How to Weather the Storm

While there’s no way to completely protect an operation from a hurricane, foodservice operators can take some steps to limit the damage to their business and equipment.

Over the past year-plus, the United States has been hit by four major Hurricanes: Florence, Harvey, Irma and Maria. The estimate for total property damage from these storms is more than $300 billion.

If a massive storm bears down, obviously foodservice operators can do little to stop their places from adding to that tally. A few actions, however, can limit the damage and make recovery faster and easier.

The most basic step is common sense. Flooding causes the most hurricane damage, not high winds. Look for tools and equipment than can move off the ground and away from floodwaters. While it’s not feasible to put a large reach-in refrigerator or oven/range combo up on a work table, operators can move smaller pieces like food processors, can openers and even undercounter refrigerators up high. The cost to replace these pieces can add up quickly. By saving them, operators can save themselves money when they most need it.

Beyond that first step, prepping the building’s utilities for the storm should be operators’ top concern. While water lines aren’t an issue, both gas and electrical lines do represent concerns.

According to Edward Phillips, regional manager for Lexington, S.C.-based Whaley Foodservice, operators should unplug anything electrical. If possible, also shut power off to the facility at the main circuit breaker. These steps will help stop power surges from damaging equipment.

There may be some resistance to cutting the power, Phillips says, but logically it makes sense. “A lot of people will hesitate [to turn the electricity off] because they're worried about food being lost. But when we’re talking about a disaster, they're going to lose power anyway. Doing it ahead of time and being prepared is beneficial.”

At this point, operators should also consider cleaning out their refrigeration units before the storm hits, Phillips adds. Again, tossing out good food may seem wasteful, but by getting rid of it before it spoils, the cleanup will be quicker and easier, not to mention much less disgusting.

With respect to shutting the gas lines, says Phillips, the reason why is less intuitive. During a flood, loose items get tossed around by the water. In a professional kitchen, one of these loose items can easily bump into and break a gas line. If the gas is not shut off when this happens, the building can fill up with gas, easily leading to a devastating fire.

Operators should take these steps in a timely manner, Phillips adds. “We would definitely say follow the local authorities’ recommendations. When they say get out, get out. Don't try to do this as the hurricane is approaching.”

If operators do follow these recommendations, that doesn’t mean they can simply turn the utilities back on once the water recedes, cautions Phillips. Clean and inspect electric-powered equipment, especially, before attempting a restart. “One reason is the safety aspect,” he says, “in case there has been some water and debris is in the electrical components. We don't want anyone to get shocked. Second is just the equipment aspect. When you get it opened up and dried out and verified it's okay, you have a lot smaller chance of shorting out some very expensive components.”

A disaster like a hurricane simply isn’t avoidable. Many operations can take a year or more to rebuild. But by taking a few common sense precautions to safeguard buildings and equipment, operators can greatly reduce the burden of a starting over.