Think fast: There’s been a tornado or flood at your food processing facility. Are your employees safe? Can they be evacuated? Who is responsible for safely shutting down the plant’s refrigeration and ammonia systems in the event of a fire?

If you can’t answer these questions and more, you may need to reassess your facility’s emergency protocols for a natural disaster. While it can be nearly impossible to predict when a disaster will strike, a plant’s location can guide management in designing plans for all potential disaster types.

Stellar, a fully integrated design and build company, says preparing for natural disasters starts with the Three Ps: Plan, Partner and Prioritize.

In the planning phase, management should determine which types of natural disasters are most likely to occur in the plant’s region. Then, consider the implications of these types of events.

“Chart out what areas of your plant are impacted by a power outage, what processes may shut down due to the loss of rooftop equipment and what key areas should be protected from water damage,” says Stellar. Government regulatory agencies and industry groups can help provide requirements and recommendations to aid in developing a plan.

Establishing partnerships with local utilities and agencies is another essential component of effective disaster preparedness. Local partners and vendors should be a part of your response team, as relying on the local power company to restore power quickly can result in lost productivity.

“Know where to obtain industrial generators and how they will be transported to your facility,” says Stellar. “Identify equipment suppliers that can quickly replace lost rooftop equipment necessary for production and have construction partners that can readily obtain materials and repair any building damage.”

The final component of the Three Ps is Prioritize. When responding to a natural disaster, a triage system is essential. For instance, is it more important to restore freezers to avoid loss of product, or does utility restoration to heat water for sanitation take precedence?

One often-overlooked best practice is keeping copies of your emergency plan on file with off-site partners, since returning to the building for this information during an emergency event is often impossible.

There are two basic types of emergency response plans in the event of a chemical release by leak or spill. The first, an emergency action plan, is the most basic plan required by OSHA and also the most popular. It states plants will rely on outside agencies in an emergency event, and employees will evacuate and wait for the arrival of a HAZMAT team.

An emergency action plan must include a means of reporting the emergency; designation of evacuation routes; procedures for employees who must remain behind to maintain critical plant operations; assigned rescue and medical duties; and a designation of overall lines of authority.

The second type of plan, an emergency response plan, designates certain plant personnel as first responders. They undergo HAZMAT training and are provided with HAZMAT equipment. This approach can present a logistical challenge, as each shift must include the specified number of trained employees, but may be attractive in rural areas with long emergency response times.