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Natural hazards

Natural disaster risk management

Earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, hailstorms and other natural occurrences cause billions of dollars in economic losses each year.

“Man masters nature not by force but by understanding.” — Jacob Bronosky (1802–1882) “The Creative Mind,” Science and Human Values, 1956

Large-scale disasters like these aren’t the only threats you face. To protect your operations, you must also plan for everyday natural occurrences. A microburst, a lightning strike, a local flash flood, a sudden freeze or a short-lived tornado can damage or destroy your property. Be prepared.

Business owners must recognize and respond to the threat that nature poses to their operations and financial health. No business is immune from natural disasters. Yet,
smart business owners know that they can manage these exposures. Proper preparation, protection, response and recovery tactics can better position you to keep your operations running — even if a natural disaster occurs.

Getting Started

So how does a business address its natural hazard exposure?

Take the first step by conducting a general exposure assessment. In other words, identify the types of emergencies that could threaten the facility, such as the natural disasters mentioned above.

Take the second step and focus on establishing the general strategy your company will take to respond to a natural disaster before, during and after an event. Your company needs to decide ahead of time how it can best protect itself. You can direct efforts to the areas of protection, preparation, response and recovery in different proportions for each of the many hazards you may face. Only in the smallest of companies can a single individual effectively do this.

Protection, Planning and Preparation

To protect against fire, companies commonly install fire-sprinkler systems. Likewise, proper building design and construction can help prevent building collapse from snow build-up or roof loss from high winds. Shutters can protect glass from wind-driven flying debris. Lightning-protection systems may reduce the exposure to thunderstorms. Seismic bracing can reduce equipment and shelving tip-over as well as sprinkler leakage and wall collapse. Levees, dikes and hydraulic waterproofing can control flooding. Emergency generators can provide electricity when power lines fall during ice storms. Quality construction and installed protection features make a big difference.

Take the third step by evaluating the facility and operations to determine what existing protection features will resist the identified exposures. Proper construction and installation of protection systems often determines whether a building will survive a natural disaster. As you evaluate the hazards, make improvements and changes as necessary to address your tactical plan.


Response plans deal with the actions taken both as an event approaches and during the event. First and foremost, when you plan, develop, implement or activate a response plan, the safety of employees must remain paramount. Early warning and implementation give the best chance for success. The company should take early action rather than waiting. Have established procedures in place, but allow for flexibility and ingenuity of emergency response team members to complete tasks geared toward reducing damage, saving processes and product, and, of course, protecting people. Also, pick team leaders who are familiar with the entire facility and able to make executive decisions for the company.


Disaster recovery and business continuity planning typically take place in tandem. An effective business continuity plan strives to allow an organization to respond to an event in such a manner that the critical business functions continue without interruption or essential change.

To take the next step, consider the information developed in your first-step evaluation of the site’s natural hazards. Then, the project planning team will create an appropriate action plan. Remember to consider protection, preparation, recovery and response in your action plan. Finally, use resources such as local emergency management agencies, your local government and fire department, private sector companies, Travelers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to manage your exposure to natural disasters. Read the complete Natural Disaster Risk Management Guide and Plan Ahead.