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.