Preparedness is key in hurricane-prone areas
03 NOVEMBER 2015 9:45 AM
Disaster vigilance is essential for many hotels, since the arrival of hurricanes and other major weather events is not a question of if, but rather, when.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—For hotels in weather disaster-prone areas, dealing with hurricanes and other acts of God are just part of doing business. That’s why stocking up for impending storms and securing buildings in advance of adverse weather events are necessities, as are procedures to direct and protect guests once the storm arrives.
Preparedness and hospitality remain the keys to navigating these situations, sources said.
Due to the general panic and disarray that often accompanies hurricanes and severe weather, hoteliers said planning in advance is the most vital strategy. That way, once the event is happening, less needs to be done to deal with issues as they arise.
“The most important thing is to do as much preparation as possible well in advance and when we’re approaching hurricane season,” said Chris Harvey, GM at the Crowne Plaza Charleston Airport & Convention Center in South Carolina.
“We make sure the emergency preparedness manuals are up to date and we have everything in physical paper form in case of power outages. We focus on the supplies we’ll need if we do lose power for two or three days: your necessities like flashlights, and making sure your generator has plenty of fuel and is working properly.
“If you wait until you’re in a hurricane watch or warning situation, you’re going to be scrambling around along with hundreds of other people trying to secure supplies. As much as we can do in advance and have a clearly outlined strategy, that’s what’s really going to make it simpler for us and our team,” Harvey said.
Calm before the storm
Part of preparedness involves getting as much early notice and updated information as possible.
While hoteliers generally keep updated themselves, some larger chains are also involved in communicating weather concerns system-wide.
For example, the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group has a central weather monitoring system in place that notifies all potentially affected hotels in the chain of pending severe weather. The brand’s natural disaster team then meets internally to orchestrate a chain-wide outreach to each hotel, taking a “better safe than sorry” approach.
“Hurricanes a lot of times don’t take the path they’re supposed to, so we ‘over call,’” said Chris Gernentz, Carlson Rezidor’s director of safety and security for the Americas. “We call all the hotels in the area or region and make sure we have good contact information and they understand if there’s a hotel status change, or if they get evacuated, or they turn into a shelter, that they’re communicating that information back to us. All of these hotels have emergency response plan templates they can use, including hurricane program templates that are all available on our internal website.”
When faced with an oncoming hurricane or other weather event, operators typically begin by securing the property from potential damage. Only then can staff manage the interior of the hotel, shifting focus on keeping guests calm and content while waiting out the storm.
“We’re going to try to look at things that might damage the outside of the building, windblown items and rainwater,” said Jeremy Buffam, director of design and construction for New Castle Hotels & Resorts. “It could be trash cans, pool furniture, tree limbs; whatever would be potential projectiles. We’ll try to either move those indoors or tie them down.
“Then, when it comes to the rain, we try to stay on top of the building envelope as part of general maintenance, but we pay a little more attention to it as storms approach. We’ll try to do a quick look at the roof and other areas where you’ll have potential exposure for water or flooding.”
Keeping guests safe
When it appears the storm’s arrival is inevitable, hoteliers suggest calling upcoming guests in advance in an effort to encourage them to change travel plans and avoid the region until the weather has cleared. This puts less strain on the hotel once the storm hits, while keeping that guest safe at home.
Operators also should plan which employees will be on-site during the storm, making arrangements for them to temporarily stay at the property if necessary, sources said.
Staff should strive to keep the guests who do remain on-site calm and informed, moving them to safe areas like hallways or higher ground as needed.
In the event of an evacuation, many state or local authorities take jurisdiction, sources said. For hoteliers, it’s mostly a matter of working with those authorities as directed. Communities in hurricane-sensitive areas or similarly weather-prone locations generally prepare for these events as a matter of course.
“In the coastal communities, every single one of them is going to have an evacuation plan and route for the city and county to get away from the shore as efficiently as possible,” said Harvey. “We follow that and provide that information. The upside, if there is one with a hurricane, is that it doesn’t come out of nowhere. You typically have several days leading up to it, where you’re watching it and seeing it approach and seeing if it’s going to become a major impact to your area.”
Weathering the storm
In other areas outside the U.S. such as the Caribbean, an evacuation can be much more difficult—if even possible. Buildings there often are constructed with hurricanes in mind. Guests and staff might be better weathering the storm inside the hotel, rather than venturing outside to leave the area, sources said.
“An evacuation in the Caribbean is not a good thing, because where are you going to go? You can’t fly or drive, and in a lot of places there’s not anywhere else to go other than maybe higher ground,” said .
“For them, it’s evacuation in place: Going to higher floors, or going to rooftops if you can get there. Most of those properties have scenario drills where they’ll make sure those areas will stay clear and they can handle people.”
As for insurance, generally the property owner is responsible for ensuring the hotel has adequate coverage. While this is assumed for independent operators, it is important to note that franchised brands also defer to owners on this point.
Operators should expect little, if any, insurance guidance from the franchisor, sources said.
“There is some light guidance through the operational branch standards as far as what their minimums are, but when you get into very high storm areas where the chances of it happening are more, it gets a little tough,” said Gernentz. “I can only advise so far with that.”