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Hurricane Preparedness for Hotels: 4 Essential Steps to Keep Your Property Safe

If you avoid spending some extra cash now, you could be forced to spend astronomically more in a crisis.

Hurricanes can be some of the more destructive natural disasters, and they’re becoming increasingly more common.

In fact, out of the 10 most costly hurricane seasons from the last century, half are from the last six years. Hurricanes are predicted to get more devastating every year. These wild storms aren’t cheap. Hurricane Ian in 2022 is the third most costly in U.S. history, causing $114 billion in damage.

But there’s something even more valuable that can be lost: human lives. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 had the largest number of deaths from a hurricane in Texas since 1919. Hotel staff member Jill Renick was one of those casualties – and her death could’ve been prevented.

According to the lawsuit filed by Renick’s estate, the Omni Houston Hotel did not prepare for flooding. That lack of planning, and proper communication, may have had a role in Renick’s death. The 48-year-old was the hotel’s spa director and was spending the night on August 27 when around 5:15 a.m. another staff member asked her to “come downstairs.” The family’s attorney said that call came with no additional context, just the request to come downstairs.

Naturally, Renick stepped into the elevator to make her way down. The lawsuit states that the elevator shafts and basement were flooding in that moment, yet no one informed Renick. It also states that “elevators weren’t disabled, nor were they barricaded to prevent passengers from entering.” Allegedly, she could be heard screaming for help by people on the first floor. Her body was found in the basement 10 days later.

Proper hurricane and flooding protocols could prevent tragedies like this going forward.

Here’s how you can start to prepare and do your best to avoid any sort of loss.

1. Evacuation plans

Hotels should collaborate with local authorities to develop thorough evacuation plans to ensure the safe and systematic evacuation of guests and staff. Clear evacuation routes and procedures should be established and posted throughout the property. Staff should also be put through regular drills, especially if your hotel is located in a hurricane-prone area. This will ensure your staff members are ready to tackle emergency situations to the best of their ability. Hotels should also designate an emergency management team responsible for coordinating responses and ensuring clear communication among all departments.

Educated leaders can make a crucial difference in emergency situations.

2. Communication

Hotels need to establish effective communication plans to keep guests informed about any updates or emergency instructions before, during, and after a hurricane. This could include mass notification systems and updated websites and social media platforms.

It’s also essential to establish a pre-planned hierarchy or roles amongst staff members so everyone knows which actions they should take when facing a hurricane. Clear roles can eliminate employee scrambling which will keep everyone safe and calm.

For a tool you can start using today, take a look at this straightforward planning sheet provided by the Florida government.

3. Building structure

Hotels should invest in proper building structures that are able to withstand a hurricane’s destructive abilities. Make sure you take this into account if you’re currently building your new business. If your building is already constructed, tearing it apart to implement new infrastructures may not be an option – but it doesn’t have to be so extreme.

You can instead reinforce existing structures and install storm shutters or impact-resistant glass to protect windows. Adequate drainage systems should be in place to prevent flooding, and generators and backup power systems should be installed on the property. Regular inspections and maintenance should be a high priority so that any malfunctioning or broken fixtures don’t put you, your staff, and your guests are risk during a hurricane.

Strong infrastructure can help protect everyone inside and can also limit the amount of physical damage your hotel will face once the storm has passed.

4. Stock up on emergency supplies

Hotels should stock up on emergency supplies so that they’re able to take care of guests during and after a hurricane. Supplies may include bottled water, non-perishable food items, flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, and blankets.

In addition to these necessities, hotels should have reliable communication equipment available, like two-way radios or walkie-talkies. These devices can facilitate communication among staff members during emergency situations when phone lines might be disrupted.