Make Your Organization Disaster Ready

By Maurice Ramirez, D.O.

Earthquakes on the Pacific – no matter where you live, you’re probably susceptible to some form of natural disaster. While it may still wreak havoc on your community, becoming disaster ready gives your organization a much better chance of surviving.

Consider the facts. One third of businesses that are unprepared for a disaster will never reopen after cleanup is over. To avoid being part of that statistic, plan ahead and be disaster ready. Each letter in the mnemonic, DISASTER READY, stands for a key item in your disaster preparation checklist.

Go through each letter and take the necessary action. While this is not something you will complete in an hour, you do need to start now – long before any disaster is forecasted. When you can check all these items off your list, you will be as prepared as possible for any disaster that may come your way so your organization may survive.

Let’s start with DISASTER:

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 facility is in a low-lying area, 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.

I is Incident Command: 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.  If you wait until disaster strikes, your offers of help may be too late. Do it now.

S is Safety: Know where your safety vulnerabilities are. If you were to lose power or cellular phone service, how will that affect your operation? Be prepared. If your alarms malfunction, will you be a target for looters? Let local law enforcement know that if the power is off, your organization will be vulnerable. Ask them to do an extra pass in front of your facility in the event of a disaster.

A is Assess: Assess your situation – either your current one or the potential one during a disaster. If keeping your operation 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 outside of work. Letting your employees know that their personal needs are important will gain you their trust and loyalty.

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.

T is Triage: 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 organization’s resources. Even though it may be a hard decision to make, you are really benefiting the community.

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 organizations that are prepared and forced to evacuate in most cases will reopen when it’s safe to do so.

R is for 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 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. They will remember that you stayed open or reopened quickly after the disaster.

And now for READY

R is for Ready: Now that you’ve been through the disaster plan, you need to be ready within your own organization. What do you rely on? Do you have key employees or key procedures that only exist in your employees’ heads? Write them down now. Keep a copy in your office and another off-site at a safe location. Those processes are important. Back up your computer files and store them off-site.

E is for Educate: If you become part of your community response, you will need to know how to access people and how they can 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. 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. 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 drill for a disaster. 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: It comes down to you. Take responsibility for all your actions. Plan ahead and be part of the recovery solution.

Take action: Nothing you do can prevent a natural disaster. The best chance for your organization’s survival is to become “DISASTER  READY.” 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 operation be one that boards up its doors and never reopens. Instead, be the organization that the community can turn to for support; they will remember that long after the crisis is over.

Dr. Ramirez is the first Central Florida physician to complete the National Disaster Life Support (NDLS®) Instructor Program. He is a nationally recognized professional speaker and has published numerous articles in professional and scientific journals and has been citied in over 20 textbooks. For more information on Dr. Ramirez, please email ndls-fl@earthlink.net.

[From the October/November 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]