Since the mid 80s, the emergency management community has preached a clear and consistent message: Prepare businesses, schools and homes to be self sufficient for 3 days. Way back then, some even suggested 7 days! All agreed that after a major disaster, it could be days before outside help arrives. The importance of personal preparedness was re-emphasized after 9/11 by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge: “We can be afraid or we can be ready.”
Today, more than ever before, emergency preparedness matters. We live in a fast-moving interdependent world. When it comes to the basics of life, we look to others to provide our needs – gasoline, food, medical care, water. We are surprised if a gas shortage causes stations to run out of gas. When we turn on the water faucet, it never occurs to us that we’d get anything but clean water. In almost every community, there are 24-hour grocery stores and drug stores we can rely on in the middle of the night.
However, our 24/7 connected world includes a host of risks – hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, avian flu – just to name a few, that threaten to devastate individuals, businesses and communities.
The emergency management community has known and preached a clear message for more than two decades: Preparedness is a personal responsibility. It takes time and money to prepare, and the money spent may never really be needed. But in a disaster, investments in preparedness will return dividends a thousand-fold.
Business Responsibility for Workplace Preparedness
Risk assessment is a sophisticated area of expertise that can range from self-assessment to an extensive engineering study. The specific industry, size and scope of your individual company will determine your organization’s risk assessment needs. Know what kinds of emergencies might affect your company both internally and externally. Find out which natural disasters are most common in the areas where you operate. You may be aware of some of your community’s risks; others may surprise you.1 Visit Ready.gov for information on various threats: biological threats, chemical threats, explosions, nuclear blasts, radiation threats and natural disasters.
Remember…your business is responsible to protect your employees while they are at work.
Here are ways you can help your employees – at work, at home and on the road.
1. Prepare to Meet Basic Needs
Consider the needs for shelter-in-place as well as when evacuation is required. Encourage employees to assemble or buy an emergency kit for home and automobile. Your employees won’t be available to work after a disaster if their families are not taken care of.
Some important considerations:
- Water: Amounts for portable kits will vary. Individuals should determine what amount they are able to both store comfortably and transport to other locations. If it is feasible, store one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation. Long shelf-life water pouches, as used in the marine industry, reduce the need to rotate water as often. Don’t forget that more water is needed for individuals who will be involved in rescue efforts.
- Food: Plan for a minimum three-day supply of non-perishable food. Long shelf-life foodbars, as used in the marine industry, or military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) can reduce the need to rotate food as frequently.
- Warmth: Include a solar or mylar blanket for each person. Compact, waterproof, and wind-resistant – mylar blankets are ideal for preparedness because they serve so many uses. A mylar blanket can deflect heat when used as a shelter from the sun. It also conserves body heat when wrapped around a person.
- Light: Include a combination of lighting options: safety lightsticks, flashlights and candles. Don’t forget to store extra batteries and rotate them more often if stored in the heat.
- Medical Supplies: Workplace medical emergencies vary greatly depending on the disaster, type of job and the worksite. Heavy equipment operators face different safety risks than do office workers or food service personnel. Regardless of the type of work, there are steps which can give you the upper hand in responding to a medical emergency.2
Encourage employees to take basic First Aid and CPR training. Offer on-site classes for your co-workers.
Keep first aid supplies in stock and easily accessible. Differentiate between routine medical supplies and those for disasters.
Encourage employees to talk about medical conditions that may require support or special care in an emergency. Don’t forget critical medications.
Keep employee emergency contact information on file and up-to-date. Store a copy with other vital records in your emergency kit and another at an off-site location.
- Sanitation: Simple supplies such as plastic bags have a multitude of uses during a disaster. Be sure to stock moist towelettes and toilet paper. People affected by natural and man made disasters are more likely to become ill and die from diseases related to inadequate sanitation and water supplies than from any other single cause.3 The World Health Organization (www.who.int) has a helpful fact sheet on sanitation.
- Communication: Battery-powered radio and extra batteries can keep you informed. A whistle can be an important communication tool to signal for help.
- Protection: Ready.gov recommends storing the following items: Dust masks to filter particles, wrench or pliers for turning off utilities, plastic sheeting and duct tape to “seal a room”. Companies may want to consider the purchase of search and rescue equipment which may be necessary for major disasters in which 911 can’t respond immediately.
2. Encourage Employees to Prepare Vital Personal Information
Encourage employees to review important personal paperwork and possibly store some documents in their emergency kit. Copies of some documents might also be sent to family members living in other areas. A partial list:
- Medical records
- Insurance policies
- Credit cards and bank account information
- Household inventory
- Important telephone numbers
- Spare keys
Family Communications Plan
Your employees and their families may not be together when disaster strikes. It is essential that they plan how they will contact other family members in various scenarios. Ready.gov has excellent information on how to develop a family plan. Out-of-town contacts may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Every family member should know the emergency contact name and phone number.
Preparing our country must be done at the grassroots level – family by family, business by business, and community by community. Is your company prepared? Are your employees and their families prepared?
About the Author Tommy Rainey is Executive Publisher of the annual Disaster Resource GUIDE and the weekly Continuity e-GUIDE, and Vice President of Emergency Lifeline, a California Corporation founded in 1985 to help businesses, government agencies and families prepare for emergencies or disasters. He can be reached at (714) 558-8940 ext 804.
- Ready Business, www.ready.gov/business
- Ready Business, www.ready.gov
- Sanitation Connection www.sanicon.net