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Tornado tips for businesses

When tornadoes strike, businesses can suffer. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), a large percentage of tornadoes occur between 3 and 6 p.m., when most people are at work. The III says about 1,200 tornadoes with wind speeds as high as 300 mph touch down in the United States each year.

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In 2007, there were 81 deaths due to tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. Among those, 10 were in businesses. (By comparison, 52 of the deaths were in mobile homes and 16 were in permanent homes.) There are steps that business owners and employees can take to prevent injury and damage, according to III.

Before a tornado strikes

  • Conduct annual emergency drills to familiarize employees with the layout of the building. Select the safest place for you and your employees to hide and make sure everyone knows this location in advance of a tornado.
  • Keep supplies of blankets, batteries and flashlights handy. Have cell phones fully charged.
  • Use a battery-powered weather radio with a tone-alert feature to keep you informed of watches and warnings issued in your area. Listen to the latest forecasts and take necessary action if threatening weather is possible. Stay alert for tornado watches (conditions in a given area that make a tornado likely) and tornado warnings (notices that a tornado has actually been spotted).
  • Make a list of items to bring inside in the event of a storm. Having a list will help you remember things that may be broken or blown away by strong winds, such as garbage cans.
  • Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. You can make trees more wind-resistant by removing diseased or damaged limbs.

During a tornado

  • Go to the safest places to wait out the storm — usually the basement or a tornado shelter.
  • If you have no cellar or basement, take shelter in a small room in the center of your business on the lowest floor. A restroom, closet, office or maintenance room would be the safest area.
  • Do not use elevators for shelter. If the building loses power, you may be trapped in the elevator for a long time. Protect yourself from flying debris; wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets, if possible.
  • If your business is located in a high-rise building and you can't get to a basement, go to interior hallway areas and stay away from glass walls and windows, no matter how small.
  • Structures with wide-span roofs, such as auditoriums, theaters and warehouses, are particularly vulnerable, and should be avoided.

After a tornado

  • If re-entering a building, use extreme caution, as moving through debris presents further hazards.
  • Watch for loose plaster, drywall and ceilings that could fall.
  • Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.

Tornado consequences

Your business insurance policy will cover damage to your business property and equipment. Also consider adding extra coverage for business interruption, in case you ever needed to close up shop for a while to recover from a disaster. In addition, extra expense coverage will pay for the costs of relocating or leasing equipment while repairs are underway.

The III notes that 25 percent of businesses never open their doors again after closing down due to a disaster. To avoid that fate, consider a disaster recovery plan for your business. The Institute for Business & Home Safety has a downloadable Disaster Planning Toolkit to help you organize your plan.

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