October 05, 2022

Always Ready: Tips to weather nature’s storms

New guide offers best practices on how to prepare, withstand, and recover from natural disasters.
Hurricane damage

Always Ready features steps to take before, during, and after natural disasters occur, and provides guidance to help you stay safe and reopen quickly.

When a natural disaster hits, things can get chaotic but having a good disaster response plan in place can help you keep your people safe and expedite recovery. 

Whether you’re an independent or part of a large chain, it’s smart to develop a preparedness plan tailored to fit your operations and have the discipline to review and update it at least annually. 

The National Restaurant Association’s new Always Ready: Natural Disasters, a resource featuring steps to take before, during, and after natural disasters occur, provides guidance designed to help you stay safe and reopen quickly—perhaps in time to support your community’s recovery by providing access to power, information, and warm meals.

Guidance is delivered in four sections: advance preparation, creating and practicing a crisis response plan, what to do when disaster strikes, and recovery after the storm.

1. Preparation/what to do in advance: Review your insurance coverage with a professional. A rep will help you understand what’s covered, what’s not, your deductibles, and potential riders or coverages to consider. Regular property insurance does not cover flooding, for example.

In the chaos, you’ll want quick access to critical documents, services (make emergency contact lists) and supplies you’ll need. When identifying critical documents, ask these questions:

Is the document required…

  • to run the business 
  • by a regulatory agency 
  • for legal reasons
  • by my insurance company, and
  • are these documents accessible on the cloud or do you need a hard copy? If the latter, gather key documents in one, ready-to-grab “storm kit.”

One emergency document to have at the ready is a building/site map for emergency responders that clearly marks the building, its street name, and number; the location of exits, stairways, designated escape routes; and utility location information, such as main water/gas valves and lines, electrical information, and hazardous material storage, including propane.

Convey these advance prep steps to managers throughout your organization.

2. Create a disaster response plan. Do this before disaster strikes and review all tasks, preparations, and safety measures that your crisis leaders and employees will have to execute under pressure. 

Experts recommend running several practice drills because it’s imperative team members know what to do by rote; otherwise they can forget key steps in the chaos of the storm.

Whether you evacuate or shelter in place is determined by local authority directives, how much warning you have, and your location in relation to the type of storm threatening (flood: high ground; tornado: low ground). 

  • If you have to evacuate, create specific plans that outline tasks (you might board windows, shut off utilities, lower walk-in temps, charge cell phones, fuel cars), where to evacuate and how you’ll communicate.
  • If you are ordered to shelter in place, establish the safest shelter areas in your facility, preferably an interior room, such as bathrooms, closets, maintenance rooms, or hallways, anywhere away from windows. Also account for all employees (and guests) as they enter the shelter area. Assign employees (in advance) specific duties to handle including monitoring storm updates and advisories.

3. What to do when disaster strikes. The kind of natural disasters you’re likely to encounter differ depending on where you’re geographically located, as well as if your restaurant is a free-standing unit, in a high-rise, or strip mall, etc. Those natural disasters include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, wildfires, and severe winter storms. Implement your disaster response plan based on your risk assessment and storm weather experience. 

If you’re hit by a storm with no advance warning:

  • Move to the safest point for shelter, which could be high ground in a flash flood, out in the open for an earthquake, or in a windowless space for a tornado.
  • Tell everyone to protect their head, neck and torso.
  • Shut off utilities, but only if it’s safe to do so.
  • Use flashlights to light your way, and don’t use matches, lighters, or any other open flames, since gas could be trapped inside.
  • Keep everyone away from flood water, which is highly contaminated, dangerous to wade through and deadly if combined with live electricity.

4. Recovering after the storm. This section offers tips for getting your business up and running after the disaster. Hire a professional to assess the structural integrity of your building before re-entry and determine if the scope of cleanup is too big for you and your team to handle without professional help. If you can handle cleanup:

  • Remove standing water as quickly as possible, clear the dirt and debris, and toss out all contaminated foods (only cans and retort pouches are salvageable if stores are contaminated). If in doubt, throw it out. Call to get utilities restored and get any wildlife and insects (alive and not) removed by professionals.
  • Clean and sanitize all food-contact surfaces, and sanitize all walls, floors, ceilings, tables, chairs, cabinets, and equipment with an effective cleaner and sanitizer. Wash and sanitize all refrigeration and freezers.
  • Once it’s confirmed you have safe, drinkable water, run the empty dishwasher through the wash-rinse-sanitize cycle three times before you start running equipment and utensils through it.
  • Check rooftop equipment and heating or cooling ducts and vents for structural integrity; get ducts/vents professionally cleaned and sanitized.

Access our comprehensive storm-prep resource for restaurant operators; download your free copy of Always Ready:Natural Disasters now.

A special note

In the wake of Ian’s devastation, rebuilding has begun. Restaurants often play unique roles in disaster recovery, providing food, power, and information to those who need it most.

If you are an operator impacted by Hurricane Ian, there are local resources available to help in your recovery. 

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has resources and recovery information for local operators on its website.

South Carolina operators impacted by Ian can get the latest recovery information from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control

If you want to support the recovery efforts in Florida, please consider donating to the Florida Disaster Fund or World Central Kitchen.

Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund
DoorDash, in partnership with Hello Alice, will provide $10,000 relief grants to eligible local restaurants affected by state- or federally-declared natural disasters through the $1M. Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund. If your restaurant is experiencing hardship due to natural disaster, has three stores or less, employs fewer than 50 employees per location, and has revenues of $3M or less per location in the last 12 months, apply today.