5 Ways to Prepare Your Facility for a Hurricane

Facilities have special waste issues that can create a unique set of challenges for management when a storm hits. With some foresight and a few easy steps, the potential for a hazardous waste incident can be averted.

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Racing flood waters in Ellicott City, Maryland

The Atlantic hurricane season is upon us and September and October typically mark the most active period of the storm season.  NOAA is predicting a quieter season than usual, given the current meteorological trends, but that doesn’t mean a facility can take things for granted.  Even if the United States manages to make it through the season without landfall of a major hurricane (category 3 or greater), weak hurricanes and tropical storms can cause major problems.

For most facilities, water poses the greatest threat.  In coastal and low-lying areas, cyclonic storms pump a large volume of water that can overwhelm storm drains and water control systems.  In areas that are close to or even below sea-level, water can infiltrate an area in a number of ways.  The storm surge can raise the ocean level by several feet, often pushing sea water over barriers like dunes, jetties and sea walls.  With a gallon of water weighing about 8.35 lbs., even stagnant water puts incredible pressure on doors or windows.  For example, still water that is two feet deep puts almost 35 foot-pounds of constant pressure on a door.  If that water is flowing at about 10 mph, the force on the door multiplies to a devastating 491 foot-pounds of pressure– more than enough to take the door off its hinges.

Of course, inland areas are also susceptible to flooding.  And often the topography of inland regions include hills, mountains and bodies of water that contribute to the devastation that comes with a deluge.  Water gets directed by existing features like rivers, streets, buildings and trees, and builds up great velocity and tremendous force.  One need only look back at the devastation flood waters have caused in places like Ellicott City, MD and Columbia, SC.

So, how does a facility that produces some common hazardous waste prepare for potential flooding?

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Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina communities 150 miles or more inland
  1. Know where your facility stands.  Contact FEMA and find out if your facility is in or near a known flood zone.  The Army Corps of Engineers works with FEMA to designate flood zones and continually update their determinations based on changes to local waterways and controls.
  2. Elevate your storage.  If your facility is in a location that might be susceptible to flooding, do not store hazardous waste in the basement.  Water will always find its way to the lowest point possible.  If storing hazardous waste on the ground floor, consider utilizing risers, pallets or shelving to elevate the containers.  Lifting cartons of spent fluorescent bulbs even just a few inches above the floor may be enough to let flood waters flow without carrying the waste off.
  3. Compact and compress your waste.  If allowed in your area, consider compacting any and all waste being held on your property.  Bales of corrugated cardboard are far less likely to be swept up by rising waters.  A drum top bulb crusher like the Bulb Eater 3® converts waste bulbs from air-tight, mercury-containing tubes capable of floating away to inert, crushed glass in steel drums—not likely to migrate with water.
  4. Arrange for pick-up.  Obviously, this option isn’t always available, but if at all possible, contact your hazardous waste handler or TerraCycle and schedule an emergency pick-up.  Getting the hazardous waste off your property is the best way to prevent any incidents.
  5. Keep it inside.  If hazardous waste is being held in a temporary structure like a shed, consider moving it to a more robust shelter.  A shipping container or trailer is good, a reinforced building is better.

The forces of nature have made folly of man’s creations on countless occasions.  Wind can pull the roof off a structure and uproot trees.  Flood waters can wash out entire neighborhoods.  But by taking some reasonable precautions, the likelihood of a facility suffering not just the damage brought by a tropical storm or hurricane, but the additional dangers of hazardous waste exposure can be mitigated easily. 

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