When a natural disaster strikes, there's usually little to do except wait until it's safe to return. Preparing in advance provides facility managers the best outcome to nail down any property needs. But lack of preparation is no excuse for a sudden storm to catch you unawares.

Facility managers are in a unique situation when planning for post-storm returns and assessments. While many are on the evacuation path, facility managers are a bit like first responders regarding the health of their buildings.

While most people run, facility managers return to the scene as soon as they can to assess damage and potential safety hazards.

No matter the size of the natural event, the results might be devastating. Things are likely to be chaotic.

Thus, safety precautions are necessary so that the property is ready for safe reentry of employees and customers. As you inspect your buildings, there are a few things to consider, the most pressing of which we've noted below.

Assess the facility

The priority is connecting with local emergency management to understand what to expect upon your return. Upon approach, keep a close eye on damage to the structures and vegetation.

Steer clear of high water on the roadways, which can hide debris and can sweep away vehicles. Once on the property, watch for downed power lines, damage to the buildings, and any retention walls and fencing. If there is water standing nearby, disconnect the power, or engage the services of an electrician to do so.

Take photos and gather information about the required vendors or technicians you'll need to support fixes and renovations. Begin this process as soon as possible.

Address primary concerns

After a disaster, water may be pooled, especially in flood conditions or after a hurricane. Any gathered water may contain contaminants and bacteria.

If this water has polluted the facility's water systems, these likely need to be flushed. Broken water lines or pipes need replacement. If you didn't turn off the main water before the storm, do so now during your assessment.

If the power grid has failed and a generator is necessary, follow operator guidelines and only run the machine out-of-doors and away from any potential hazards. Keep the generator away from water as this can cause shock or other danger. Use only outdoor-rated extension cords if the need arises.

Before beginning any cleanup, ensure you’re using the proper materials: hard hats, eye protection, masks, work gloves, and waterproof boots. Long pants are necessary clothing.

If you encounter mold, stop work immediately. Consult a professional disaster cleaning or mold remediation service. Don't mess with mold if you are not qualified to work with it; it is a dangerous substance.

Any machines exposed to water are likely lost. Move these to the appropriate location for recycling; don't leave them in their original locations long-term. Any materials moved before a storm or natural disaster should be returned to their original location if it is safe to do so.

Final steps

When remediating a natural disaster, work your plan as you are best able. When the area is safe, or the most critical issues are solved or remediated, begin your post-assessment communication with appropriate members of your team.

Provide information as you are able and as is possible. Communicate anything that affects the health of the business and if the facility can re-open immediately. If not, note this and the proper authorities and business partners (like insurance companies) notified.

Initiate any communication tree messaging with the employees, which should be set up before the actual emergency. Overcommunicate, especially immediately following the disaster.

One final important note. If emergency officials closed the geographic area where the building is, follow all local and regional guidance from governing bodies first. Only once evacuation areas have been cleared, and any travel restrictions listed should you make your way to the facility for inspection and repair.

Preplanning for an emergency or natural disaster will make any post-disaster work that much easier. A plan gives you a map to follow and actions to take as appropriate when required.