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Storm Preparation

Florida Hoteliers Share Strategies For Dealing With Hurricanes

Friday, October 13, 2017
Steve Pike
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There’s a rock song from the 1970’s that’s entitled, “Riding the Storm Out.” It could be the theme song for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which at last count had nine consecutive named hurricanes, including monsters Harvey, Irma and Maria.

For hotels and resorts in the eyes (sometimes literally) of some of the most vicious hurricanes in a more than a century, riding the storms out was merely one part of the equation. An argument can be made that it’s the easiest part of the equation.

The more difficult parts? Preparation and cleanup. With that mind, what did hoteliers do to prepare and clean up from the 2017 storms and what did they learn that can help them in the 2018 season and beyond?

“Always prepare for the worst,” said Dan Sims, director of loss prevention at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, FL. “We have developed a very thorough hurricane emergency plan that is updated immediately after it has been activated. Our focus in preparation and recovery is always speed—getting the hotel prepared so we can get our hoteliers to their loved ones and then returning the hotel to its former beauty.”

Maintaining an inventory of emergency supplies is “absolutely key” to preparation as supplies quickly become scarce, Sims said.

“A week before Hurricane Irma was expected to make landfall in the U.S., supplies had already begun to run low throughout South Florida. In addition, the storm caused numerous leaks, some large throughout the property. Our engineering team worked day and night identifying leaks and addressing them as they occurred,” said Sims.

He continued, “As soon as the storm (Maria) passed and we were all out of harm’s way, and it was deemed safe to clean up the hotel, we invited our hourly employees to gain back some valuable hours to make sure our teams were paid. We also made sure those (employees) who were here to clean up and prepare to reopen were given a hot meal to enjoy when many others had no power, including some that were here helping clean up.”

“You can never be too prepared,” said Kevin Baker, director of golf at Reunion Resort in Orlando. “Everything and anything that could come off the (three) courses did. Lake levels were lowered. Gas was topped off. All tree trimming equipment was put in areas that could be easily accessed post storm in the event of damage and the need for their use.’’
Roger Amidon, general manager of the Marriott Palm Beach Singer Island Resort in FL, smiled as he glanced through the large glass windows that lead toward the beach.

“We start talking about hurricanes at the start of the season,’’ every June, Amidon said. “This has been a long season for us. June and July are quiet, but when August comes and things start spinning around out there, we break out a hurricane checklist. Most people say they have a checklist, but do they review it, do they update it with phone numbers of local contacts for gas and electricity and providers for the equipment?

“If you rely on old information, that’s all you’re going to have. You could be calling the wrong people. Then you are scrambling.’’

Alan Pinado, general manager at the new AC Hotel Miami Aventura, has led several South Florida hotels during his career, so he knows that preparation is key to beginning riding out a storm.

“You have to have food and water and be able to survive about one week’’ without services, Pinado said. “You have to have managers here. I get a list of all my employees and I give them rooms. My first concern is my staff. We give them—and their families—rooms here, because if they are here with their families, they know everyone is safe and they can work.’’

Hotel general managers new to the Atlantic storm season, Amidon said, need to establish relationships with vendors, so when things such as power and communications go down, they know where to turn.

“The preparation sometimes can take a couple of days,’’ Amidon said. “It’s really about putting the team together. When we must prep this property, it’s basically all hands-on deck from every department. We don’t have people who just stay in their own departments. And securing everything. If you don’t secure everything in these high wind storms, things are going to go flying. We learned that about a few things out here this last time,’’ during Maria.

A key component on Amidon’s checklist is the roof and the roof drains. “If the roof drains aren’t cleared, the roof is going to flood,’’ Amidon said. “That’s going to increase the likelihood of leaks and create more problems. I’m always up on the roof.’’

In addition, Amidon said he checks the fuel for the backup generator and always sees that it’s topped off.

Being on a barrier island, the Marriott Palm Beach Singer Island was under a mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Maria, meaning everyone had to leave the property, even the condo owners.

“In the documents of our condominium master declaration, we have the authority to get them out, but in the event of an evacuation, there is no option,’’ Amidon said. “That was a big one for me because a couple of our owners stayed behind. I locked the front doors—nobody got in or out.’’

Another bit of advice to “newbies” from Amidon regarding storm preparation: Understand what your backup generator supplies.

“We found out that one of our walk-in coolers wasn’t supplied by that backup generator, so we went ahead and moved the product before we lost power,” Amidon said. “You need to understand what your backup power does supply. The generator usually supplies life essentials— electricity, telecommunication and emergency lighting.

“When you come back up, how do you communicate to the local media and the community? How do you communicate with your employees? Our human resources director, for the first time, set up a Facebook page that our employees went to for updates.”
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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