How Hurricane Categories Can Help Businesses Prepare for Damage

Scary Stormy Background With Big Sea Wave Splash Against City Road

With hurricane season just days away, it’s time for businesses to start preparing for potential impact. The first line of defense in protecting your people and assets is understanding how a hurricane’s category level can help your business prepare appropriately.

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. Their mission: develop a simple scale to measure hurricane intensity and the potential damage storms of varying strength could cause 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 1-5, with 5 being the most intense—a storm of this magnitude will leave behind catastrophic damage in its wake.Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale

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 some understanding of a storm’s intensity is crucial to safeguarding your business and providing your people with relevant hurricane communications.

The effects of a hurricane to commercial and residential properties can include:

  • Structural damage: wind, storm surge, flooding, and debris
  • Operational disruptions: power outages, closed roadways, and communication issues
  • Financial loss: extended interruption to business continuity
  • Injury or loss of life: preparation is key to minimizing casualties

The following scale breaks down hurricanes by their sustained wind speeds and the damage each category can potentially unleash. These classifications can be viewed as a guide to help businesses brace for impact in the event of a storm.

Sizing up Hurricaneshurricane categories

TROPICAL STORM : Minor damage, though extreme flooding can occur

Before a storm officially becomes a hurricane, it starts off as a tropical depression in the Atlantic Ocean, the tropics, or the subtropics. A depression can quickly morph into a tropical storm with a closed circulation and heavy rains that swirl in bands.

While the damage resulting from a tropical storm is typically minor, businesses should still treat them with caution. If a tropical storm moves slowly over a heavily populated area 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 over $8.5 billion in damage. While not as fierce as a hurricane, every tropical storm should be viewed as a potential crisis.

Emergency Notification Message: Proactively warn employees about an incoming tropical storm to raise awareness and warn against possible flooding and office closures. A mass notification system helps employers effectively reach their their entire workforce with relevant messaging.

CATEGORY 1 HURRICANE : Some damage will occur

If a tropical storm intensifies, it can reach wind gusts that result in its classification as an official hurricane. Although a 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 outages due to downed power lines and damage to poles.

Emergency Notification Message: 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 : Extensive damage will occur

A business in the path of a Category 2 storm can expect to see major roof damage to their building or structure. Because many trees with shallow roots will be uprooted, road closures will become a major hindrance to business operations.

Emergency Notification Message: Despite a Category 2 hurricane being on the lesser end of the scale, these storms can cause a significant hit to business continuity. Many employees won’t be able to navigate roadways due to fallen trees/debris. Near total power outage can be expected, often lasting several days to weeks.

This level hurricane is life-threatening due to potential flooding, storm surge if your business is coastal, and flying debris. Your people need to be made aware of impending danger and instructed to either stay indoors or evacuate (based on guidance from weather specialists).

CATEGORY 3 HURRICANE : Devastating damage will occur

A Category 3 storm is considered a major hurricane that will result in significant damage. If you’re in the path of a Category 3 hurricane, alerting your employees early is crucial to ensuring their safety. This size storm 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.

Emergency Notification Message: Your employees should heed the advice of weather specialists (likely to evacuate or stay indoors), stock up on water, and equip their homes with supplies necessary to cope without power for an extended period of time. Understanding how to communicate during a hurricane and notifying your people early is crucial to ensuring employee safety.

CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE : Catastrophic damage will occur

Put simply, if your business or residence is in the path of a Category 4 hurricane—be alarmed. These mega storms are deadly, costly, and will wreak havoc on any region they move through. They 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 catastrophic flooding. It ended up causing $125 billion in damage, tying Hurricane Katrina as the costliest hurricane on record.

Emergency Notification Messaging: Act fast. If you find yourself in the path of a Category 4 hurricane, employee safety should be your top priority. Your people will need to be informed in the event of an evacuation, which could be mandatory depending on how vulnerable the area is.

Regardless of category size, you’ll want to make use of a central hub or “Event Page,” 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 : Catastrophic damage will occur

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 industrial buildings in its path.

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 of 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. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that businesses and residents prepare ahead of time for a storm of this magnitude by doing the following:

  • 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 assessment.
  • Invest in a reliable emergency notification system: The Department of Homeland Security reminds people that prompt notification can save lives.

Emergency Notification Messaging: 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.

Again, 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.

Keep Your People Aware

Whether your business is in the path of a small tropical storm or a category five 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 properties of storms. Forecasters 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 that 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 hurricane messaging across devices and through all phases of a storm.

Looking for help communicating during a hurricane? Download our free communication templates!