Understand Hurricane Categories to Prepare Your Business for Damage
Understanding the different hurricane categories and what they mean can help you prepare your business for hurricanes of any size.
Once again, Atlantic hurricane season has arrived, which means it’s time for businesses to start preparing for potential impact. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a near-normal season, but that still means there may be one or more severe storms with disastrous effects.
The first line of defense in protecting your people and assets is a preparedness plan that takes into account the five hurricane categories. But first, a quick history lesson:
In the 1970s, Miami engineer Herbert Saffir teamed up with Robert Simpson, the director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Their mission: develop a simple scale to measure hurricane intensity and the potential damage storms of varying strength could cause to residential and business structures.
The result is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which assigns a category level to storms based on their sustained wind speeds. The scale ranks every hurricane from 1 to 5, with Category 5 being the most intense—a storm of this magnitude will leave behind catastrophic damage in its wake.
But what impact can a business expect from a Category 2 storm versus a Category 4? And how should management adjust messaging to employees based on the severity of any given hurricane? Having an understanding of a storm’s intensity is crucial to safeguarding your business and providing your people with relevant hurricane communications and potentially lifesaving information. Here’s what you need to know.
What Damage Do Hurricanes Cause?
The effects of a hurricane on commercial and residential properties can include:
- Structural damage like lost shingles, roofing, and siding damage; shattered windows; and even building destruction due to wind, storm surge, flooding, and debris
- Operational disruptions like power outages, closed roadways, and communication issues
- Financial loss as a result of extended interruptions to business continuity
- Injury or loss of life
Hurricane Categories and Potential Damage
Hurricanes—and the strong tropical storms leading up to them—are broken down into categories based on their sustained wind speeds, using the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, and the potential property damage each category can unleash. These classifications serve as a guide to help businesses brace for impact in the event of a storm.
Since each hurricane category poses different levels of potential damage, specific messaging is required in each case to best prepare your employees. Using a mass notification system can help you effectively reach your entire workforce with relevant messaging in a timely manner. We’ve included recommendations for how to inform your teams in the event of each hurricane category.
Tropical depression and tropical storm events
Before a storm officially becomes a hurricane, it starts off as a tropical depression in the Atlantic Ocean, the tropics, or the subtropics. A tropical depression can quickly morph into a tropical storm with a closed circulation and heavy rains that swirl in bands.
Minor damage, but extreme flooding can occur
While the damage resulting from a tropical storm is typically minor, it is still necessary to exercise caution. If a tropical storm moves slowly over heavily populated zones like business or residential areas for an extended period of time, flooding can quickly lead to major damage and loss of life.
In fact, this exact scenario took place when Tropical Storm Allison hovered over southeast Texas in June of 2001. The storm stalled over Houston, dumping torrential rainfall and ultimately causing more than $8.5 billion in damage. While not as fierce as a hurricane, every tropical storm should be viewed as a potential crisis.
Tropical depression/storm emergency communications
Proactively warn employees about an incoming tropical storm to raise awareness and warn against possible flooding and office closures.
Category 1 hurricane
If a tropical storm intensifies, it can reach wind gusts that amount to an official hurricane classification. With a Category 1 hurricane, winds will reach 74–95 MPH and storm surge can reach up to 5 feet.
Some damage will occur
Although Category 1 is the weakest level hurricane, it can still wreak havoc on any area in its path. Even well-constructed frame homes and buildings could suffer roof and structural damage. Tree branches are likely to snap, and shallow-rooted trees could be uprooted. Businesses can expect power outages due to downed power lines and damage to poles.
Category 1 hurricane emergency communications
Warn your people about the incoming hurricane to raise awareness. Let them know of possible office closures and follow up with a status check-in to ensure safety or additional needs.
Category 2 hurricane
Anyone in the path of a Category 2 storm can expect to see winds reaching 110 MPH and storm surge up to 8 feet.
Moderate-to-extensive damage will occur
These intensifying storms can cause a significant hit to business continuity. Major roof damage is a possibility. Because of fallen trees and debris, road closures may hinder employees and first responders from navigating roadways. Near-total power loss can be expected, often lasting several days to weeks.
This level of hurricane is also life-threatening due to potential flooding, storm surge if your business is coastal, and flying debris.
Category 2 hurricane emergency communications
Make your people aware of impending danger and instructions to either stay indoors or evacuate (based on guidance from weather specialists).
Category 3 hurricane
A Category 3 storm is considered a major hurricane that will result in significant damage. Very dangerous winds will reach up to 130 MPH and storm surge can hit 12 feet.
Devastating damage will occur
If you’re in the path of a Category 3 hurricane, you will see extensive and potentially deadly damage. This storm level will uproot trees, completely destroy roofs, and render large areas without power for anywhere from days to weeks.
Hurricane Sandy was a Category 3 at its peak. It ended up taking the lives of 233 people across the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. The storm caused a total of $68.7 billion in damage — the second-costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. at the time.
Category 3 hurricane emergency communications
Alert your employees early. Outline the advice of weather specialists (likely instructions to either evacuate or stay indoors), as well as advice to stock up on water and supplies necessary to cope without power for an extended period of time.
Category 4 hurricane
Put simply, if your business or residence is in the path of a Category 4 hurricane — be alarmed. These mega-storms have winds up to 155 MPF and storm surge reaching 18 feet. They are deadly, costly, and will wreak havoc on any region they move through.
Catastrophic damage will occur
Category 4 hurricanes can not only dislodge entire roofs but also topple the walls of structures, cause catastrophic flooding, and result in widespread power outages that can last months.
Impacted areas could be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm when it first made landfall on San José Island, Texas. Although the storm had weakened by the time it hit Houston, it stalled over the heavily populated metro area for two days producing severe flooding. It ended up causing $125 billion in damage, tying Hurricane Katrina as the costliest hurricane on record. Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm in 2022. It caused an estimated $113 billion in total U.S. damage, and it is the costliest storm in Florida’s history.
Category 4 hurricane emergency communications
Act fast. If any of your employees are in the path of a Category 4 hurricane, their safety should be your immediate priority. Inform your people in the event of an evacuation, which could be mandatory depending on how vulnerable the area is.
Make use of a central hub or Event Page (suitable for any hurricane level), which an emergency notification solution should provide. These pages serve as a valuable resource during an unfolding event where a business can post disaster updates, upload videos/photos, and communicate a recovery plan.
Category 5 hurricane
If a business or residence is in the path of a Category 5 hurricane, a mandatory evacuation will likely be issued. Currently the highest level a hurricane can be ranked, a Category 5 can completely destroy homes and even well-built industrial buildings in its path.
Catastrophic damage will occur
Coastal regions will see most structures essentially leveled or damaged beyond repair. Loss of life will likely be significant and far-reaching due to extreme winds, storm surge, catastrophic flooding, flying debris, and structural failure.
Hurricane Andrew — which devastated South Florida in late August 1992 — made landfall as a Category 5 storm. Andrew ended up leaving an estimated 250,000 homeless and caused a total of $27.4 billion in damage.
While advance preparation is critical for all hurricanes, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends the following for a storm of this magnitude:
- Build a disaster supply kit: Plan as if you’re going to be cut off from resources for an extended period of time.
- Develop an emergency response plan: These “protective actions for life safety” include running drills, mapping out evacuation routes, and conducting risk assessments.
- Invest in a reliable emergency notification system: The Department of Homeland Security reminds people that prompt notification can save lives.
Category 5 hurricane emergency communications
Be explicit. Inform staff to begin planning for evacuation immediately. Brace for an extended office closure and major operational disruptions. Protecting your people is imperative for your organization to fulfill its duty of care.
Having a reliable, two-way emergency communication system in place will allow you to keep tabs on your employees before, during, and after the storm.
A central hub or “Event Page” is also crucial to keeping your people safe and providing peace of mind throughout any critical event. Recovery will likely be long and costly. But the more prepared everyone is, the smoother the process will be.
Stay Safe During a Hurricane With Effective Communication
Whether your business is in the path of a small tropical storm or a Category 5 hurricane, you need a quick and easy way to keep your people safe, informed, and connected.
You also need a way to monitor approaching storms as they evolve. Hurricane categories are not static predictions. Forecasters and meteorologists do their best to predict how storms are going to progress, but a storm’s outlook can change in a matter of hours. Using a threat monitoring system will ensure that you stay on top of any new developments in approaching storms as they occur.
AlertMedia is the leader in emergency mass notifications and local threat monitoring. AlertMedia combines up-to-the-minute threat monitoring with two-way messaging, an intuitive user interface, and 24/7 customer support — so you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared if a storm is heading your way.
As a hurricane approaches, you won’t have a minute to spare. Having pre-set messaging in place will alleviate stress and ultimately help protect your people. AlertMedia’s hurricane templates provide businesses with effective messaging across devices and through all phases of a storm.