The Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) shared a report on their blog identifying some of the mistakes made by government agencies during the catastrophic flooding in Nashville in May 2010. The report, which was completed by the National Weather Service (NWS), identified several shortcomings and opportunities for improvement in future disaster situations.
As I was reading through the key findings, I couldn't help but think about the hundreds of non-profits, community organizations and summer camps we work with. Would our customers be prepared in a disaster? And not only a natural disaster, but rather all major catastrophes - think of drownings, lock downs, power failures, etc.
I would like to think that all organizations are prepared for the worst-case scenario, but I know that just isn't the case. Here are the key findings from the Nashville flood report, and my thoughts on how organizations can use them to better prepare for a catastrophe.
Finding #1 - Coordinate and Partner
At critical times, insufficient coordination and communication between the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers undermined the flood forecast. It was symptomatic of a lack of understanding of each other’s operational procedures, forecast processes and critical data needs.
This just as easily could read:
At critical times, insufficient coordination and communication between the Fitness Center and local emergency medical services impacted EMS's ability to respond to a heart attack victim. It was symptomatic of a lack of understanding of each other's operational procedures, building layouts, and response times.
Is every employee aware of, and comfortable with, the emergency action plan? Does your facility even have an emergency action plan? Are local EMS, police, and fire fighting authorities comfortable with the layout and location of your facility?
Employees at every level of the corporate ladder should be included in at least one emergency preparedness drill each year; this includes janitorial staff, maintenance crews, volunteers, etc. Employees that are more likely to respond to emergencies (ie. lifeguards, camp counselors, child watch staff, etc.) should practice activating the emergency action plan more frequently.
Get local authorities involved in at least one emergency drill each year. Make sure they know the fastest route to your facility, the fastest way to navigate the building, and the location of important landmarks such as fire hydrants and sprinkler shut-off valves.
Finding #2 - Increase Staffing when Necessary
Despite good coordination and increased staffing in advance of the flooding, the forecast office in Nashville and the Ohio River Forecast Center needed additional staff to manage operations more proactively and maintain a high level of situational awareness as the threat increased.
Is it really all that hard to imagine this instead:
Despite good coordination and increased staffing in advance of the busiest swimming weekend of the year, lifeguards and program staff needed additional people to manage operations more proactively and maintain appropriate guard-to-swimmer and staff-to-participant ratios as the pool became busier.
A drowning, near drowning, or other catastrophic event can happen at any time, but these tragedies are much more likely when a facility is at maximum capacity. Supervisors must carefully track member attendance schedules and determine the busiest days of the year. An overcrowded pool is a disaster waiting to happen, even with competent lifeguards on duty.
In addition to busy pool days, many community organizations become the go-to spot for parents in a bind during weather-related school closures. If your organization takes on kids from the community during snow days, be prepared to beef up staffing. Keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly. Unsupervised children are a liability insurance nightmare.
Finding #3 - Communicate
Many people did not respond to flood warnings, either because the warnings were not activated over the Emergency Alert System or because they were not specific enough to cause listeners to believe the flooding would impact their roads, homes and businesses.
Couldn't this happen in your community:
Many people did not respond to the lockdown, either because the warnings were not activated over the Emergency Alert System or because they were not specific enough to cause listeners to believe the threat was legitimate.
If the building is forced to lockdown, either because of a dangerous situation in the community, or because of a weather-related disaster, it is imperative that this message is shared clearly and quickly with members and staff. Would your organization be prepared if a crazed gunman was headed directly for the facility? If a tornado was barreling towards the building, would everyone inside be able to get to a safe location?
Never take a chance. Disasters, whether natural or unnatural, are inevitable. Your employees and the members of your community rely on your preparedness.