Steve Haskell, Emergency Recovery Manager
Paul Davis Restoration and Emergency Services
September is “National Preparedness” month and a time of year when we should all consider our own actions to prepare for disasters that can strike anywhere, any time and without warning. I have helped thousands of people recover from all kinds of disasters. My career in emergency management started in 1989 and I have seen how families, first responders, business owners and everyone in our communities can suffer from a catastrophe. The most common incidents we experience are fires, floods, severe storms, disease outbreaks and hazardous chemical releases. These disasters cause death, major injuries, destroy property, and overwhelm us as they disrupt our lives. Sometimes, our lives never return to the way they were before the disaster and we need help adapting to the “new normal.”
According to research by FEMA, most of us are not prepared for these disasters and rely on emergency services in the community to help recover from catastrophes. However, the recent “Operational Lessons Learned in Disaster Response” report from the U.S. Fire Administration finds that most communities are not sufficiently prepared for disasters. It has been recommended that public officials partner with business leaders to make effective changes to avoid unnecessary damage or losses. Despite our awareness, the threat of environmental change and increasing recovery costs from disasters, most of us remain more vulnerable to hazards than we should be.
On the calm days in-between disasters, I am determined to protect our communities by sharing guidance that is easy to follow in achieving the most necessary level of disaster preparedness. I hope that everyone reading this article has already taken steps to prepare for disasters, or will follow guidance and use resources to protect themselves, their property, and our environment as much as possible. Some initial steps to take include:
- Creating an up-to-date contact list for those you may need to reach during a disaster. Calling long-distance may be easier than making a local call. Ask an out-of-town friend or family member to be your point of contact to report to, and share that information with family and friends.
- Establishing alternate methods of communication, in case traditional means are unavailable. Remember that during an emergency traditional means of communications may not be available. Phone lines are overwhelmed by high-volume calls, and text messaging is reliable because it requires less bandwidth to deliver.
- Purchasing a NOAA All Hazards Alert Radio. Accessing information before, during and after an emergency can be challenging and these radios will alert you to severe weather, and will broadcast emergency information.
- Signing up for Wireless Emergency Alerts. Emergency alerting instantly delivers important emergency messages to your cell phone. They are free and the software is preloaded on most cell phones.
The Internet is one of the most convenient places to start looking for information, guidance and resources that are often free and easy to use. Emergency planning guidance is made available by the FEMA Ready.gov program. To learn more about local emergency preparedness activities, please visit the website ReadyWisconsin.wi.gov. Other resources on the Internet include the following:
- American Red Cross provides family disaster planning guidance and first aid classes.
- The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety will help businesses to prepare emergency action and continuity of operations plans with the “Stay Open for Business” – EZ (OFB-EZ) Kit they provide at their website.
- The Small Business Administration provides emergency preparedness guidance and disaster assistance programs to support companies during recovery.
- Chamber of Commerce and many local business organizations provide guidance for businesses in the community that need to start or improve their disaster preparedness planning.
This is one approach to starting your planning effort, if you haven’t already developed an emergency action and continuity plan that meets your approval. Plans can also be used for training, justifying acquisition of new emergency response equipment, determining process improvements and as a disaster management tool for coordinating resources or tracking phases of recovery. Plans will not be used and it’s unlikely anyone will get comfortable with them, unless you conduct drills, exercises and follow-up meetings to consider revisions or corrective actions. Some examples of model plans can be found at various insurance companies.
One of the easiest and most effective kinds of exercises to conduct is “tabletop” exercises. Tabletop exercises enable candid discussions framed by a disaster scenario such as a fire or severe storm, allowing management, key partners and stakeholders to review their standard operating procedures for effectively using resources during such a disaster. Taking the exercise a step further, functional exercises incorporate the use of equipment, alternate business sites and response teams for specific assignments, such as hazmat incident response or providing emergency communications. Exercises can be planned and conducted to meet the needs of the business, and are especially helpful in identifying gaps in organizational capacity and preparedness. Optimally, plans are tested and exercised soon after they’ve been completed and routinely enough to maintain a level of preparedness. A solid plan includes documentation of all tests and exercises conducted, and the lessons learned that you will incorporate into your ever-improving plan.
Preparedness all starts with “communication.” After considering the benefits of preparing for disasters and how it can save us from suffering, facing unnecessary loss and harm to our financial security, why not talk to your family, business colleagues and members of our community about getting more prepared? This is how we can overcome the challenges that have kept most communities from preparing for disasters together and make the changes recommended by those that would come to help us when we need them.