As winter approaches, business owners in many parts of the U.S. start thinking about the best way to prepare their businesses and employees for the winter weather ahead. When the news or your favorite weather app lets you know there is a winter storm watch, advisory or warning or a blizzard warning, you want your business to be ready. In this post, we’ll look at four important ways you can prepare for even the most severe winter storms.
Create a Communication Plan
When it comes to weather, communication is key. Weather can be unpredictable, so you need to have a plan for how you will quickly communicate with employees and customers when a winter storm interferes with your company’s usual routine. Let’s look at both aspects of this communication plan — internally, with your employees, and externally, with customers.
1. Internal Communication
Internal communication with employees should be your top priority. Communicating with employees is an essential preemptive measure as winter approaches and on a situational basis whenever a winter storm hits.
Let employees know what the general plan for winter weather entails and how you will reach out to them when the time comes. You may want to give employees an idea of what sort of weather would merit a temporary closure. While this discussion is important, merely letting employees know ahead of time how weather will be handled isn’t enough.
After all, the weather is somewhat subjective, so just letting employees know you will close in the event of a severe winter storm leaves them wondering, “Does the boss consider this storm severe?” or “Am I expected to come in today?” You still need to contact your employees.
That’s why situational communication is important, as well. If meteorologists are predicting a severe winter storm the next day or you wake up and see that driving conditions are unsafe, you need to make a call on whether your business should open as usual, open on a delay or remain closed for the whole day. Once you’ve decided, you need to let employees know how to respond as soon as possible. You can use a text-alert system, phone call or email.
If winter weather hits during the work day, make sure you clearly communicate to employees who are in the office whether you would like them to go home before conditions worsen, especially if it looks like you could get snowed in at work.
2. External Communication
Communicating with potential visitors to your business is also important, especially the case when your open hours are changing due to weather. If you’re opening two hours late, closing early or staying closed all day, you need to let the public know so you don’t have the unfortunate situation of someone making the trek to your business only to be disappointed or frustrated by a closed sign.
Here are a few ways you can get the word out:
- Send a mass email to your email subscribers
- Put an update on the homepage of your website
- Record an outgoing voicemail message on your company’s main phone line
- Post on your social media
Whatever you choose to do, it’s smart to inform the public in at least two different ways so you improve your chances of reaching your customers. If your business has multiple locations, make sure you specify to customers whether all locations or only certain ones are closing due to weather. Depending on the nature of your business, if the closure will cause a delay in delivery of goods or completion of services, you should let customers know about this as well.
Keep Track of Inventory
Another consideration that requires some action both before and at the time of a winter storm is your inventory. The type of inventory you have depends on what kind of business you run of course, but in many cases, your inventory could be affected by a bad winter storm. Keeping track of your inventory is important all the time, no matter the weather, but it becomes critical if you think you may experience some damage to inventory from a storm.
Since business insurance policies cover losses to inventory due to winter storms, you want to make sure you have an exact record of your inventory before and after any damage has occurred. When you document damage, take photos of your inventory to show your insurance company exactly what happened. Your detailed documentation will make the process of filing a claim easier and will help your insurance company know how to replace or reimburse you for the cost of the damaged items.
Why would a winter storm damage your inventory? That answer depends on what type of inventory you have. Here are some examples:
- Restaurant or grocery store: If you stay closed long enough, perishables could spoil. If the storm causes a power outage and you don’t have a generator, all the food in your refrigerators and freezers could spoil. Even if your power doesn’t go out, a temporary closure could prevent you from selling perishables in time to meet your standards for freshness.
- Electronics store: Cold temperatures can damage electronics. So, if your heat goes out, and you have electronic items in your inventory, depending on how cold it gets and what types of electronics you have, they could be ruined and need to be replaced.
- Pharmacy: Certain medicines and vaccines need to be kept cold to maintain their efficacy. Therefore, if you lose power and your refrigerator goes out, you must discard the damaged products and replace them.
Other issues related to winter storms could indirectly cause damage, as well. For example, a burst pipe could result in water damage to any items within the vicinity. To be prepared for replacing damaged inventory, prioritize documenting your inventory regularly and especially when a storm hits.
Fix Vulnerabilities in Your Building or Operations
Recording damage is important, but so is preventing it. A responsible business owner or facilities manager should pay careful attention to any potential weaknesses that could lead to damage. Consider what could happen during a winter storm that might lead to serious damage, and then do all you can now to prevent that scenario from happening.
For example, in the cases where inventory is lost because of a power outage, this could be prevented by installing a generator. A generator designed to automatically turn on if your power goes out can prevent many problems associated with a loss of power. It can keep refrigerators and freezers running, your heat on and any electronic systems you have powered on. Having a generator is one of the best ways you can shore up a vulnerability in your facility and business operations.
It’s essential to pay attention to the structural integrity of your building and look for weak points that could lead to damage. Even though your building may seem fine now, consider what could happen if high winds, heavy snow, ice or sleet occur. If your building has vulnerabilities, they could lead to damage from these severe weather conditions. These vulnerabilities could include issues like:
- Leaks in the roof
- Weak areas in the roof that couldn’t handle heavy snow
- Debris clogging up drains and downspouts
- Cracks or imperfect seals around doors and windows
- Loose trim outside that could be blown off
- Punctures or cracks in plumbing pipes
If you locate weaknesses in your building, then you’ll want to have these problems fixed quickly before winter weather strikes. This will minimize your risk of experiencing severe damage. If a problem could have been prevented, your insurance company may not fully cover the damage.
If you own the building, it will be up to you to hire someone to complete the work to fix any vulnerabilities. If you lease the building, you may not be responsible for hiring, but you are responsible for informing your landlord of any issues you find. Be sure to take a proactive approach and talk to your landlord before a storm is on the way. Clearly outline your maintenance requests and follow up to make sure they’re taken care of so you can effectively prepare your business for a winter storm.
Make a Plan for Snow and Ice Removal
The most immediate maintenance need when a winter storm hits — big or small — is snow and ice removal. Even a few inches of snow collected outside your company’s building can create a nuisance at best and a hazard at worst. A bigger winter storm can cause a much more serious issue, making ice and snow removal even more crucial.
There are two main aspects of snow and ice removal that are important to consider — removal from your roof and removal from the ground.
1. Removal From the Roof
To prepare your business for a snowstorm, find out how much snow your building’s roof could handle before you’re at risk of a cave-in. The contractor who installed the roof or a structural engineer can help you determine this information. Keep in mind that added weight from things like HVAC units or solar panels will lessen the remaining amount of weight the roof could handle.
Once you have this information, make sure you or your property manager monitors how much snow is collecting on the roof and whether it needs to be removed to prevent a potential problem. You don’t want to let the snow get so thick that it becomes unsafe for workers to traverse the top of the roof.
This sort of work needs to be completed by trained professionals who know how to safely remove snow from your roof without damaging it and without hurting themselves or others. Many things could go wrong if you try to complete this task on your own or hire someone who is unqualified.
2. Removal From the Ground
Your roof isn’t the only area where the presence of snow and ice causes a problem. On the ground, snow can cover up parking lots and sidewalks that are necessary for your company’s operations and for the safety of the public. If a winter storm is not so severe that it causes your business to close, then it’s essential you maintain standards of safety on-site for your employees and customers.
Your parking lot must be clear of snow and ice, first, to ensure that people can drive and park their vehicles safely. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, about 70 percent of injuries related to snow and ice occur in automobiles. One small patch of ice can be enough to send a car skidding and possibly injure the driver, passengers, pedestrians or people in other cars.
Of course, people can also be injured while walking across an icy parking lot or treading through deep snow on your sidewalk. Whether driving or walking, customers and employees are placed at risk when snow and ice haven’t been removed. When they see you’ve cleared the parking lot and walkways, it shows you care about their wellbeing.
Because the presence of snow and ice present a clear liability to your business, it’s critical you create a plan for having snow and ice removed promptly when it is needed. Again, you want to hire a professional since improper snow plowing and ice removal can wreak havoc on your parking lot.
Keep in mind that whenever you need snow and ice removed, so do countless other businesses and homes in your area, so finding someone to take care of it can be a real headache. However, if you have a grounds manager like Strategic Grounds Management, you can rest easy knowing that they’ll handle it, and any snow and ice around the outside of your building will be cleared in no time.
Let Strategic Grounds Management Help
We’ve looked at several ways winter storms can disrupt your business and how you can be prepared. One major way winter storms can affect your business is in leaving behind heavy snow and ice. When the weather outside is frightful, you need someone you can trust to remove ice and snow to keep your employees and customers safe.
Especially if your business has multiple locations, it can quickly get complicated and difficult to manage snow and ice removal yourself. That’s where Strategic Grounds Management can help. If you’re interested in learning more about how Strategic Grounds Management can provide you with commercial snow removal and deicing services and take the burden out of your hands, contact us today.