No matter where you live, it is important to prepare for the unexpected. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other extreme weather conditions can leave entire communities devastated, so it can be difficult to imagine what one of these storms or natural occurrences could do to a graveyard. As we learned from the incredibly destructive and deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cyclones and tropical storms can result in significant wind and water damage. Strong, sustained winds carry the potential to damage vegetation, trees, outbuildings, monuments, and more. Tornadoes can also transform cemeteries in just a matter of minutes. Floods can displace caskets, vaults, and other memorials. In this article, we explore all the necessary steps to take while preparing a graveyard for bad weather.

Preparing a Graveyard for Bad Weather

Safety is of the utmost concern to cemetery caretakers and funerary professionals, so it is perfectly understandable that most cemeteries and churchyards close in the event of extreme weather conditions. There are many precautionary measures to take, but the first step in preparing a graveyard for bad weather is to evaluate the risks.

Drains are especially important to flood-prone areas. If a drain hasn't been cleaned in years, it can't be expected to move water out of the burial grounds. Drain inspections and cleaning should take place on an annual basis. There are many monuments that are set without any pins to prevent them from shifting or toppling in severe weather. A stone conservator can do a stone-by-stone assessment to take any unsecured or leaning monuments into consideration.

Readily trained staff can make a considerable difference in a cemetery's preparedness. Caretakers and management personnel should explore how quickly it takes staff to respond to disaster needs. Although the physical preparation of the premises is important, it is just as important to ensure secure storage of critical data, such as business records, inventories, and maps. Files should ideally be backed up daily to avoid any data loss or software failure. If a graveyard receives little to no warning before a major storm, preplanning comes into play. Preventative measures include taking inventory of cemetery furnishings, tools, vehicles, and other susceptible objects.

Minimizing Damage and Recovery Time

Caretakers can eliminate potential disasters and prepare for events that are more likely to occur. Trees, for example, are highly susceptible to damage caused by high winds. When trees are planted together, they fare better than when they are isolated. It can also be useful to plant a variety of plant and tree species together to maintain diversity. Some species of trees have very low wind resistance and it is best to avoid planting them in areas where tornadoes and hurricanes are likely occurrences.

Another crucial step that any cemetery can take to better prepare for inclement weather is establishing major municipal contacts in advance, including stone conservators, certified arborists, recovery firms, and additional laborers. Once the storm has passed, all personnel must thoroughly document all aspects of the disaster by taking notes, photographs, and descriptions of damage. Last but not least, representatives of the premises must involve the stakeholders or anyone who owns a plot that may have been affected by the weather. Plot owners deserve to know that their loved ones are safe and secure or that the cemetery is working with the appropriate authorities to ensure recovery.

By preplanning and taking preventative measures in advance of severe weather conditions, a graveyard will be able to implement recovery actions quickly and effectively.