A preparedness plan to address storms including hurricanes, floods and tornadoes is critical to every solid waste and recycling operation. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. The Pacific hurricane season runs May 15 to November 30. However, big storms can happen anywhere and at any time. Be prepared.
By Will Flower

Hurricane season is here and the unpredictable forces of Mother Nature during a big storm can wreak havoc on businesses and communities. While hurricanes form over water, they can eventually make landfall with the power to extend hundreds of miles inland. Potential threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, flooding and tornadoes, which can disrupt solid waste collection programs.

Planning for storms allows organizations to respond in an effective and timely manner in an effort to minimize the damage and downtime of people and operations. Proper planning will provide guidance to managers for identifying and assigning key emergency roles and responsibilities to ensure that orderly and actionable steps are being taken to respond to the specific emergencies. Be prepared for large storm events by following these steps.

At the Beginning of Hurricane Season

  • Review and update emergency plans. If you do not have a plan, go to www.ready.gov and www.fema.gov to view resources to guide you in developing one.
  • Update emergency contact information especially telephone numbers (home and mobile).
  • Make sure employees are aware of evacuation routes and emergency assembly/staging areas.
  • Inventory non-perishable emergency supplies and restock as needed.

When a Hurricane is Forecasted

  • Meteorologists are usually able to track hurricanes and provide details on the projected path and timing of the storm. If a hurricane is forecasted to threaten your area, take the following actions
  • Remind employees to prepare their home and to get food and water sufficient for at least three days, medications, flashlights, batteries, cash and first aid supplies.
  • Review the emergency plan and assign tasks and responsibilities.
  • Restock the emergency preparedness kit.
  • Back up computers and secure important documents.
  • Prepare building and facilities. Declutter drains and gutters. Store loose, lightweight objects inside that could become projectiles in high winds. Secure objects that would be unsafe to bring inside (e.g., propane tanks). Trim trees close enough to fall on buildings. Cover windows.
  • Review insurance policies.
  • Move vehicles and rolling stock to a safe and secure area (high ground)
  • Keep vehicle fuel tanks full.
  • Keep cell phones charged.
  • Monitor weather updates and emergency instructions.

During a Storm

  • Find safe shelter and protect yourself from high winds and flooding.
  • Listen for emergency information and alerts. Evacuate if told to do so.
  • Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters.
  • Make sure the storm has fully passed before emerging from shelter.

Following the Storm

  • Check on employees and assess property damage to buildings, equipment and facilities.\
  • Follow the emergency response plan as necessary to respond to the aftermath of the storm.
  • Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away.
  • If power is out, only use generators outdoors and away from windows.
  • Document all property damage with photographs and record expenses incurred before, during and after the storm. Keep receipts and tracking the date, amount and purpose of the expense.
  • Contact your insurance company for assistance if a claim is needed.

It is important to remember that resuming solid waste services after a large storm event can be dangerous. Employees must exercise extreme caution to avoid physical injury or death. Employees should be reminded to:

  • Wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Be extra careful and watch for low hanging branches and wires. Do not touch wires or electrical equipment.
  • Report damage in their work area to a manager.
  • Avoid driving or wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge the water.


The volume of waste following a storm will be enormous. If possible, crews should work in teams to safely manage the excessive volume. Finally, managers will need to remain flexible and use their best judgment following a large-scale storm event to reestablish operations and assist the community in the clean up effort.
Next month’s safety tip will focus on summer safety tips.

Will Flower is the Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 36 years of experience in the area of solid waste management and environmental protection. He has held operational and executive leadership positions at the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc., Republic Services. Inc. and Green Stream Recycling.

Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at will@wintersbros.com.

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