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Emergency Preparedness & Disaster Management for your Organization

By Michael Haycock, BA., MBA., Senior BRC Consultant

This article was originally published in the Quality Review Newsletter (April 2010) and is reproduced by permission of the Business Resource Centre (BRC)

Last year the disaster movie "2012" was released based on a Mayan prophesy and information from various religions and cultures around the world. The movie was quite entertaining if not somewhat "over the top". Whether you believe in these future events or not (and there are quite a number of you who do) there is actually a practical application in any kind of preparedness. Systems and standards are about being prepared. Understand the need within any organization and put in place the systems to prompt us to prepare. Again, while standards provide requirements, they also provide us with a plan.

What about emergency preparedness and disaster management for the organization? Whether you believe in the "2012" scenario or not, after Katrina (New Orleans), Haiti, Chile and multiple 6.0+ earthquakes afterwards, it would seem prudent to have our heads up. While our weather in Canada has been fairly typical this year (although a little mild in B.C. for the "GAMES"), the Eastern coast of the United States has been whacked. About 200,000 government employees in Washington were off work for multiple days. Surely it doesn't take more than common sense to look at or consider your disaster management capability, if this were to happen, regardless of the organization or its activities.

I have reviewed disaster management plans for municipalities, hospitals, colleges and even States in the United States. While most seem to be particularly well done, there is a consistent weakness. Having done what was necessary once, the plans have been considered done. There is rarely a review or updating. No I do not have "spider" sense, but we typically take care of what is in the moment and disaster management seems to be only in the moment when it is occurring. Disaster management is the big picture. Emergency preparedness is a portion of this.

Few organizations have anything of the sort or it's addressed in Health and Safety or Environmental systems. Without creating a lot of work, I'd like to offer a simple approach to helping recognize your "black swans" and potentially allowing you to deal with the future.

Wait for it … YES … AUDITS!

Most of you already have a system in place for Quality, Environment, Health and Safety or something Industry specific. Most of your systems are registered and some are not. Regardless, you have expectations of how you expect your organization to operate. As long as you have a common understanding of the workings, you can audit. Let me share with you some basics which are also common to other systems.

Create some simple expectations within the organization for disaster management.

  • Have clarity from top management for their expectations.
  • Set objectives to allow expectations to be met.
  • Expectation should be periodically reviewed
  • Update as organizational activities change As a team activity determine areas that have disaster potential
  • Special emphasis on the organizations operational activities and controls
  • Prioritize to understand and plan for response
  • Identify roles and responsibilities in this system
  • Have a mechanism for corrective action Look for preventive actions and continual improvement

and then audit to ensure what is expected to be in place continues to be in place.

When first in the military, I was initially assigned to the engineers. Right after Hurricane Camille we were sent to help with the clean up. When we arrived at the navy base in Gulfport, Mississippi we found much of the base had also been destroyed. Not a problem, as engineers we had construction material and tents and almost as soon as we arrived we started setting up in one of the very large fields available to us. While we were prepared, we didn't consider the obvious. A powerful thunderstorm late in the afternoon put down enough rain that in many places the water was knee deep. We had chosen the flattest, lowest ground because it was easy for construction. What we had done quickly, we hadn't done intelligently. Almost everything we had was soaked. Sleeping in wet clothing in a cold and damp truck will help with future focus.

While disaster movies may be entertaining, no one knows the future. But….we do know that there will be floods, fires, ice storms, earthquakes, biological outbreaks, bridges that collapse, tsunamis, etc. Many financial systems in the world are a mess (Greek default) inflation, deflation, cars that don't stop, GM, Chrysler, your customers' customer, (yes, there are certainly commercial disasters), government intrigue and on and on. This is not to depress you but alert you.

With all the recent events it seemed topical that perhaps a short article would provide some encouragement for you about the need for preparedness. We have standards for Quality, Environment and Health and safety that allow us to prepare for and address these perspectives in our organizations. A system forces us to focus on the big picture. A system forces preparation and preparation will provide confidence.

Years ago at Disneyland, I remember visiting exhibits with a theme that with the constantly increasing intelligence and expanding technology, the challenge would be to find enough to do in our spare time. Right! What happened? What happened was life. What is true is that "…it is a Small World after all". We are affected not only by what is around the corner but around the world. For all the articles I’ve done, I have been waiting (and hoping) for the time I could share some simple, light and information to fill in the spare time. What I have found is the intensity of what needs to be done and what is expected of us, has never lessened over the years. What I hope is that we can continue to share some ideas that will help in what you need to do.

Whether lion or antelope, you know we have to be running in the morning. Preparation is not just in the running, but in the knowing that we have to be running. (By the way … Spring forward … did you check your smoke detector? We also have to be running in the small things too.)