Operating without an emergency plan during hurricane season is risky business

COLUMBIA (WACH) " Residents across the state breathed a sigh of relief Friday evening as Hurricane Irene moved north.

South Carolina may have dodged this storm, but there are three months left in hurricane season.

According to hospitality lawyer Christian Stegmaier with Collins & Lacy, P.C., Irene is a reminder for hotels and restaurants to prepare for severe weather situations.

The first thing these entities need to do is determine how is their structure -- is it going to be able to withstand gale-force winds and driving rain? If there is a lack of confidence in the structure, they need to close down the operation and give their guests enough time to make other plans, Stegmaier said.

He adds it TMs all about planning now, so the aftermath is less stressful to deal with. During this time of the year, Stegmaier says it TMs not a matter of if but when.

Stegmaier makes the following suggestions:

- Take steps before the storm to secure your physical property to minimize the effects of wind and rain. Additionally, there needs to be a conclusive determination regarding whether your establishment can continue operations in the event of storm. If there is any question that you can TMt, this decision needs to be immediately communicated to all personnel and guests (and prospective guests who have made reservations). Your guests and prospective guests need as much lead time as possible to make alternative arrangements in the event you determine you will not be able to operate during the storm.

- Stay in contact with corporate risk managers and safety directors and heed their directions concerning emergency response.

- Pull out and review your establishment TMs emergency response plan with all of your personnel. This plan should spell out what is to be done in response to natural disaster, when is to be done, and who is to do it. Management needs to take the responsibility for ensuring all employees know the plan and execute upon it.

- As a part of your emergency response plan, have a clear protocol in place concerning communication. Employees need to know what is expected of them during emergency situations. Make sure there is a way they can get the information they need (e.g., whether they need to come into work) in a reliable manner such as email, text, phone tree, or recorded telephone message.

- In the event medical treatment is needed for either guests or employees, arrange for it. Do not hesitate to provide this kind of assistance if needed.

- Communicate with your guests. Tell them exactly what is being done to respond to the crisis. Let them know what they need to do in the event the storm creates the situation where they need to take shelter. As well, make sure your employees know how imperative it is to stay calm when communicating information or directions to guests.

- Observe all published prices and rates for your hotel or food-service establishment. Do not attempt to capitalize on a crisis by raising prices or rates on your guests. Most states have strict anti-gouging statutes that prohibit such activity. Violation of these statutes can be met with severe civil and criminal sanctions.