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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

According to a recently released study by the University of Southern California's School of Urban and Regional Planning, Los Angeles area businesses lost $5.9 billion from interruptions caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The study polled 389 companies and 504 business sites of which 81.8 percent of the businesses surveyed suffered interruptions in their operations.

The most common reason for business interruption was employees attending to personal matters; 73.5 percent of the companies polled were affected in this way.

We can decrease employee absenteeism by encouraging the employee to participate in a Personal Disaster Communications Exercise (PDCE). Our main objective of the PDCE is to encourage the employee to communicate through company sponsored support groups and identify and share their personal concerns in a "what if scenario" given a future disaster.

We know that disasters can produce major interruptions in the natural flow of life. Employees will be less likely to attend to personal matters following a disaster if they have rehearsed the safety measures to be taken in future disasters. By rehearsing their safety measures, we find that the employee feels in control over their life and will deal with the distress more easily when a disaster occurs.

Personal matters are prioritized by three types. They are:

Type A (immediate concerns that could prevent the employee from returning to work)

Type B (moderate concerns that could make the employee feel anxious and could decrease their level of performance)

Type C (low priority concerns that the employee could deal with over time)

Once the employee has completed an assessment of their personal concerns, the support group is used as a buffer to assist the employee in activating a plan that remedies those personal concerns.

An example of Type A is:
How do I reunite with my loved ones following a disaster?
Safety Measure:
1) know your out-of-state contact phone number

2) have two meeting places - one meeting place outside your home (i.e. neighbor's front yard) in case your home is destroyed and another meeting place outside of the neighborhood in case loved ones can't return home.

3) have a list of EBS radio stations and their frequencies to find out shelter locations and other information.

Other examples of Type A personal matters are:

  • What is the school's policy in releasing my children following a disaster?
  • Who will check on my pets and feed them if I cannot make it home?

An example of a Type B is:
What agencies do I call to begin the recovery process?
Safety Measure:
1) Become familiar with your homeowners and earthquake insurance policy prior to a disaster.

Other examples of Type B personal matters are:

  • Who can I contact to talk openly about my feelings of fear, anxiety and irritability including family counseling.
  • Where will I rent while my living quarters are being repaired?

An example of a Type C is:
Where will I spend the holidays?
Safety Measure:
1) Holidays are an integral part of one's normal routine. In case of a disaster, have a few options available so you can participate in the holiday activities.

2) Consider eating at a restaurant with relatives and/or friends to enjoy the holiday tradition.

To survive a disaster, one can strategies and activate a plan that will remedy their personal concerns, exercise the plan to keep it current, and finally update the plan to make necessary adjustments.

We know from our last experience in the Northridge Earthquake that many homeowners and apartment tenants could not rest assured until a structural engineer checked their living quarters and identified the areas that were unsafe or needed to be repaired. When people have a loss of feeling safe in their homes or even in their workplace, their performance levels decrease.

If we have learned some lessons from the Northridge Earthquake, we will have taken the precautionary measures to secure our foundations, to mitigate our non-structural hazards in our homes and in our workplace, to remove important documents from our place of residence a video of our personal property and placed both of them in a safe deposit box, and to activate a family preparedness plan that is multi-disaster oriented.

When a company cares about its employees, then the employees care about the company. In a crisis, a joint effort of cooperation develops between the employer and the employees to minimize business interruptions.

Employees will be more dedicated to stay rather than leave the facility to tend to personal matters. The duration of downtime can determine whether the company will remain in business. When the company goes out of business, obviously the employees no longer receive paychecks.

A company can integrate the Personal Disaster Communications Exercise with their Emergency Preparedness Plan in Phase II. The Emergency Preparedness Plan has six phases and they are:

Phase I
On-site review of your emergency preparedness and life safety systems

Phase II
Assessment, development, and documentation of your emergency preparedness plan

Phase III
Psychological trauma intervention training for your management and emergency operation center team

Phase IV
Life safety training in CPR, First Aid, Triage, Evacuation and Urban Search and Rescue

Phase V
Emergency supply review: on site disaster emergency medical center and employee survival supplies

Phase VI
Drills and exercises of the Emergency Preparedness Plan

Having a clear understanding of your employees' personal concerns, developing and implementing the right Emergency Preparedness Plan, and giving the employees an opportunity to practice will reduce the company's risk of exposure to injury and business loss before a disaster happens. How much time, persistence and money you spend will determine your success in resuming your business following a disaster.

TAKE THE TIME TO INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES NOW. YOU MAY NOT GET A SECOND CHANCE FOR SURVIVAL.


Deborah Serina is president of RDR Services, which specializes in total disaster recovery relationships.

Corporate-wide awareness training has been widely recognized as an important ingredient of an on-going, pro-active approach to disaster preparedness and recovery, crisis management, and business continuity planning and implementation.

While several target audiences may be recognized for awareness training, the most important groups are as follows:

  • Senior management
  • Functional management and employees involved in disaster recovery and business continuity
  • General employee population

It has been suggested that senior management, functional management, and employees involved in disaster recovery and business continuity should be given awareness training at several phases of the business continuity planning and implementation project.

These include:

  • Project initiation, especially for senior management to establish the need for and commitment to disaster recovery and business continuity planning
  • Risk assessment and business impact analysis, in order to educate relevant employees in methodology and standards
  • Development and implementation, to train employees on methodological approaches and enforce standards across the organization
  • Testing/exercising, evaluation, and maintenance of the plan, in order to ensure that procedures are followed during test/exercises, and that the appropriate methodologies and standards are utilized during evaluation and maintenance.

What about the awareness training for the general employee population? What should be the content of these training programs?

Should these awareness seminars be conducted before or after developing and implementing the plan? Or, both?
Who should be the specific target groups for these awareness training programs? What external materials, especially those that emphasize personal, family-related, and personal issues should be included in these training programs?

This article addresses these issues in an attempt to provide some guidelines for developing and administering employee awareness training programs in organizations.

We in the emergency preparedness business are no different from other professionals, we tend to write articles for each other - to learn from past experiences, new techniques, and products. This article however has a different target; it aims at the conscience of the corporate policy and decision makers.

If these people don't care, we can only continue to do what we think is needed, hope for the best, and, of course, be fully prepared to shoulder the blame for organizational failure.

To all senior executives who have gone to extraordinary lengths to plan for and fund their own personal estate, what have you done lately - if ever - to make preparations to prevent the demise of your organization? Do you know whether your organization has a Corporate Contingency Planner, Emergency Preparedness Specialist, or anyone else -regardless of title- who is responsible for preparing the organization to face the unthinkable?

If you are lucky, buried somewhere in the bowels of the organization is just such an individual. And if found, this individual will probably rank among the most abused and misunderstood employees in the organization.

A well-stocked emergency kit can be the key to proper preparedness. Here are some of the most often heard questions about emergency supplies:

Where do you put them? Can they be easily moved? How do you minimize pilferage? How often do you do inventory and restock? What kind of training is available? What should be in a kit or cabinet?

Here are some answers.

In every office and most work environments there are the common four-drawer file cabinets. When well identified, these are good locations for your disaster/emergency supplies. Two cardboard boxes, 25' by 13' x 4.5' will stack in most file drawers. The top box can be marked 'A: First Aid'; the second box can be marked 'B: Rescue.' Each box should be sealed and have a label indicating the contents. Also instructions for notifying proper authorities when the seal is broken should be provided. Filament tape, adhered to the bottom center, brought up each side with a 6' twisted loop, can provide a carrying handle. To find the proper containers, check your yellow pages for 'boxes.'

A distinctive label can be made by photocopying on florescent pink paper and cutting it to fit the drawer label holder. 'Disaster/Emergency Supplies' is an example of the way the box can be labeled.

Information pasted on the side can include basic instructions such as the following:
Medical experts say in a catastrophic event, most lives will be saved by three simple steps.

1. Open the airway (tilt the head)
2. Stop bleeding (apply pressure and elevate)
3. Anti-shock position (elevate feet)

First aid supplies, adhesive bandages, tape and 4x4 sterile bandages should be available outside the sealed box for day-to-day first aid needs.

All floor warden and key personnel should have standard first aid training available from your local Red Cross Chapter or other sources.

An annual inventory should be made. You may not have to touch the sealed boxes, unless you are replacing batteries or medicaments. In many cases, it is easier to return all opened boxes to central supply and replace them with full sealed boxes.

Recommended supplies for 'Box A: First Aid Box'
(a suggestion for 25 people):
Item Amount
Adhesive tape 3 rolls 1 at 1', 2 at 2'
Adhesive bandages Package of 50 1'
Elastic bandage 3
Gauze bandages (sterile) 25 at 3x3, 10 at 4x4, 10 at 2x2
Eyepads (sterile) 5
Sanitary napkins 12 individually wrapped
Triangular bandages 5
Cold packs 5 small
Splints 2 18' cardboard
Alcohol preps 50
Anti-diarrhea tablets 1 pkg. 24
Antiseptic 1 bottle, 8 ounce
Bicarbonate of soda 1 box
Pain reliever, non-aspirin 1 bottle of 50
Saline solution (eyewash) 1 bottle
Bulb syringe 1
Scissors 5 1/2' bandage 2 pair
Tweezers 1
Latex gloves 6 pair
Food and water as space allows

In addition, your local medical advisor should recommend supplies for your facilities and staff.

Recommended supplies for 'B: Rescue Box' include:
Flash lights with extra batteries 2
Hatchet 1
Hammer, claw 1
Plastic sheeting 2 packages
Plastic bags (waterproof) 24
50 foot 5/16' rope 1
Whistle 1
Swiss army knife 1
Emergency blankets 6

These boxes, strategically placed in your facilities, can be the start of your 'do-it-yourself disaster preparedness plan.'

Pete Ashen is the emergency services manager for the San Francisco Red Cross and the founder of Disaster Preparedness Information Council (DPIC).