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Designing for Extreme Weather

We all love sunshine, but it seems recent extreme weather events have us on a collision course with Mother Nature when it comes to protecting our communities from the non-discriminating storm ravages we continue to see.  Will bad weather affect your foodservice operation and if so, how?  It’s true, you can’t wish away the weather, but you can, through thorough planning and careful design, prepare your operation for the best possible outcome.

Implementing Building Codes

Not only can the damage from a storm potentially ruin a foodservice business by destroying the inventory of furniture, production equipment, and raw food products; but elements of the building itself can become missiles when picked up by strong winds, causing damage to other structures in the vicinity.

With the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and hurricanes increasing, and the High Velocity Hurricane Zone (HVHZ) possibly expanding to areas further inland, counties that previously did not have building and construction codes to protect from storms will need to consider implementing regulations to protect structures from high winds and flood waters.

Counties in areas that typically face tropical storms have implemented requirements into their building codes to make the buildings as safe and stormproof as possible with today’s technology.  These mandates include specific rules for foodservice equipment installed outdoors, where often most of the damage from a hurricane occurs.

Case in Point – Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County is one example.  Their Building Code provides valuable compliance information.  If, for example, you want to install an outdoor walk-in cooler or freezer, the walk-in must be directly next to a building wall, which can provide a degree of shelter and wind protection.  The walk-in requires a minimum slab spacing of an added 6 inches to the overall footprint for the installation of hurricane angle brackets, which bolt the unit to the slab.  Condensing units cannot be located on top of the walk-in and must be either secured to the slab next to the walk-in or secured on the roof of the adjacent building.  In addition, a rain roof with a minimum 1/4-inch pitch away from the adjacent building must be installed over the ceiling panel of the walk-in, so rainwater cannot accumulate.  Overall sizing limitations also exist, so the walk-in maintains a rectangular shape without being too small or too large, which would increase the risk of wind damage.  Finally, the walk-in must be impact tested prior to installation.  All these added requirements to a standard indoor walk-in will have to be considered in the cost estimate of the project and extra time must be allocated to allow for permit review.

Inside the Building

But what about the foodservice spaces inside the building?  Here, much of the protection falls under the responsibility of the architect and structural engineer?  Kitchens and dining areas with windows to the outside should have impact-proof glass installed, which protects against breakage when flying objects picked up by high winds are hurdled against them.  High-impact windows mean a substantially higher cost than installing standard ones, but they can be highly effective and provide the added bonus of the operator not having to shutter the windows, which is often mandatory in hurricane zones.

Equipment Considerations

When planning a kitchen in a hurricane zone, a few considerations must be given to the foodservice equipment up front to make the operation a safer place during a storm and recovery easier afterwards.  Specifying as much equipment as possible with high grade stainless steel can increase the life of the item, when the kitchen floor is flooded.  With luck, the water entering the kitchen will not rise very high and will drain away quickly, avoiding a total loss of all equipment.  Stainless steel provides the best protection against rust and if it is thoroughly cleaned and buffed after the weather event, it might be salvageable.  Other equipment finishes, such as galvanized stainless, will not fare as well and rust spots will occur even after a good cleaning.  Of course, water is a safety hazard for food products, so anything that comes in contact with flood waters must be discarded.

Let It Roll

Specifying equipment on casters allows the possibility of pushing it to interior areas or higher floors inside the building that might be in less danger of being flooded.  While casters on cooking equipment and smaller worktables are always a good idea to allow for easy cleaning of the floor beneath, operators in areas where extreme weather is common might consider buying as much equipment as possible with casters.  Reach-in and undercounter refrigerators and freezers, prep tables, and storage shelving are all offered with casters.

Instead of installing long worktables that are difficult to move, especially around corners, smaller units can be substituted, allowing movement around the building in the event of a disaster.  This author, of course, realizes that a few pieces of the foodservice operation must be fixed in place and cannot be moved, such as any floor mounted equipment that is connected to a water supply (the dishwash machine or utility sinks) or large and heavy items such as baking ovens or walk-in complexes.  However, any equipment that can be saved is a piece of equipment that does not have to be replaced.

Mix It Up

If your kitchen is in a storm prone area, it might be worth considering a mix of natural and propane gas powered cooking equipment as well as electric equipment that can be hooked up to a generator, so in the event of a natural gas failure, a few key pieces of equipment are still functional.  Another option is to have several propane powered equipment items as backup that can be rolled out and used after a storm.

It is generally understood that a very reduced menu will be offered after a hurricane, and this affords the facility an opportunity to provide meals to the neighborhood when the residential community experiences a loss of power.  It is especially important for hospitals to consider the possibility of an extreme weather event during the planning phases, so adequate propane tanks and generators are available to power enough kitchen equipment to provide simple meals to in-house patients and staff during and after a storm.

Walk-in refrigeration often is connected to emergency power in any facility, so in case of a loss of power, the valuable inventory doesn’t spoil.  In the case of a storm, it is even more important that the emergency power generator is designed to be housed in a water-proof enclosure and is anchored down properly, so it can function throughout the weather event and afterwards without a long interruption.  The generator needs to be carefully sized by the specifying division, so all connected equipment items function properly during the entire period of the power outage.

An inexpensive but often forgotten option is the purchase of water-proof storage containers to keep important paperwork or the most valuable ingredients safe during a storm.  Insurance papers, maintenance agreements, treasured hand-written recipes and any non-digital documents are easily lost forever if not properly protected.  Digital documents that live on a local server can be downloaded and saved on external storage devices and stored in a protective container.  High priced ingredients such as caviar, select cuts of meats or even spices such as saffron can be placed in containers inside the walk-ins for extra protection.  The old saying applies, better safe than sorry.

Preparation Matters

In the end, no matter the structural and interior design elements, a kitchen and building structure is never completely storm disaster proof.  So, above all, the owner/operator must have a tested crisis management plan in place, which includes a communication plan among all staff members, so everyone knows what his or her role is in securing and evacuating the foodservice spaces, and panic does not break out, damages and financial losses can be minimized, and operations can be restored as soon as possible after the event.  After all, the sooner normal operations can be restored, the better it will be for the business and the surrounding community.

By:  Katja Beck, Project Manager | Ft. Lauderdale

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