Disasters can strike at any time, anywhere. So whether it’s a natural disaster, like a tsunami or hurricane, or a man-made one, like a bad gas mix, equipment failure or toxic spill, you and your facility need to be ready. You can’t wait until the actual event. You need an all-hazards approach plan now.
Due to standardized training, two rescuers who have never met and live in different parts of the country can perform C.P.R. together to resuscitate someone. After 9/11, it was determined that the same training model needed to apply to disaster medicine. Unfortunately, 9/11 illustrated that various organizations and responding agencies operate completely differently in response to the same problem. As a result, we saw a marked increase in the number of casualties.
In response, the CDC, Department of Homeland Security, several large universities, and the National Disaster Life Support Education Consortium came together and developed four courses: Advanced Disaster Life support (ADLS™), Basic Disaster Life Support (BDLS™), Core Disaster Life Support (CDLS™), and Hospital Disaster Life Support (HDLS™). Based on an all-hazards approach, this family of courses forms the new common shared skills set for all healthcare. In addition to being familiar will all four of these levels, you also need to become D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R. R.E.A.D.Y. Each letter of the mnemonic stands for a key item in your disaster preparation checklist.
Go through each letter and take the necessary action. This is not something you will complete in an hour, but you do need to start now—long before any disaster is forecasted. When you can check all these items off your list, you health care facility will be as prepared as possible for any disaster that may come your way.
Let’s start with D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R.:
D is Detect
Detect your own vulnerabilities and those of your community. You have geographic vulnerabilities and competitive vulnerabilities. For example, if you live in a flood-prone area, you are vulnerable. If your business is in a low-lying building, a flood will affect you first. But if you are positioned up on top of a hill, you can be fairly certain you won’t need to be the first to pack sand bags around your office. You have now detected a competitive advantage.
Detect your community’s needs too. Consider how your business can help. If you run a filling station, fire rescue and emergency services will need to supplement their “in-house” ability to charge breathing apparatuses (SCBA’s), EMS Oxygen and even SCUBA tanks. How can you help them? Do you have generators to allow you to run your fill station? If so, you’ve just detected a unique advantage you can offer to the community in the event of an emergency. Become part of your community’s disaster plan.
Detect that there is an event coming or that an event has occurred. Then activate your disaster plan. Make sure your plan is realistic.
I is Incident Command
The definition of disaster is when need exceeds available resources. When diving, the only thing not in short supply is the variety of limited resources. Every community has one person in command in case of a disaster. That person, the “incident commander,” has a set of responsibilities to delegate that filters down through an established structure. Find out who is in that incident command position now and ask how you could help become a part of that structure. For example, if you are a provider of heavy equipment, you can make arrangements for your trucks, cranes, and earth movers to be at the county’s disposal to help with cleanup—you have now become part of the emergency team. If you wait until disaster strikes, your offers of help may be too late. Do it now.
You also need your own “incident commander.” This person should not be the dive master or shop owner, these people should be ensuring the smooth and safe operation of the dive and the business. Therefore, your incident commander should be someone who can answer to that outside person in charge of the disaster for the entire community. Choose the right person for the job.
S is Scene Safety
When you are on the water or under it, you know where your safety vulnerabilities are. If you have a regulator or B/C failure you know how it will affect you, your buddy and you know what to do. Does your business or your family deserve less? If you were to lose power or cellular phone service, how will that affect your business? Be prepared. If you own a jewelry store and your alarms malfunction, you will be a target for looters. Let local law enforcement know that if the power is off, your business will be vulnerable. Ask them to do an extra pass in front of your business in the event of a disaster. To encourage them to keep an extra close eye on your business, offer your services now—let them park their cruisers in your parking lot or use your restroom facilities when they are out on patrol. Also determine what impact the event had on the structure you are in. Is it safe to remain? If not, you must relocate.
A is Assess
Assess your situation—either your current one or the potential one during a disaster. If keeping your business open is not safe, or if your employees have urgent personal or family needs during a crisis, you need to take responsibility for that and be realistic. Assess whether it is safe to continue to be open and ask yourself if your employees have needs that are outside of the business. If so, make allowances for those. You don’t have to stay open 24/7 or put yourself or your employees at risk. Letting your employees know that their personal needs are important will gain you their trust and loyalty.
On a dive you know to assess your situation—and reassess it again and again—as you act and before you act. You know what you’re getting yourself into. When you get wet, you plan how are you going to get in and get out and how long you are going to be down. In a disaster, what else do you need? Once you’ve assessed your situation, your resources, and your needs, then you can act.
S is Support
Support works both ways. The easiest way to get support during an emergency situation is to give it as part of the support team. All emergency response managers are taught to reach in their community and make pre-arrangements for the resources they need. These are called mutual aid agreements. Approach the emergency response manager and say, “I can provide you the following things. Will that be of help?” You will most likely get a yes, especially if you do this ahead of time. You will be written into the county’s plan. Be prepared to deliver whatever you promise. An advantage to you is that when you have a need, you are already known to the people with the power. And since you’ve already detected what kind of support you’ll need, you can ask for it in advance. Regularly check that everyone is still in agreement. The time to be arranging your support and your help is not when the disaster occurs; it’s now.
T is Triage and Treatment
Triage means to do the most good for the most people with limited resources. Even if you’ve been the best person and the most helpful to your community, if your needs are minor you will have to wait longer than someone whose needs are greater. The person with the greatest need will get help first—no matter when they ask. Adopt the same principle with your business resources. If your business supplies something that will be in great demand—like plywood, or gasoline, or drinking water—you may have to ration based on the greatest need. Even though it may be a hard decision to make, you are really benefiting the community.
In the event of a dive disaster, use your resources as wisely as possible, including the air, drinking water, food and energy. Your dive buddies and even the dive masters are going to have to be assessed regularly as to whether they need a break.
E is Evacuate
If you are called to evacuate, go. Orders to evacuate usually come in stages. When they tell the group you belong to that it’s time to evacuate, heed the warning—it’s unsafe to stay. Rest assured that businesses that are prepared and forced to evacuate in most cases will reopen when it’s safe to do so.
On the water or under it you may have to make the evacuation decision. If the situation becomes unsafe, order the evacuation!
R is Recovery
Recovery begins with your recovery plan—long before the event occurs. Before the forecasted event, move your computers and set your supplies aside. Continue to do business. Have a cashbox and receipt book in case your register goes down. Have a sign that doesn’t require electricity to run that says “Open.” When the disaster is over and people venture out into their community, they will see your sign. Even if they don’t buy something from you right then, they will remember that you stayed open or reopened quickly after the disaster. Have these items on hand “just in case” as part of your recovery plan.
And now for R.E.A.D.Y.
R is for Rely
Whether a Basic Open Water Diver or an experienced Technical Diver, you know what equipment is critical to your dive and your survival. The equipment you rely on most you duplicate. An octopus, a second compass, a pony bottle, even your buddy (a second set of eyes) all duplications of the things you rely on most.
In your business, what do you count on to continue to operate? Is it dependent on a single person or a single system? If so, you need to create redundancy. What do you rely on? Do you have key procedures that only exist in your employees’ heads? Write them down now. Keep a copy at your facility and another off-site at a safe location. Those processes are important. Back up your computer files and store them off-site. If your building were to be demolished, would you be able to quickly duplicate your processes in another location?
E is for Educate
Divers and Dive Masters continue their diving education continuously. The community leaders also need to know the plan within your facility. If you become part of your community response, you will need to know how to access people and they will need to know how to access you. How are they going to identify themselves? How do you collect payment? Cash or a trust system? Develop a written procedure. Make sure your staff knows exactly what they should do. It’s not good enough to write a plan and sit it on a shelf to collect dust. It has to be brought off the shelf, dusted off, and everyone needs to know the plan—even the volunteers. They need to be oriented to the plan you have and the plan your community has. They’ll take comfort in knowing what procedures to follow in the event of an emergency.
A is for Appreciate
Appreciate your employees every day. Not only will you experience a more pleasant workplace, but in a time of crisis your employees will pay you back with their loyalty. Appreciate them for drilling and educating themselves on this beforehand. In the face of a natural disaster, continue to appreciate your employees—particularly the ones who came back. But still appreciate the ones who couldn’t come back. Some people will have more pressing personal responsibilities than others.
D is for Drill
Have dry runs. Just as you have a routine procedure for a fire drill, so should you for a disaster drill. If you don’t, panic will set in and your mind will shut down. You will revert to what is familiar—the day-to-day routine you’ve always done—not what you should be doing in a disaster. Dedicate yourself to the entire process and practice.
Y is for You
For divers, it has always come down to you—each individual—from the newbie to the most senior dive master. Whether on the water or in your business, take responsibility for all your actions. Plan ahead and be part of the recovery solution.
Nothing you do can prevent a natural disaster. The best chance you have for business survival is to become “D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R. R.E.A.D.Y.” Plan ahead. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. If the worst happens, don’t panic. You already know the drill and what is expected of you. Don’t let your business be one that boards up its doors and never reopens. Be the business the community can turn to for support, and they will remember you long after the crisis, ensuring your business will be around for years to come.