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Tuesday, 30 October 2007 07:40

How Any Organization Can Survive Through a Disaster

Written by  Judy K. Bell
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Many organizations believe that if they protect their data processing systems, stock extra supplies, train employees on basic first-aid, and try to minimize their hazards, they have done all they can do to be prepared for a disaster. The rest is up to mother nature.

In reality, every organization can do a great deal to ensure its survival regardless of whether it is a business, school, or public agency, but the planning must be completed before the disaster strikes. Depending on the size of the organization, this effort can be as simple as assembling in advance key information about the location, determining what resources will be needed, inventorying what back-up communications are available, and determining how damage information will be assessed.

A critical ingredient in any planning effort is identifying a way for people to get in touch with their families through pre-established contact points. Until they know their loved ones are safe and cared for, they will not be able to contribute to the restoration effort.

In large organizations, efforts must be linked together at every level during the planning to ensure consistency. Otherwise, several groups will be relying on the same resources, causing chaos during the disaster. There are five distinct organizational levels which must coordinate their individual plans. The type of information required at each level is uniquely different. For ease of illustration, I will use the terms associated in the business environment.

The first level of planning is at the company level. Here, policy issues must be documented such as how employees are going to be paid, what food and water supplies will be stocked, and how the company will set up shelters. Protection of the company officers must be decided, as well as provisions made for officer succession. Emergency response planning must be identified, determining how they will access damages and injuries, as well as restore the business. Protection of vital records, and determining the need for mutual aid agreements are just two more of the many decisions which need to be made before the disaster.

Second, every department must document their plans. What do they plan to initially do if the disaster strikes during normal work hours? What will they need to do differently if it occurs out-of-hours? What steps do they need to take in advance to protect their employees? What procedures do they need to define to identify the extent of damage and to activate emergency communications links? What arrangements do they need to make with their suppliers?

Third, emergency centers need to be identified where key people will receive the reports of damage and decide how to best redeploy their resources. They must be stocked with the supplies they will need to function, and the roles of all who will report there need to be specified. During the real disaster, others may be required to perform functions which they are not familiar with because the designated person is injured or unavailable.

The fourth level of planning occurs at each location. Emergency response teams need to be trained. They must know how to conduct search and rescue operations, and how to perform first-aid. The public agencies have made it clear that they will not be able to respond to all of the emergencies which will arise during a disaster, so the degree of skills the emergency response team possesses could be the difference between life and death for many people.

Finally, every work group must know what they are to do, who they are to contact, how they will get in touch with their family members, where the supplies are which they need, and many, many, more specific pieces of information. If planning has been performed at the other levels of an organization, but it has not been translated into the information pertinent to every work group, then it will be worthless.


Judy K. Bell is Executive Director of Disaster Survival Planning (tm).

This article adapted from Vol. 2 No. 4, p. 31.

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