency response expenses.

Additionally, when an area has been hit by a devastating hurricane , roads and access points are sometimes blocked. Be sure that your emergency response partner is identified in your emergency response plan so that they can gain access to the site when there are restricted access areas. An emergency response partner can also handle all contact with local law enforcement and emergency response teams to find out when it is safe to travel to affected stores and begin the hazardous waste cleanup process.

An important thing to keep in mind is that without a pre-existing agreement in place, it could take more time for an emergency response partner to access and service your store during a hurricane, as their priority will be to tend to customers first! Therefore, it is important to find the best emergency response partner for your retail location before hurricane season begins, rather than waiting until the damage has been done.

Maricha Ellis is VP of marketing and sales operations for Stericycle Environmental Solutions, which assists customers with hazardous waste transportation and disposal, industrial cleanup, household hazardous waste, site restoration, emergency response services and more. The Stericycle team has responded to thousands of environmental emergency calls, providing disaster recovery assistance after hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters.
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