By Al Rufer, MBA
August 26, 2011
The world or at least the United Sates has been watching hurricane Irene makes her journey up the east coast for the past week while federal, state, and local emergency crews continue to issue warnings and prepare for the aftermath. Many are following the advice of officials and complying with evacuation orders while others plan to take their chances and wait the storm out.
Here in the Midwest we don’t have to worry about hurricanes but we have our share of natural disasters. It wasn’t but a couple years ago that the dam near the Wisconsin Dells let loose emptying an entire lake, sweeping away homes, and washing out roads. The Wisconsin river came out of its banks flooding numerous towns and cities that reside along its shores.
There are two keys to having a successful outcome when a natural disaster strikes are planning and training to execute that plan. Obviously natural disasters are unpredictable, many, such as tornados provide little if any warning. But we should not let their unpredictability serve as an excuse for not planning and training.
When I ask departments about their natural disaster plan they often point to or reference a large three ring binder that is bulging with papers and directives to address the “what ifs” and “how to’s” for protecting the citizens. Rarely does the general membership know what is in it or how to implement it.
Preparing for a natural disaster does not have to include hours or days of planning that result in large binders that will not be used or found when needed. Sometimes we can make things more complicated than necessary. If you experience a natural disaster that requires a plan that is so elaborate that it has earned its own binder then most likely you are going to have multiple agencies at various levels of government involved in its execution.
What you really need to prepare for is that initial response. You need to be able to operate for the first 2-3 hours it is going to take to get the staff and resources from outside agencies onsite. So while you’re trying to figure out what to do for training this winter why not place natural disasters on your list. If you have a plan, take the time to review it with the membership and explain what needs to happen and why. I include the “why” because if they understand the big picture they will understand the how each assignment affects another. If you don’t have a plan, now would be a great time to draft an initial response. Including the membership in the process will provide many ideas, buy in, and reduce the number of future revisions.
No one wants a natural disaster and many of us will never experience one. But we all must be prepared for that “what if” moment.