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Winter Storm
Resource Hub

Insights to help businesses prepare for, respond to, and recover from winter storms

Winter storm header

Helpful guide to winter storms for businesses

Plans outlined for the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery

When there’s no immediate threat, that’s the time to take the steps outlined in this plan. These actions can help limit damage from winter storms on your business.

Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast is the first step in being prepared for a winter storm. If the risk of a catastrophic storm increases, that’s when businesses need to take steps to be prepared.

The snow is starting to pile up, and the wind and ice are making travel treacherous. Now is the time for businesses to fully implement their Emergency Response Plan.

When winter weather damages your property or otherwise interrupts your operations, companies should follow the steps in this recovery plan to help get back to business.

After winter storms strike: A recovery playbook for businesses
Nov 24, 2021

Blizzards, deep freezes and other winter events can pummel commercial businesses. These seven steps can help property owners recover from severe winter weather.

Extreme winter weather events can present unique challenges for commercial business owners. After you’ve responded to the immediate impacts of snow, ice and/or freezing temperatures, it’s time to take the steps that will help your business and property recover.

Unlike faster-moving weather events, winter storms can extend into days, not hours. Your business could also be at the mercy of back-to-back events, such as a polar vortex occurring after a blizzard, further impeding your progress. Here are some recovery tips from the Risk Engineers of Zurich Resilience Solutions.

1. Contact your insurance provider.

The first step to recovery after a storm is filing an insurance claim. Contact your insurance broker and/or insurance carrier and be ready to discuss your claim with an adjuster. Follow their guidance in terms of recording and reporting damages. Zurich North America customers can find information about filing a claim here.

2. Maintain communications with all stakeholders.

Depending on the severity of the winter conditions or a community’s readiness to respond, businesses may need to close shop for extended periods of time. It’s important to establish and maintain internal and external lines of communication, and update your messaging as needed. The greater the variety of communication channels, the better, because winter events can knock out some utilities and communication services.

Consider your different audiences:

  • Your employees: Share updates to displaced workers via channels such as your company website, text messages, social media and/or phone messages. Maintain contact with employees who have remained onsite to provide any supplies or resources they need.
  • Your insurance distributor and carrier: You likely called your insurance representatives to begin the claims process. But in addition to providing updates, don’t hesitate to ask for additional guidance as the recovery process continues. They have the experience and resources you may need.
  • Your customers and vendors: Update your website's homepage or blog to communicate with them. Social media and text messaging can help you keep your business connected. You may also want to record daily updates on your general phone line.
  • Local and federal governmental agencies: Contact them for support and information regarding regional protocols, updates and resources. The mobile app from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help you keep tabs on changing conditions and give you access to important resources for a variety of emergency and disaster scenarios.
  • Corporate management: As the recovery process continues, provide periodic updates on conditions and progress.

3. Document the damages from severe winter weather.

When it’s safe to travel, bring a fully charged smartphone and a backup camera to document conditions with photography and video. Consider a portable energy pack for your devices, too. Document damage to physical structures as well as inventory, supplies, furniture, contents, equipment and business losses from interruption. Remember to keep track of your expenses.

While visiting the site and recording damages, be mindful of the consequences of harsh winter weather and dress appropriately, especially in areas without heating. Also, never run a generator indoors. Here are tips from FEMA to help you recognize and respond to hypothermia and frostbite.

4. Plan and initiate repairs to your commercial property.

After you've filed a claim with your insurance provider and discussed the claim with an adjuster, consider what repairs may be needed. Depending on the extent of the damage, consider deploying additional staff from outside your impacted area to assist with the recovery. Also, promptly notify the contractors who it’s hoped you have already secured months earlier. Some things to note:

  • Establish repair priorities, including the building envelope, utilities and fire protection systems.
  • Always prioritize the protection of your recovery staff and maintain communication with them throughout the cleanup and recovery operations. Consider these winter-weather tips to keep workers safe from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • Begin the restoration process with essential equipment and systems, but only after they have been cleared for use by qualified personnel.
  • Continue to monitor conditions on walkways and keep areas clear of snow and ice.

Remember that even after the extreme weather has subsided, winter conditions may make it difficult to initiate repairs. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for companies across the U.S., including your vendors. Scheduling repairs may be more difficult due to reduced staffing and/or supply shortages. You may need to prioritize based on urgency and available resources.

5. Be realistic about reopening during severe winter conditions.

Perhaps it’s worth a reminder that fatalities from winter storms are rarely caused by the storm itself but instead attributable to car accidents, hypothermia and overextertion.1 Winter storms can create transportation challenges that put drivers at risk: Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet.2 Don’t put anyone in harm’s way by resuming business before it’s safe to travel.

6. Consider winter’s potential long-term effects to your property.

After your immediate response to the storm — clearing snow and ice, making swift repairs where needed, addressing issues with fire and security protection systems — bolster your property’s long-term resilience by following up and keeping tabs on any structural weaknesses that may occur. Snow loads and ice can compromise various parts of a building, including flashing and downspouts; subsequent temperature swings, especially extreme ones, can adversely affect a building’s foundation and walkways.

Your recovery to-do list may also extend into the warmer months: Before you use your air conditioning units, ensure that snow or build-up hasn’t damaged an outdoor unit.

7. Review your response to extreme winter conditions.

When your business is operating again, take some time to review your response and recovery processes. Where did you succeed and where was there room for improvement? Ask these questions in terms of your own preparation, the vendors you contracted with and any critical tasks you may have overlooked. This is particularly important for businesses in regions unaccustomed to winter’s extremes.

These recovery actions should be part of a fully developed winter Emergency Response Plan (ERP). The articles below detail the other three major components of an effective plan: mitigation, preparedness and immediate response. Taken together, they can provide your business with a path to reduced risks and faster recovery:

When a winter storm is over, risks still remain

Winter storm mitigation: How to weather the extremes of snow and cold

Winter storm preparation demands a focus on people, property and protection

The guidance in this article was provided by the Zurich Resilience Solutions (ZRS) Risk Engineering team.

1. “Severe Weather 101: Winter Safety Basics.” The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA National) Severe Weather Laboratory. Accessed November 2021.

2. “Snow and Ice.” U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. 20 February 2020.

The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise. Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.

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