High Alert Institute



When Disaster Strikes…Are We Really Prepared?

by | Sep 12, 2006

According to the National Academies of Science, less than four percent of U.S. hospitals are prepared to handle any type of disaster scenario, from a hurricane, to a terrorist bombing, to an industrial plant accident. Additionally, few companies even run disaster planning drills on a regular basis. So when something happens that affects a company, such as a chemical spill, a flood, or a pandemic flu outbreak, everyone from the employees to the local hospital staff to the community at large feels helpless and out of control. That’s when things get ugly.
In this day and age, everyone needs to realize that disasters are no longer mere possibilities. A disaster will happen in every community, whether it’s another Katrina or Chernobyl. Consider this: Recently, 1.2 million cubic feet of propane was accidentally vented across US Hwy 1 out of the Florida Keys, causing the road to completely close. However, this is the only road leading in or out of the area. Local emergency services didn’t know how they were going to stop the leak. And the company that was at fault for the leak was relying on local services to “deal with it.” Since no one drilled for such a disaster, no one knew how to properly respond. Now something that could have been a short-term emergency turned into an all-out disaster. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Planning for Disaster
At a national level, every single person and/or family needs to have a disaster plan outlined and a disaster survival pack ready. But the burden can’t be placed solely on individuals. Corporations also need to ensure that they have a disaster plan in place, and that they drill the plan regularly. Whether you work for a large, multi-national company or a small privately held firm, use the following guidelines to be ready when disaster strikes.

1. Create your own plan.
Many companies purchased disaster plans years ago, but never took the plan out of the shrink wrap. They simply bought a generic disaster plan in order to get an insurance discount. To date, they have never opened the book, read it, and let alone used it. If they were to actually attempt to use the plan, they’d quickly learn that the plan is not an All Hazards plan. Rather, it’s disaster specific. So if they have three types of problems occurring simultaneously, they’d be flipping back and forth in the book trying to figure out what to do. That’s when they’d discover that certain sections of the book contradict each other if you do them at the same time.
So rather than purchase a pre-written plan, create your own. Most industries have mandates for a safety officer—someone who is supposed to be registered and educated in industrial safety. Make sure you hire someone to fill this role and that this person writes a detailed hazard plan for your company. Again, this plan should be an All Hazard plan that covers a series of cascading events.

2. Think of the big picture scenario (what could possibly go wrong).
When you create your All Hazard plan, think in terms of everything that could possibly go wrong. For example, let’s suppose you’re writing a disaster plan for a chemical plant. The reality is that if the chemical plant blows up, whether due to a terrorist bomb or employee error, that explosion is going to cause catastrophic events that will have a chain reaction.
The explosion not only causes chemicals to spill into the community, but it also causes power lines to fall to the ground and raging fires in nearby businesses. With the spilled chemicals come water contamination, and the downed power lines put people at great risk of electrocution. The raging fire at the neighboring manufacturing plant releases toxic fumes into the air. Then to top it all off, it starts to rain…a lot. Now you’re not only dealing with a chemical spill, but also fire, water contamination, electrocution, toxic fumes, and flooding. That’s why your disaster plan must address the entire disaster, not just the plant explosion.

3. Bring in outside consultants to help fine-tune the plan.
Just because you have an All Hazards plan doesn’t mean you’re ready for disaster. Now you need the insight of an external organization that can help you see your plan and your impending disaster in a new light. The market is full of external organizations that help companies create and drill plans specific to their industry. Without this outside perspective, you could very easily be creating your plan in a vacuum, overlooking key elements that would save your company money, time, and even staff.

4. Drill the plan twice per year.
All businesses, from small family-owned firms to major corporations, need to accept the fact that conducting disaster drills at least twice a year is a normal operating expense that cannot be ignored. This involves setting aside a few days each year for your employees to run the drill, and paying your staff usual wages during this time. For some companies, this may mean ceasing operations for the day so all employees can be involved and do their part.
The drill should cover more than one type of disaster scenario so you get a cascade of events. These drills must be complex and involve all aspects of your plan. If your plan does not breakdown during the drill, then you have not drilled hard enough. You need to take the plan to the point where you can identify every weakness. Only then will have the true picture of what your organization can handle and how to compensate for anything lacking. If companies fail to take the drill to this extreme level, then we’re going to see a lot more Katrina scenarios—where demand exceeds resources—as our population becomes larger and our world becomes more complex.

5. Get the entire community involved.
When doing the drill, you must bring in any outside community help that your plan calls for, such as medical staff, fire rescue, EMS, police bomb squads, etc. You simply cannot run any drill in a bubble with actors portraying the needed roles. Running a drill means going out into your local area, coordinating the drill with other organizations, and initiating action within your community. In the past, too many companies ran their drill in a bubble. And after witnessing such disasters as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we now know that the bubble boy mentality has to end.

Be Disaster Ready
While no one enjoys disasters, they’re a fact of modern life. If you think that you can’t initiate such disaster planning in your community or company, think again. If average citizens start to demand disaster planning in their community, politicians will listen and will act. Hospitals will listen and will act. And companies of all sizes will listen and will act. So yes, one person can make a difference. And even though you can’t stop a disaster from occurring, you can help lead the way for getting the planning in place that makes the disaster less disastrous for all.


Griffin Works offers Pawsitive Interactions with Service Dogs During Response Operations©, an audience-customized training that breaks down barriers by offering hands-on handling training and demonstrations with working service dogs for fire departments, EMS agencies, and public safety organizations.

Part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and home to the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center, TEEX has been leading homeland security training since 1998. The major TEEX programs include fire and rescue, infrastructure and safety, law enforcement, economic and workforce development, and homeland security. As a member of The Texas A&M University System, TEEX is unique in its ability to access a broad range of emerging research and technical expertise. Beginning with course design and development all the way through hands-on instruction and national certification testing, TEEX delivers comprehensive training through both classroom and hands-on instruction and as online courses.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. This unique network of child-serving professionals, caregivers and young adults, researchers, and national partners is committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S. The NCTSN is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and coordinated by the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS). 

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The EMI provides national leadership in developing and delivering training to ensure that individuals and groups having key emergency management responsibilities possess the requisite skills to effectively perform their jobs.

The High Alert Institute maintains a list of reviewed courses provided by governments, universities and professional organizations. This list is geared towards the non-emergency management person who participates in disaster planning, preparedness, response, recovery or mitigation as part of their job responsibilities.

The High Alert Institute has partnered with Shutterstock to distribute stock images from the nature images donated by our supporters. For eligible stock images, Shutterstock will donate a portion of the royalty to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to Shutterstock customers.

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Koi need forever homes, too! For pond enthusiasts, freshwater exotic and ornamental fish may not be available through pet stores or rescues in their area. The High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program will be happy to assist you in stocking your new pond or adding a new finned friend to your school. Coming soon – when you adopt a Koi from the High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program, we can arrange for delivery to your door anywhere in the continental United States.

Have you always wanted a Koi pond but don’t have the space one? Sponsor a Koi in our community shelter pond and we send you photos of your sponsored animal. Coming soon are live Koi Cameras above and below the water to enjoy your sponsored Koi anytime.

Dumping of freshwater non-native species and exotic aquatic pets into wild habitats is a man-made disaster that is truly preventable. The Institute’s Aquatic Pet Welfare Partnership works to raise awareness and reduce the impact on healthy ecosystems through education, as well as rescue and rehoming. Joined by champions of animal welfare and environmental stewardship, this  association of aquatic pet rescue operations and aquatic pet shelters across the United States aims to save our finned friends and preserve our waterways together.

Want to share our cause with family, friends, and colleagues? Looking for a non-traditional way to celebrate a birthday or honor someone special? Support the Institute by starting your own Peer-to-Peer fundraising challenge! Let your contacts know why our mission is important to you and what they can do to support your cause. START YOUR OWN FUNDRAISER for the High Alert Institute.

From the staffing pool to the shelter ponds, from the boardroom to the classroom, and from reading the science to writing the analyses, High Alert Institute programs and services benefit from the experience, expertise, and generosity of our volunteers. Put your talents to use for good and to good use – VOLUNTEER TODAY.

Make your donation twice as nice by rehoming aquatic pets and providing a rehabilitation companion pet to a deserving person, family, or facility. Sponsor part or all of a Joy of Koi Program pond installation – complete with rehomed koi – and give the gifts of love and recovery.

Professional photographers, amateurs, and legal copywrite holders are all welcome to participate in the High Alert Institute Nature Photo Donation Program. Sales of the images benefit the Institute and donors are eligible for tax deductions equivalent to the fair market value of their photos. Landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers – all may be accepted – whether new or vintage  images. People may be included in the photo but only if unidentifiable (i.e., blurred figures at a distance).

Did you know that unused patents and copyrights can be donated to charity? Intellectual Property (IP) just sitting on a shelf will lose value as it becomes obsolete. The High Alert Institute IP Donation Program seeks to rescue stranded, technology-related IP with the potential for development into marketable products. Once accepted by the program, the owner/inventor is eligible for a tax deduction equivalent to the fair market value of the IP. The Institute receives the patent licensing fees or revenue from the sale of the IP to businesses, helping us to fund our mission. In turn, businesses are able to advance their markets and create jobs for less money than starting a project from scratch.

Disasters are defined as situations in which needs exceed or overwhelm available resources. Some disasters affect an entire community, while other disasters impact individuals and families. Crises of physical or psychological health can be very personal disasters.
The therapeutic value of pets during illness, trauma, and recovery is well established. And Koi fish may be well suited for people who are not able to provide verbal pet commands or physically care for pets like dogs and cats. Koi ponds are also a source of beauty and peace, providing an ideal setting for quiet reflection or meditation.
We are working to partner with pond installers and aquatic pet rescues/shelters to offer free or reduced-cost ponds with rehomed Koi fish to people seeking this type of pet therapy.

Disasters disrupt life and impact our sense of personal, family, and community safety. Survivors and responders alike often are not aware of the emotional, psychological or spiritual challenges that they may face from disaster onset through recovery. With two decades of experience training responders and communities to prepare for the behavioral health aspects of disasters, we will continue to provide education and a curated list of resources to groups or individuals.

Non-medical factors that impact overall health are termed Social Determinants of Health or SDoH. Noise pollution, poor air quality, and poor water quality are three environmental factors known to have a strong link to overall health. And the same environmental factors that impact humans impact their pets and other animals in their care. We continue to assist in advocacy, education, and technology development to mitigate the impact of SDoH on humans and animals alike.

Our efforts in shelter and rescue are the main focus of our environmental stewardship, reducing the environmental impact of non-native aquatic animals being dumped into public waterways. The High Alert Institute also assists innovators with the design, development, and evaluation of green and renewable energy technologies. Reducing the carbon footprint associated with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery furthers our continued mission to mitigate risk and improve resilience.

We partner with public and private organizations, sharing resources and fostering partnerships to improve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, and mitigation.

The High Alert Institute team has over a century of combined research experience in medical, nursing, behavioral health, and disaster sciences. Our team provides support to researchers and technology developers through comprehensive literature searches and reviews, as well as failure mode database searches and adjudicated reviews.

When disaster strikes, most aquatic pet owners have limited options to secure the safety of their pets. Sheltering in place may not be possible if there is no power to provide aeration and “pet-friendly” shelters do not include ponds or aquariums. Our goal is to provide an option for aquatic pet owners in need of rescue and shelter for their finned friends.

Our goal is to share our two decades of disaster readiness experience with animal welfare organizations, shelters, caretakers, and pet owners, as they implement contingency  plans for natural and manmade disasters.

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High Alert Institute

4800 Ben Hill Trail
Lake Wales, FL 33898
Office: 863.696.8090
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