“Businesses that plan for a disaster have the best chance of surviving, and that starts with identifying the potential risks,” said Loretta Worters, a vice president with the I.I.I. “Large businesses have risk managers, but small business owners have to be their own risk managers and, working with their insurance professional, determine the right type and amount of insurance to be able to recover from a disaster.”
“It is also critical for small business owners to create and/or update their business continuity plan and work with employees so they are prepared for the potential effects of a disaster,” said Gail Moraton, business resiliency manager at IBHS. “Taking time to do this now will save money and time later.”
This week, I ventured up to West Glocester, Rhode Island, home of the coolest place any insurance broker, insurance client, or risk management journalist can visit: the FM Global Research Campus.
Because FM Global is intently focused on prevention of loss as the chief means of minimizing claims, the company maintains a 1,600-acre campus dedicated to property loss prevention scientific research. The biggest center of its kind, the research center features some of the most advanced technology to conduct research on fire, natural hazards, electrical hazards, and hydraulics. Here, experts can recreate clients’ warehouse conditions to test whether existing suppression practices would be sufficient in the event of a massive fire, for example. Fabricated hail or seven-foot 2x4s are shot from a cannon-like instrument at plywood, windows, or roofing to test whether these materials can withstand debris that goes flying in hurricane-strength winds. Hydraulic, mechanical and environmental tests are conducted on components of fire protection systems, like sprinklers, to ensure effectiveness overall and under the specific conditions clients face. Further, in cases where there were not sufficient loss prevention solutions, the company’s scientists and engineers have even designed and patented new, more effective sprinklers and other loss prevention technology, the rights to which are released so anyone can manufacture these improved safety measures.
Fire is the leading cause of loss in every calendar year, and watching a pile of plastic pallets ignite into a 60-foot fire while you feel the radiant heat through the glass of the lab’s observation deck is a powerful reality check for anyone evaluating risk exposure in their facility. As you watch the pallets melt, forming a plastic pool that also catches fire and spreads, you see the fire double in size every 45 seconds. If your strategy is primarily to rely on the local fire station, the researchers note, a minimal response time, assuming decent proximity, no traffic or inclement weather, and full staffing, would probably be at least five to 10 minutes. It only took seven minutes for their sample fire to reach almost three stories high, flickering around the edges of the massive ceiling-mounted calorimeter (which measures heat and the particles and smoke released).
One of the most striking demonstrations comes in the form of a dust explosion. Whether released through product manufacturing, a byproduct of processing, or simply lazy housekeeping, a wide variety of dusts can fill the air in many facilities. Flour, sugar, metal dust, wood and resin are all highly flammable and exceptionally common. To cause an explosion, you simply need a few conditions: fuel (the dust), oxygen, ignition, suspension (in other words, the dust has not settled, increasing the surface area), and a confined space (ie. inside the facility, the dust stays in the environment). What happens then? Check out the video below for a slow-motion look at the explosion that results from just a hard hat full of phenolic resin.
In a press conference this morning, the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its official 2014 outlook for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricane seasons.
The East Coast may see below-average activity this year, thanks, in part, to the anticipated development of El Nino this summer. According to NOAA, “El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.”
There is a 50% chance for a below-average season, a 40% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% chance of an above-average season, the center predicts. “For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to two major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher),” they announced.
But the forecast is no reason to take preparations lightly. “Thanks to the environmental intelligence from NOAA’s network of earth observations, our scientists and meteorologists can provide life-saving products like our new storm surge threat map and our hurricane forecasts,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “And even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it’s important to remember it takes only one land-falling storm to cause a disaster.”
On the West Coast, it may be a more tumultuous summer. The outlook calls for a 50% chance of an above-normal season, a 40% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. The center predicts there is a 70% chance of 14 to 20 named storms, which includes 7 to 11 hurricanes, of which 3 to 6 are expected to become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).
“The key climate factor behind the outlook is the likely development of El Niño this summer. El Niño decreases the vertical wind shear over the eastern tropical Pacific, favoring more and stronger tropical storms and hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “The eastern Pacific has been in an era of low activity for hurricanes since 1995, but this pattern will be offset in 2014 by the impacts of El Niño.”
Next week (May 25-31) is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and NOAA and FEMA will be offering additional tips and insight on their websites ahead of the official start of hurricane season on June 1.