Banner for Disaster Recovery Planning

Fire, tornado, flooding, hurricanes and even strong winds and power outages—a disaster could hit your agri-retail business at any time.

And yet, it’s probably true that people do not have a disaster plan in place for their residence but are more likely to have one for their workplace. And, if you don’t, you better get one now. And one for the home, too, while you are at it.

Disaster management is something that your insurance provider looks at quite seriously, and your level of preparedness can not only save lives, stock and livelihood, but also money, too.

Universally, there are four constants of disaster management:

  • Mitigation: actions taken to eliminate a hazard or reduce its potential impact;
  • Preparedness: planning for major emergencies, including training and exercises.
  • Response: actions taken in response to emergencies.
  •  Recovery: actions taken after a disaster to re-store services and reconstruct communities.

Some entities suggest that there are only three aspects of disaster management—and it’s correct, because it uses the term “disaster planning” which encompasses both mitigation and preparedness.

In Canada, there are a multitude of disasters that could occur as in every place in the world, but for the most part let’s just discuss the most recent scenario involving the weather—the B.C. flooding of 2021.


The Pineapple Express
For over a month—from November 14 till December 17, 2021—the Pacific Northwest of both the US and Canada was smothered by massive amounts of rainfall that resulted in flooding and widespread devastation.

It wasn’t just one rainstorm, it was a rainstorm followed by another and another, an atmospheric river weather phenomenon known colloquially as a Pineapple Express. Its strong and large flows of warm moist air brought heavy rainfall to areas northeast of the Hawaiian Islands—which is why it greatly affected northwestern Washington State and southern B.C.

At least five people were killed, and 10 others hospitalized, with four of those deaths coming via a mudslide.

In B.C., the Fraser Valley area was hit hard—a heavily populated area that is responsible for most of the province’s ag production—when a dike broke, it released fast-moving, churning waters that rose up over 10-feet in some areas. And it stayed there.

Along with the loss of human life, the death toll on animals was immense. Farms, businesses, lives shattered.

The flooding also caused both short- and long-term disruption to the highways and rail services—the main transportation routes to bring livestock food into the area.

Livestock feed was already going to be an issue after the Summer of 2021 brought with it drought and wildfire to the area, affecting crop growth. Combine that with the hay and other feed being washed away or contaminated in the flood, animal welfare became a huge concern.

In financial “insurance” terms, there was $450 million in damages as of December 10, which is enough to make it the costliest disaster in the province’s history. But it’s worth noting that the dollar figure did not consider damages to infrastructure or to uninsured properties. In Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford alone, over 600,000 farm animals perished in the flooding.

More recent guesstimates peg the disaster to be at the $9.5 billion mark. Note that this does not take into account the unmeasurable toll of suffering and mental anguish along with displacement. Read the accompanying articles in this issue: A Tale of Two Farmers; and Dairy Industry Report.

Worse yet, in an area where flooding is an extremely rare event, no farmer had an insurance policy that covered flooding. No insurance payout.

Or at least that’s what is being said, even though it was the dike break that caused the true horror. Though the dike only broke because of an Act of God.


Stan: The Man With The Plan
Part of the farming community since 1973, TerraLink Horticulture Inc. of Abbotsford, B.C., is a leading manufacturer and retailer of crop input products in western Canada providing farmers, production managers and professional growers with a wide range of fertilizers, seeds, crop protection products, growing media, and hard goods.

Although lucky enough to have been spared the wrath of Mother Nature and the broken dike, Stan Loewen, Chief Executive Officer of Terralink knows a lot of his friends and customers weren’t as fortunate.

“We got lucky,” he said. “Our facility was just a bit higher in elevation. The flood waters were about a foot away.”

He pointed out that farmers in nearby lower elevations were swamped by waters of 10 to 12 feet in height.

“The whole area used to be a lake until around WWI when it was drained to create farmland,” Loewen related. “But every time it rains, it seems like that lake tries to come back.”

While spared the flooding, Loewen said that he and the rest of his employees were prepared for the disaster.

“If you are expecting me to have a manual in hand that we read from to know what to do, you’d be wrong,” he explained to CAAR Communicator in a recent interview. “But we do have a plan.

“Rather we have annual meetings to discuss our preparedness, to ensure we all know what to do in a given scenario. Everyone knows in advance what duties they are expected to perform at that time. It’s part of our company’s insurance planning.”

Loewen explained that his business disaster plan doesn’t prevent the disaster from occurring, but instead provides assurances to his employees that each knows what to do when a disaster occurs, or in the case of the impending flood waters what to do should it become a reality.

“Our plan includes detailed information on who we should contact to get our electrical back online should it go down, how to get our plumbing restarted, how to get our equipment back working, and how to resolve any software or ERP system problems,” he explained.

“As well, as we saw the waters rising around our facility, we had preparations in place about who to talk with and how to logistically make it happen to move our product offsite,” Loewen added. “It’s a difficult situation for agri-retailers such as ourselves, who have lots of bulk bins filled with fertilizers.”

Part of the planning, according to Loewen, is to make arrangements to find a dry storage facility they can use that’s empty—a hard one to find at any time.

Even though the floodwater didn’t impact the company, somehow water got into one of the bulk bins of fertilizer, which meant it couldn’t be sold even though it was still viable—only a bit lumpy. Instead, they gave it away.

He described the company’s foresightedness as more of a rudimentary disaster plan. And, because it’s never wise to just have one person as the focal point of leading any disaster relief efforts, Loewen said all the TerraLink managers are made aware of what to do in a what-if scenario.

Loewen said: “For us, it’s all about making a few necessary arrangements, but really it’s about who to talk to as the essentials get messed up, and how to recover quickly.”

Although TerraLink Horticulture has never had to deal with a fire, Loewen said that they do have a fire prevention plan in place, again part of the business insurance risk reduction planning.

The insurance provider is a key player, explained Loewen. “No insurance company wants to have to pay out huge money after a loss, so for them—and the agri-retailer—it is all about what you are doing to prevent large losses.

“For those who aren’t as adept in their disaster planning, it could mean higher premiums.”

Of course, with regards to the BC flooding, such events, along with earthquakes and lightning strikes that cause a fire, are considered to be an Act of God. This an accident or event caused by natural causes without human intervention, and from the insurance provider’s point of view, it is not something that could ever have been prevented by reasonable foresight or care.

It’s why companies like TerraLink are more concerned with how to react when a natural disaster occurs. Prevention of preventable accidents, however, is just common sense, and ag industry representatives do their very best in this regard.


Other Considerations
Although not related to the flooding event in the west, there are some other lessons that can be taken from the recent influx of snowy weather that has affected the US Midwest.

For example, there are many instances of vehicles being stranded on highways with the occupants inside for long periods of time while they await rescue aid.

For our purposes, creating a stockpile of materials ahead of time can provide relief while you wait out a severe crippling weather event at your business. This should include water, canned foods—and a way to open it—flashlights, a battery-operated radio with fresh batteries (change often, especially if not in use for a long period), fuel-powered generator always kept fully fueled, and blankets, possibly even sleeping bags. Your list may vary, and good for you if you can add to this elementary list.

While we did nix the concept of having a single disaster relief coordinator for your facility, one is better than none—though more than one is better, especially for businesses with more than one floor level or with secondary buildings.

The Government of Canada website does offer additional advice regarding farm animals, and while not the purview of the agri-retail industry per se, it may be something you can offer to your customer base:

Additionally, the Canadian Farm Business Management Council (CFBMC) has created a 200+ page document entitled: Planning for and Responding to Disasters in Canada: An Approach for Farmers and Farm Organizations that you may find helpful in reviewing and discussing further with customers.


Related articles