How to prepare for a Super Typhoon

Super typhoons cause huge damage to Hong Kong's real estate. What can you do to minimise risk?

July 24, 2019

In the space of three years, Hong Kong has been hit by two super typhoons – Hato and Mangkhut – causing unprecedented destruction and billions of Hong Kong dollars (tens of millions in USD) of damage to the city’s real estate.

A storm becomes a ‘Super Typhoon’ when it reaches sustained wind speeds of at least 150mph and Hong Kong’s latest - Typhoon Mangkhut - was the strongest to ever hit the city, putting the population on the highest alert warning for 10 hours.  

With the threat of super typhoons a constant in Hong Kong, it has become imperative to be fully prepared.

It is vital for facility owners and property managers to regularly update business contingency and emergency relief plans to ensure business carries on, and to minimise risks to buildings and the public, says Jarvis Wong, Head of Solution Development for Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) at JLL Hong Kong.

“Close monitoring of forecasted times for typhoons, wind speed and rainfall information will enable facility managers and owners to plan in advance and assess if their facilities can withstand adverse weather conditions.”

Most vulnerable areas

Curtain walls, windows or glass panels, balconies, canopies, scaffolding, water piping, outdoor architectural features and elevator lift shafts are particularly vulnerable to damage or flooding.

There were over 500 reports of broken windows caused by Mangkhut, three times the figure caused by Hato, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. The most notable incident was at a seaside office development, where at least 100 window panels were blown away during the storm.

“Elevators are often a forgotten feature of a facility or building since they are hidden. Our advice would be to send elevators to the upper floors to avoid damage from flooding,” Wong says. 

Facility managers should review lessons learnt from past incidents, from which they update contingency plans and actions for securing the building in their portfolios. This plan should include reporting protocols, escalation and evacuation procedures, a checklist of actions and channels to share critical information with key on-site staff and end users, as well as key contacts from your business contingency planning groups, says Wong.

Having experienced Typhoon Hato in 2017, business contingency planning task forces in Hong Kong specifically deployed manpower to closely monitor the weather in the month running up to Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018.

Here’s how to minimise risk during the upcoming typhoon season.

Regular inspections and business contingency reviews

“Start with regular preventive maintenance of the facility, including periodic maintenance and inspection of the curtain wall system,” says Wong.

Daily manpower patrols and regular maintenance are expected from a facility manager, but during typhoon season, Wong suggests that stock-take of repair materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) be carried out on a regular basis.

“Facility managers should plan for and prioritise work tasks and the implementation of on-site protection measures based on the assessed level of risk outlined in risk assessment/ management policies,” he says.

Safeguard your facility

“Besides facility managers, engage a façade consultant who specialises in the construction and maintenance of building exteriors to evaluate damage and improvement work. Doing so will hopefully protect curtain walls from future damage,” says Wong.  

He also suggests a wind tunnel test – a simulation of typhoon-strength wind – which can help assess whether the structure can withstand the stress.