School Weather Disaster Recovery: How to Recover from Black Swan Weather Events for K-12 Schools & Higher Education Facilities
As explained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 50 million children are enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., and more than one-quarter of the nation's population is made up of children. At the same time, the prevalence of natural disasters, specifically weather disasters, is increasing.
A black swan weather event refers to storms that have grown in intensity beyond expectations as a result of climate change. These events include severe storms in the Mid-West, hurricanes and winter blizzards. As explained by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes is expected to continue to increase, contributing to a 15-percent rise in average rainfall for each 2-degree increase of Celsius global temperatures.
Black Swan weather events pose a high risk for K-12 schools. Facilities Managers need to understand the role of school weather disaster recovery and how to reduce the adverse impact of these events as their severity grows worse in light of climate change.
Poor Preparedness Amounts to Costly, Lengthy School Disaster Recovery.
Poor preparedness or an inability to plan for black swan weather events in K-12 schools and higher education facilities has a direct link to increased costs and length of recovery. Risk of permanent injury and death exists, but schools that take the time to plan for black swan weather events and develop a school weather disaster recovery plan can work to minimize the impact of these events.
Planning for Black Swan Weather Events Must Include a Recovery Plan of Action
There are countless ways to prepare for a disaster, but any plan must include a step-by-step guide on recovery. According to the National Weather Service, during an event, the go-to best practice for weather-related black swan events is to put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible. Once the storm passes, the real work begins, including a comprehensive review of actions taken, damage, evacuation, restoration of facilities and reopening of the school.
Leading Practices in Recovery From Black Swan Weather in K-12 and Higher Education Facilities
The go-to steps to recovering from a severe storm involve understanding how the storm affected faculty, students, the building, its assets and ability to educate students. Depending on the extent of the damage, recovery can take weeks, if not months, and recent reopening of schools along the East Coast after Hurricane Florence, 1.5 months after the storm struck, demonstrate the effect that poor management of recovery can have. Instead of getting lost, schools should follow these steps to develop a successful plan for school weather disaster recovery:
- Know your facility’s key features such as all assets as well as the asset models’ equipment brand names, layout, infrastructure and more.
- Have a written plan to follow.
- Address structural integrity.
- Handle routing of students to alternate sites.
- Handle moving of important, non-damaged assets for temporary use.
- Stay in contact with parents, news outlets and students regarding status.
- Contact all appropriate field service vendors.
- Determine the funds available for repairs.
- Prioritize repairs.
- Complete contracts with vendors to determine time-to-reopening.
- Ensure materials and supplies used do not pose an additional hazard.
- Remember air quality during and after repairs are completed.
- Address wiring, plumbing and HVAC systems.
- Track performance of field service vendors.
- Verify the quality of work performed.
- Reassess the facility for overlooked problems.
- Reassure students, parents and community members about the building’s renovations/recovery efforts.
- Connect with students and faculty to reduce mental stress.
- Look for ways to save money on future facility needs, including outsourcing.
- Develop a better plan for handling damage from water, wind, hail and other types of severe weather.
- Educate and train for the next storm response and recovery with faculty and students.
- Never stop improving!