Hurricane season is here. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 and the Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30. Preparation and safety training will ensure that waste and recycling companies are ready to respond to big storms.
By Will Flower

Big storms can happen anywhere and at any time. The damage in the wake of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters can create enormous volumes of waste. Municipalities and customers depend on the waste collection infrastructure to remove wastes and help communities get back on their feet.

Proper planning for storms should include steps to protect your people and assets. The planning should include steps to take before, during and after the storm to minimize damage to trucks and facilities while making sure your employees are safe and able to resume services.

Left: Low hanging branches and wires can present challenges for drivers of waste collection vehicles.
Right: Roadways may be blocked following hurricanes resulting in the need to adjust routes. Photos courtesy of Will Flower.

At the beginning of hurricane season safety professionals and managers should review and update emergency plans. As part of the pre-planning process, managers should update emergency contact information especially telephone numbers (home and mobile) for employees and key venders. The early planning process can also give managers a chance to check emergency supplies and restock as needed.

If you do not have a plan or want to update your plan, you can use a number of online resources to help develop or update emergency plans. Simple plans and templates can be found at and

Left: Large storms can cause large volumes of waste that need to be cleaned up. Workers should take extra precaution especially when there are wires tangled in downed trees.
Right: Neighborhoods and roadways may be flooded preventing waste collection until waters subside.

Storm Forecasting
Advancements in storm forecasting give meteorologists the ability to predict the path and timing of storms. When a hurricane or large storm 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 organization’s emergency plan and assign tasks and responsibilities.
• Update contact directories.
• Restock emergency preparedness kits.
• Back up computers and secure important documents.
• Prepare buildings and facilities. Clean drains and gutters. Store loose, lightweight objects inside that could become projectiles in high winds. Trim trees that are near 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 track the date, amount and purpose of the expense.
• Contact your insurance company for assistance if a claim is needed.

Have a Plan
Resuming waste collection services after a large storm event can be dangerous and employees must exercise extreme caution to avoid physical injury or death. Some of the biggest risks include downed power lines, fallen trees and flooded roadways. Drivers need to take precautions as routes may be blocked by debris, fallen trees, low hanging branches or wires. Maintenance mangers should anticipate and plan for a greater than normal number of flat tires due to debris on roadways.

Having a plan to address and respond to storms including hurricanes, floods and tornadoes is critical to every solid waste and recycling operation. The volume of waste following a big storm will be huge. As a result, workers should anticipate working extra hours in conditions that demand their complete attention during the clean-up effort. | WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 38 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.