Is Your Dealership Prepared If Severe Weather Strikes?

Quick tips from a safely consultant to help keep your employees, inventory and facility ready for tornado and flood season.

Throughout the year, dealerships across the country face several weather-related threats, which can strike without notice. Some of the most dangerous and sudden severe weather conditions, including tornadoes and floods, occur in the spring months between March and June. But while you can’t always predict the weather, you can take steps to better protect your employees, customers, and inventory from its effects.

I’ve had the fortune of helping powersports and motorcycle dealerships across the country plan for extreme weather in recent years. Rather than reserve these insights for customers, I’ve worked with the rest of the safety team at Sentry Insurance to share our recommendations to help guide your dealership’s emergency response plan. The following tips can help prepare your dealership for tornado and flood threats this spring.

Tornado preparedness

Your team should know when a tornado is headed toward your business and where to go to keep themselves—and customers—safe if it hits.

A tornado watch vs. a warning

A tornado watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a tornado. Stay tuned to weather resources for updated information and changing conditions, in case you need to seek shelter. It may be best to keep (or move) inventory inside for safe keeping. Don’t allow customers to take vehicles on test drives if your area is under a tornado watch.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted in the area or indicated by radar. Make sure employees and customers are aware of the conditions so they can seek shelter, including those who may be out on the roads. Direct everyone on site to your designated shelter.

Stay alert

Make sure your employees are aware of you community’s tornado alarm, and make sure they’re trained how and where to shelter when they hear the alarm.

Take shelter

Identify and label shelter areas in your facility so everyone on the premises knows where to take shelter. The best options are underground spaces, but you may also consider small interior rooms or hallways on the lowest floor, or rooms constructed with reinforced concrete. Choose a shelter space without windows, and as few doors as possible.

Also consider places to keep your inventory safe, whether it’s inside your facility or in a nearby business, parking garage, or storage facility.

Flash flood planning

Flash flooding is a unique danger. It often occurs quickly, within four to eight hours after severe rain. It can also occur unexpectedly, as it may impact areas that haven’t seen heavy rain (e.g., if your business is downriver or at lower elevation from where the rain hit). In such circumstances, it’s critical to have plans to protect employees and customers—particularly those out on the road.

  • Redirect the water:
    If the area where your dealership is located is at high risk for flooding, plan for water diversion tactics.
    • Maintain a sump pump with battery backup and ensure its functionality, even in the off-season.
    • Use sandbags to help divert severe flooding.
  • Evacuate if necessary:
    • Create a safe evacuation plan that doesn’t require employees or any customers to drive or walk through flooded areas.
    • Plan for alternate test drive routes in case normal routes are flooded or inaccessible. Even in good weather, it’s best to limit the number of test routes you use, so you can train employees on which routes (and shelters along those routes) they can rely on when severe weather strikes.
  • Beware of damage:
    • Puddles and muddy areas can pose a danger to both drivers and individuals on foot, because it’s often difficult to determine their depth.
    • Look around for downed power lines, or any utilities such as gas lines that may have been damaged in the storm. Keep customers and employees away from them, and immediately notify your local utility company.

Plan to protect your business

When developing a comprehensive emergency response plan, ask yourself important questions about safety preparedness.

  • What risks do you face? Prepare for the types of severe weather your dealership is likely to face, while still outlining a plan for less likely weather.
    • Is your facility in a flood plain, or near bodies of water that may fill quickly?
    • Are you located in a region that’s prone to tornadoes and high winds?
  • Do you know your surroundings? Pay close attention to your facility and its surroundings—particularly nearby areas or road routes where you conduct test drives.
    • Do you have on-site signage to clearly designate which areas can and should be used for sheltering in place if necessary?
    • Are your employees trained to evacuate your facility and help customers get to safety?
    • Have you identified off-site locations nearby for employees and customers to take shelter if severe weather hits while they’re out on a test drive?
  • Are your employees ready? Providing training sessions on your emergency response can prepare your employees to take on different roles and specific responsibilities if severe weather strikes.
    • Do employees know what practices and protocols you have in place to account for, communicate with, and protect any customers on site?
    • Have you assigned employees to join or closely follow any customers out on test drives, to quickly communicate any inclement weather?
  • How will you recover? Reducing your risk is crucial, but it’s equally important to plan for business continuity.
    • Do you have an insurance plan in place to protect against the costs, injuries, and damages of severe weather?
    • Have you communicated with other local businesses and dealerships about the possibility of storing inventory or conducting business on their premises while you repair any damage at your facility?

There’s a lot to consider when preparing for spring weather. When I visit powersport dealerships during my Sentry safety visits, I stress one priority: plan for the safety of your employees and customers. After all, they’re the heart of your business. Protecting their safety will help keep your business afloat, no matter what severe conditions your dealership may face.

For more information, visit Sentry Insurance at sentry.com.

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