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October 28, 2007

Personal and Public Aspects of a Disaster

Written by  Denis Kleinrichert
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At first glance, it would seem that the personal and the public aspects of a disaster situation are two very diverse subjects. In reality they are closely intertwined, and therefore need to be addressed together as they relate to and depend upon each other in disaster response and recovery.

Disaster Recovery cannot be effectively accomplished if the basic personal needs and welfare of the individuals most impacted and relied upon are not promptly given the utmost attention. In addition, full cooperation and coordination with local officials and agencies who can facilitate this process, must be diligently nurtured and maintained.

Beginning with the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), the Contingency Planner must be cognizant of the personal disasters that may frequently accompany the business disaster and of the roles of the public emergency response and relief agencies. This information, and how it affects recovery, must be integrated into the corporate strategies to achieve a comprehensive and successful contingency/continuity plan.

Contingency planners and plans should include these two key elements:

  • Potential personal impact of a disaster on employees, providers, customers and the public
  • Awareness of public disaster response agencies, their functions and contacts

While a collective 'whew' can be hoped for if a disaster situation strikes, planning for the why, which, when, where, what, who, and how of business recovery and resumption is a necessity. Much has been, and continues to be, written, and numerous seminars, workshops and training sessions are conducted, detailing methods to accomplish these planning objectives. Impact analysis and recovery strategies rightfully focus on the critical business functions and resources.

Skilled people are universally and undeniably the most critical resource in any organization. Staffing numbers and types required for each recovery activity, support function and business operation are carefully determined and documented, and key responsibilities are assigned. Personnel availability, reliability and commitment are generally assumed. It must be remembered, however, that each person is a member of a family outside the workplace that is his or her first priority and concern. Yet, disaster recovery plans do not often address the major issues of people recovery.

Although employers are not directly responsible for relieving personal disasters, employees will be in a position to more promptly and vigorously concentrate on and pursue business recovery/resumption after their personal situation is eased. Unless committed employees and providers have their basic personal needs met first, and know that their families and homes are safe and secure, their focus on the task of assisting in the recovery of a business facility will be difficult, if not impossible. Likewise customers, actual and potential, must first be comfortable with their personal situation after a disaster, as well as with that of the firm with which they wish to do business.

Just as sources for critical resources are identified in the contingency plan, and are called upon in an emergency situation, so it is also important to know and understand the public assistance and expertise available to personnel for their essential needs. If people aren't taken care of at home, they're not going to come to work. There may be a need for counseling in addition to basic necessities and relief from losses.

The impact and the personal or family consequences of a disaster, physical and emotional, on employees, providers, customers and the public, especially in an area-wide disaster, are often vaguely left up to the individual or some obscure 'agency'. A regional disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or flood, as well as a large-scale fire, explosion, hazardous materials incident, or civil disturbance should be prepared for by considering the personal goods and services that may be needed by employees. Special plans or agreements for such things as shelter, water, and baby-sitting services may be appropriate.

A disaster can cause not only loss of or damage to property and physical injury, but can manifest itself psychologically and emotionally as well, in the form of trauma and stress. This can include grief, depression, physical exhaustion, confusion, fears and frequent re-thinking of the event. Contrary to some belief, 'keeping busy' is not the remedy, but adequate REST is important and counseling may be needed. It should be remembered that personnel have limits, so be prepared to schedule actions to maximize the effectiveness of individuals. If a family or home is directly affected by a disaster where children are involved, it is important to be aware that they may need extra attention and reassurance.

Employees should be strongly encouraged to have a personal and home disaster prevention and preparedness plan. This can be done through whatever means of communication is available in your organization. Include periodic reminders. Individuals can also contact the local emergency management planning office and the American Red Cross directly for guidance if they desire. The accompanying Home Disaster Preparedness Checklist should be helpful.

An annual disaster awareness fair is effective in providing employees with information and a sense of responsibility for their own preparedness, and where they can learn about what services various agencies offer. Local agencies will usually be more than happy to cooperate with literature and participation.

One of the foremost emergency management activities after a disaster is to notify and assemble the personnel who will take initial actions to mitigate losses, assess damage and impact, and initiate recovery procedures.

Regional disasters and personal circumstances resulting from such disasters could render normal methods of contact useless. Alternate communications to employees should be pre-planned and made an integral part of the Contingency Plan in the event that the primary communications link (usually telephone) is not available.

One effective alternate means of communication could be a call-in hot line set up at a backup location that employees could call to receive necessary information and status, and conversely for the employee to advise the employer if they need to be reached at a different number and location. It may be advisable to require all employees to check in under specific circumstances. The public media can also be utilized.

The skills inventory of all employees should be documented to provide the flexibility that may be necessary in order to optimize recovery efforts. It can also be extremely useful to know non-work related skills, such as first aid, CPR, radio operator, military search/rescue/security/safety/technical experience or training, foreign or sign language, volunteer or former firefighter, hazardous materials handling, damage/structural/electrical assessment, psychological or religious counseling, Red Cross or other relief agency volunteer effort, etc., which can be used to provide personal and public service if needed.

A disaster that affects the community can be detrimental to a business even if that business facility was not directly affected. Disaster Recovery Team members should take advantage of American Red Cross and other local emergency management/operations agency training sessions relative to disaster response, and participate in volunteer and other programs, with the understanding that their first obligation is to their family and their employer.

The sooner businesses can confidently resume normal functions, the sooner the whole community can resume their normal functions. A business organization and its personnel will not only recover quicker and more effectively, but will also generate immeasurable loyalty, good will and morale, by promptly addressing the concerns of all persons involved. A caring and helpful attitude can reap benefits far beyond the recovery stage.

Contingency planners need to cultivate good working relationships with public disaster response and relief agencies, particularly on the local level. Their primary mission is life safety and loss mitigation, in cooperation with weather centers, police, fire, EMS, the public media, utilities, transportation, etc. These agencies will be of great benefit to corporate entities by providing vital services and supplies needed to restore the community and its residents to normal as promptly and as safely as possible.

The local or county Emergency Management Planning and Operations office is usually the first to be aware of a real or potential disaster, and is responsible for initiating and coordinating response activities.

They will activate an overall Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which is staffed and equipped to handle all emergencies. They will monitor the status and severity of the situation, determine the required actions, then direct and coordinate the necessary efforts and resources, including other agencies and personnel types as needed, rescue efforts, safety and protective measures, public notifications/communications, evacuations, sheltering, cleanup, and essential supplies, services and support.

Local, state and possibly federal officials, could be in command of an emergency situation, controlling access and services. These agencies generally will come into play in an area-wide disaster, however, depending upon the nature of the incident, they may also play an important role in a single site disaster. Local agencies should have prior knowledge of your facility, its alarms and systems, chemicals and hazards, capabilities and plans, to better assist you.

Some provisions of even the best Contingency Plan may only be implemented if allowed by the officials in charge of a situation. In a severe disaster, natural or otherwise, access to an affected area may be prohibited.
However, if it had been demonstrated to them previously that you have identified specific tasks to accomplish, i.e. you know positively what you will do, where it is, how it will be done, and who will do it, they may allow key staff of an organization to enter their premises for a limited time, if it is determined that it is safe to do so.

This may be the most important effect of your public agency interaction; that they had knowledge of your organization and its disaster response action plan, and were aware of your unique requirements, through prior contacts. These agencies obviously cannot give preferential attention to certain organizations, but your priority can be greatly enhanced in an attempt to provide whatever assistance they can.

In addition to their importance, indeed necessity, in the event of an emergency situation, public disaster response/emergency management planning agencies can also provide a great deal of assistance in the planning phase.

A smart Contingency Planner will seek to meet with the Director and other key staff, tour and become familiar with the Emergency Operations Center, and the overall planning strategy.

Invite them to conduct a session for your key personnel, and to review your Emergency Response Plan. This would include such things as hazard identification, prevention and reaction plans, notification procedures, situation assessment, evacuation and access criteria/routes, utility priorities, alternate procedures and sites, resources and sources, service and support functions, their role and the roles of other agencies, i.e. American Red Cross, state officials, FEMA, law enforcement, fire department, medical facilities, etc.

Remember, this is a public agency, so work within their pace and schedule to achieve positive results. They are not only willing, but even welcome the opportunity, to share information in the form of literature and expertise, as well as training.

Approach them with an attitude of openness, cooperation and of wanting to be informed. This process may take several contacts and a continuing dialog. They will not, and need not, respond favorably to demands, or suggestions as to how they should conduct their activities (at least not initially).
In summary, the personal impact of a disaster on everyone involved, and how it affects business recovery, should be recognized and planned for.

Public disaster response and relief agencies that can provide the necessary resources to deal with a disaster and the people it affects, should be identified, so that through interaction and cooperation, prompt recovery and return to normal can be achieved.

This needs to be a team effort.

Home Disaster Preparedness Checklist
[ ] Check your home periodically and completely for potential hazards.
[ ] Determine types of disasters most likely to occur (fire, severe weather, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, hazardous materials, etc.).
[ ] Know how to prepare for and how to be warned of each type of disaster.
[ ] Identify safe spots in home for each type of disaster.
[ ] Be sure you have operational smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms, and a fire extinguisher (ABC type) everyone knows how to use and where it is located.
[ ] Post, and know how and when to call, emergency phone numbers.
[ ] Plan and practice escape routes from your home.
[ ] Select and be sure everyone in the home knows, a place to meet (outside the home) and a 'family contact', in case of a sudden emergency.
[ ] Know emergency evacuation routes, and an alternate shelter if needed.
[ ] Consider special needs of infant, elderly or disabled family members.
[ ] Know where, when and how to shut off electric, water and gas.
[ ] Keep important family records & papers in a water and fireproof container.
[ ] Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
[ ] Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit in easy-to-carry containers:
- Three day water supply (at least one gallon per person/day)
- Three day supply of nonperishable packaged / canned food and drink.
- Nonelectric can opener, plastic eating utensils, trash bags, cooler.
- Battery powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries.
- First aid kit and prescription medications, doctor's phone.
- Change of clothing, sturdy shoes, gloves, plastic rain protection.
- Sanitation and personal hygiene supplies and paper products.
- Blanket or sleeping bag and pillow - pet needs.
[ ] Assign tasks to all members of the household with specific instructions.
If an Advance Warning is given -
[ ] Obtain extra cash and fill car gas tanks - prepare SAFE area.
[ ] Verify or obtain supplies, water, food, ice, flashlights, batteries, etc.
[ ] Monitor weather reports and/or status of emergency situation.
[ ] Secure home, valuables, important papers, loose objects (inside & outside).

Denis Kleinrichert, CDRP, is a contingency/continuity planning consultant.

Read 1914 times Last modified on October 11, 2012