Natural Disaster Risks are Critical Site Selection Factors to Consider in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey and Irma

by King White, on Sep 26, 2017 2:05:44 PM

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left the Texas and Florida coastlines devastated — a harsh reminder that business continuity risks should never be overlooked during the site selection process.  

Whether you are looking for a call center, data center, distribution center, headquarters, manufacturing plant, shared service center, or a software development site, there is going to be significant pressure on site selection decision-makers to avoid geographies with a high risk of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and excessive snowfall.

These catastrophic events are often forgotten after a few years and business is back to normal as evidenced by many people already forgetting about what happened with Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Sandy. To help you identify high-risk locations, I wanted to share the natural disaster risk data that Site Selection Group utilizes on our projects.  

What types of natural disasters should you evaluate in the site selection process?
You may be asking yourself, how safe is my company from a potential natural disaster? Maybe you have dispersed operations throughout the country for redundancy or you might only have a single location that puts you at huge risk of problems.  

You must keep in mind that there is not a place in the country that is truly risk-free, especially when you consider other issues from power outages to terrorist activities. However, there are locations that are less susceptible to risks.

To help you evaluate your risk, Site Selection Group has utilized our natural disaster risk dataset which focuses on hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and excessive snowfall. This data will help you plan better during the site selection process for your next call center, data center, distribution center, headquarters, manufacturing plant, shared service center, or a software development operation.   

The following interactive map provides a snapshot of the natural disaster risk across the entire United States. You can select which natural disaster type or view all natural disasters combined to see your location’s risk profile.

Business Continuity Risk Map



Hurricanes are one of the most impactful disasters a company could face
Hurricanes create havoc when they hit land by causing high winds, flooding and power outages that can shut down an entire region. Even if your building doesn’t go down, your employees may be evacuated for days before landfall and may not be able to get to your building for days after the storm. This can be a major issue that impacts your revenue, customers and profitability.

To be sure, Super Storm Sandy created a lot of destruction from the mid-Atlantic up to the Northeast. However, the Southeast — from the southern tip of Texas along the Gulf states up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina and Virginia — is home to the greatest hurricane risk. The following table identifies the top 10 metro areas with the highest hurricane risk.

Top 10 Metro Areas with Greatest Hurricane Risk

Metro Area 2017 Population Hurricane Risk Index
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 6,131,232 655
Port St. Lucie, FL 463,046 583
Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL 150,987 562
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 366,791 554
Sebring, FL 101,798 530
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 721,068 525
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 581,191 523
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 2,462,444 496
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 788,154 493
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 666,124 487

Tornadoes continue to create havoc for companies
Tornadoes can create havoc for a company due to their unexpected formation and deadly impact. Most of the greatest risk for tornadoes occurs in the Midwest. However, Florida and other coastal areas are also vulnerable to tornadoes associated with hurricane activity.

Tornadoes can form when hurricanes make landfall, as their winds at ground level slow down, while the winds near the top keep their momentum. As a result, places like Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, have a high tornado risk; third in the nation for possible risk.

Other Florida metro areas such as Pensacola, Lakeland-Winter Haven, North Port-Bradenton, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale all have very high tornado risk. Most of the risk occurs away from the coast and in the Midwest. Oklahoma City, Houston, Tulsa, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth and Kansas City are the largest metro areas with the greatest tornado risk. The following list provides a summary of the top 10 metro areas with the greatest tornado risk:

Top 10 Metro Areas with Greatest Tornado Risk

Metro Area 2017 Population Tornado Risk Index
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 205,614 469
Jackson, MS 580,390 392
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 3,052,850 391
Lubbock, TX 318,679 318
South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 320,824 303
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 666,124 295
Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL 487,757 289
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 6,866,117 287
Huntsville, AL 451,892 284
Wichita, KS 648,993 277

Earthquake risks are high in places other than California
California is notoriously known for earthquake activity. But interestingly, the metro areas with the greatest earthquake risk are not located in California, but rather in Missouri, Arkansas and northwest Tennessee. Collectively though, the metro areas in California and the Pacific Coast through Oregon and Washington have the greatest risk for earthquakes. Nevada and parts of Utah, Idaho and Montana also have significant earthquake risk. The greatest risk on the East Coast is the coastal area of South Carolina. The following table identifies the top 10 metro areas with the highest earthquake risk.

Top 10 Metro Areas with Greatest Earthquake Risk

Metro Area 2017 Population Earthquake Risk Index
Jonesboro, AR 130,525 621
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 860,013 521
El Centro, CA 183,844 505
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 4,737,729 500
Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna, CA 136,124 498
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 2,014,624 466
Santa Rosa, CA 507,160 455
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 278,185 434
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,554,305 422
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 13,502,916 411

Excessive snowfall can create challenges for employee commuting
For many businesses, you can’t generate revenue unless your employees show up to work which makes excessive snowfall a challenge for some companies. Besides an occasional dusting or an uncharacteristic snowstorm, the Southeast (including Texas) has the lowest amount of snow accumulation in the nation.

The Northeast, however, is the complete opposite. Claremont, New Hampshire; Augusta, Maine; Binghamton, New York; Burlington, Vermont; and Ogdensburg, New York are positioned within the top 10 metro areas for snow accumulation — each, respectively, with over 80 inches per year.

Other areas of the country with high snow accumulation are in the Rockies and the northern part of the Midwest. The following table identifies the top 10 metro areas with the greatest annual snowfall accumulation.

Top 10 Metro Areas with Greatest Annual Snowfall

Metro Area 2017 Population Annual Snowfall (inches)
Anchorage, AK 403,015 96
Traverse City, MI 149,782 89
Claremont-Lebanon, NH-VT 217,041 84
Lewiston-Auburn, ME 107,100 83
Augusta-Waterville, ME 119,078 82
Muskegon, MI 173,558 82
Binghamton, NY 244,291 81
Ogdensburg-Massena, NY 110,297 80
Burlington-South Burlington, VT 218,514 77
Jamestown-Dunkirk-Fredonia, NY 129,412 77

Preparing for a natural disaster of any type is extremely challenging for companies, especially smaller companies that lack the capital or resources needed for a secondary backup location. Virtually every type of corporate operation, including call centers, data centers, distribution centers, headquarters, manufacturing plants, shared service centers, and software development sites is at risk if located in a region identified herein. Before you make your next site selection decision, you need to make sure to carefully evaluate your risk or make sure you have a detailed disaster recovery strategy in place.

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Topics:Call CenterDistribution CentersManufacturingEconomic IncentivesEconomic DevelopmentData Center



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