With each passing season, community banks face weather-related hazards for which to prepare. With spring just a few weeks away, banks should prepare for the threat of potentially dangerous storms. While the costliest product of a thunderstorm is hail, the most violent storm is a tornado. In the United States alone, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes caused over $10 billion in property damage in 2015.
As the seasons begin to change, community banks can take this opportunity to look at measures that could help protect people, buildings and property before a storm potentially causes damage.
For a community bank, the building's roof is one of the primary causes for concern when a storm arrives. It is the first line of defense against most severe weather events. To ensure the roof is in good condition, have it inspected by a reputable professional and make appropriate repairs as needed. If your bank is in a part of the country that sees frequent hail storms, it is worth evaluating the need for a type of roof with a higher impact resistance rating.
Banks should be aware of any other potential property that could be exposed during storms. Assess the property for movable signs, furniture or fixtures vulnerable to hazardous high-winds. By planning ahead, you will know where to store these items if a storm is predicted. Having a severe weather plan in place can help you move quickly and be effective in preventing damage.
Additionally, you should review your community’s emergency evacuation plans and communicate them to your employees. Identify where the nearest safe shelter is located, whether on or off your property.
Monitor the weather to know if any precautionary steps need to be taken if an intense storm is approaching the area. In the case of many severe storms, technology typically allows for advance warning, and Doppler Radar can help determine the size of the hailstones. However, tornados may appear with little to no warning, so learning the signs of a tornado (hail, calm before the storm, an approaching cloud of debris) can help accelerate making decisions if a storm arises.
Community banks should be aware of the risks to customers and employees who are on the premises when a storm strikes. If you are aware that severe weather is approaching, notify employees of the situation and work with them to calmly inform customers of the pending storm.
In the case of hail, try to cover any outdoor property that could potentially sustain damage from hail. If it is an option, park any vehicles under a carport or in a garage. If the weather becomes so severe that employees and customers need to seek shelter within the bank, know where you can best protect them from the weather. Move everyone to a windowless interior space on the ground floor, or if possible, the basement. The vault may seem like a logical place to seek shelter, but there are issues to be addressed if you consider bringing people into the vault – such as the door locking from the outside, a potential lack of fresh air supply and of course, securing the cash inside. Additionally, a lack of cell phone service within the vault could hamper communication.
In the case of a tornado, follow emergency plans and remember that personal safety is most important. If you must evacuate the property, proceed immediately to a safe shelter and avoid automobiles and the open countryside. If there is no time to reach shelter, the lowest floor or a basement is the safest place to be. Small interior rooms, such as rest rooms or closets, are the next option. If possible, shelter should be taken under a sturdy piece of furniture or blanket to protect against flying debris. Most importantly, stay away from windows (which should be closed), doors and outside walls.
Once the storm has passed, evaluate the property for any damage. Use extreme caution when inspecting the property and keep the safety of your customers and employees a primary concern.
Do not enter a building that was affected by a tornado, as structural, electrical and other damage may not be apparent. Be cautious of any electrical equipment that may be damaged or wet, and avoid restoring power until all electrically charged components have been checked. Inspect the foundation and interior for structural damage, and determine whether the walls, ceiling and roof are in place.
After a hail storm, you can judge potential damage to the roof based on the size of the hailstones and the damage to shrubbery and landscaping. If the hailstones are smaller than a ping pong ball, most commercial roofs should escape damage. However if plants have been shredded by the hail, it is a safe bet that there could be damage to roofs or equipment mounted on the roof. Siding, screens and windows could also be affected by hail. Immediately clean up any broken glass from building or car windows, and cover any broken windows with plastic or a tarp. If you notice that hailstones have accumulated in walkways or in parking lots, try to clear a pathway to prevent slips and falls.
Following a storm, it is a good practice to have a contractor examine the building and have damages repaired as necessary. Be aware however, that anyone who goes door to door offering contracting services after a severe storm could potentially be unlicensed and uninsured.
When preparing for spring’s severe weather, remember that hail and tornados can be violent and costly. When the storm clouds roll in, be sure that your bank isn't caught unaware and unprepared.
For further information, please contact Craig Collins. Craig is the author of this article and serves as president of OneBeacon Financial Services.