Disaster Planning and Response
At the 2019 PARMA Annual Conference, Kimberly George from Sedgwick and Mark Walls from Safety National hosted a live “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” event focused on disaster planning and response for public entities. The panelists were:
- Martin Brady – Schools Insurance Authority
- Tim Karcz – California Joint Powers Insurance Authority
- Bill Simonson – State of California Office of Risk Managment
- Disaster planning starts at the local level. It should include a large cross section of your public entity officials including police, firefighters, emergency services, elected officials, schools, utilities, street/highway departments, risk management, etc. The bigger the group the better.
- Try to plan for any potential event. Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, plane crashes, train derailments, etc. Use your imagination.
- How will you send out mass notification and when will those be sent? Who has the authority to send them? Make sure you have both work and home contact information for all your employees.
- You need to be able to track whether you have employees in impacted areas as they may not be available to assist in any response.
- Maintaining business continuity is a big challenge during a disaster. What are the essential job functions you need to preserve? What happens if people cannot get to their normal work locations?
- You need to have contingency plans for your information technology. What systems/files/etc are essential? Are they all backed up off-site and accessible via remote access?
- What vendors does your organization rely on and are they vulnerable to the same natural disasters? How can you build in redundancy in case one of your key suppliers is impacted by the disaster?
- Risk analytics can assist in disaster planning by providing information about past events and how widespread the impact was. You can then use this to model for future events.
DURING AN EVENT
- All events start at the local level. It is up to local official to request assistance from additional agencies and each agency is responsible for requesting assistance at the next level. For example, local requests assistance from state, state requests assistance from federal.
- Inter-agency communication is extremely challenging during a disaster, especially when there are different levels of government agencies involved. Determining the command structure is essential to making everything flow smoothly. Who is in charge and what is the succession plan? These situations are fluid and this is not always easy to figure out.
- What is the proper approach for communication with the general public. Who sends out messages, what do they say, and who sends them?
- Who has the authority to made decisions about evacuations or give the all-clear for people to return?
- How do you communicate with your employees during a disaster? Practice! The first time your people use a two-way radio should not be during a disaster.
- How do you address supply chain disruptions?
- It’s very important to monitor changing conditions. Roads may become closed limiting points of entry/exit.
- No matter how well you plan things are going to happen that you did not anticipate. You need to be flexible and adapt to the situation.
- How the public responds is a variable you cannot control. You can issue a mandatory evacuation order but that does not mean people will leave. Do you risk your staff to rescue those that defy the evacuation order?
- Post event follow up meetings and reports are essential to improving your response to future disasters.
- Focus on not blaming, but instead determining what worked and what did not .
- The goal is to do better the next time.