Warning: Plan now or pay later
Severe weather can cause major disruptions for government entities. By asking questions and taking action now, local officials can help mitigate the damage wrought by a natural disaster.
As we have learned from past hurricanes, the effects of a storm are not just felt at the coast, but also many miles inland. You must take active steps to reduce the impact of any storm on your employees, the public you serve, and the publicly owned property that you are stewards of. Prior planning will help the effects of the storm to be less, reduce potential loss of life and property, and help you to recover faster.
North Carolina local government facilities and operations are exposed to property damage and disruption from high winds and related flooding. Before a storm hits, local governments should have a strategy and plans in place to assess damage and recover operations and services.
In North Carolina, the state Emergency Management Division has proven itself many times at being able to respond to an emergency situation. Most local governments have detailed plans for community response to a hurricane, but don’t forget that government services, although interrupted temporarily, must be ready to resume as soon a possible.
Understanding the potential disruption that severe weather, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters, can have on your organization’s operations is the first step in disaster preparation. All levels of your organization’s operations should know their role before, during and after a storm. Given this, there are certain things local governments should be prepared to do before, during and after a hurricane to enhance their ability to serve the community and to protect valuable assets.
- Have potential areas vulnerable to natural disaster losses been identified, and measures taken to reduce the impact of the disaster on areas and items?
- Have internal emergency procedures been reviewed and exercised? Do employees and managers know their individual roles in an emergency situation?
- Do employees and the public know evacuation routes out of facilities and out of the area?
- Are there pre-storm procedures in place to secure buildings from high wind and flood damage?
- Are plans in place for communicating with employees and other key organizations before, during and after the storm?
- Do all county employees have possession of a county identification card or other form of photo identification?
- Has a list of critical county employees been provided to the Emergency Management Director and made available to the county Emergency Operations Center? Are there established procedures to back up and/or recover digital data that could be lost during a storm?
- Are backups in such a format to allow for easy transport, and have designated employees been made responsible for the security of the backup files?
- Are there procedures in place to resume critical operations and business functions at a remote location equipped with sufficient work stations, access to telephone, computer systems, etc.?
- Are several assembly points established throughout the county where county employees can report after a storm has passed, in the event of not being able to communicate electronically?
- Are extra batteries charged, or have chargers been moved to buildings equipped with emergency generator power?
- Has essential technical expertise been identified to assist in securing data systems and media prior to storm landfall?
- Are vital key records and documents secured in place or transported to a safe place for later access? If left on site, are all papers on pallets or off the floor, to avoid flood damage?
- Have fleet vehicles, to include public safety vehicles, been dispersed geographically in order to minimize damage and ensure survivability of the fleet?
- Has one employee been designated as being responsible for collecting damage information on facilities and vehicles, and communicating with the county’s insurance carrier or TPA?
- Are all equipment inventories updated, and have they been made available off-site to speed up replacement?
- Are employees allowed extra time to secure their own homes and personal effects?
- In the event of an evacuation, is a list maintained of any employee(s) that remain(s) behind, such as law enforcement or other public safety officers?
- Has the power and gas been turned off at each facility prior to evacuation? Has a predetermined signal been established that a facility is secure and unoccupied?
- Have employees been directed to stay indoors, away from windows, and if possible, to move to the downwind side of the building?
- Has any building designated for sheltering of county employees been marked in order to easily locate occupants in the event of a collapse?
- Are employees that remain behind provided with means to maintain radio contact with law enforcement, fire/rescue or the county Emergency Operations Center?
- Has a method been established whereby the Emergency Operations Center communicates that the storm has passed and it is safe to leave shelter?
- Have staff and all employees involved in the recovery effort been warned to avoid downed power lines, and to remain off of roofs and other structures until a damage assessment can be made?
- Has a central point of contact and assembly location and/or incident command center been determined should immediate access to damaged buildings be unavailable?
- Is there a damage assessment protocol that can communicate information about the amount of damage to buildings, and safety and environmental considerations, as well as initiate the claims procedure?
- Does this protocol or plan provide for securing inaccessible and damaged sites?
- Have emergency accounting and reporting procedures been established to accurately measure and track the extent of property and financial losses?
- Has staff been informed not to enter into any contract or to allow recovery services to be performed without first contacting the county’s insurance carrier or third-party administrator?
- Is there a plan in place to allow effective communication with employees, customers, key vendors, the media, public officials and the general public?
- As county employees report in, is an established process to identify where that employee can be located, and a means of communication established?
- Is there a plan for providing assistance to employees and their families? Can transportation be provided to accelerate a return to work?
Based on proximity to the coast, certain local governments have a higher risk of exposure to severe wind and flood damage. Risk computer modeling can be used to analyze and quantify building risk impact.
Hurricane season continues until November. Even if your organization has been spared the effects of hurricanes in the past, it is wise to prepare for the 2011 season. Although no one can predict when, where and with what intensity a weather-related incident will strike, organizations can protect and preserve their people, facilities and operations best by being prepared for the worst.
You may not be able to control the weather. But you can control the impact it has on your organization and the services you provide to citizens.