Why Communities Need to Plan for Disasters

Introduction – Today’s post is going to focus on communities. It is easier to get corporations to change or develop a 3CFortress but today I’m going to think BIG. Changing a community to have more 3CF qualities may take some time but neighborhood or a section can do it at a time.

Main Essay – Here are a couple of case studies to get you thinking:

Case Study: Joplin, Missouri — Tornado

On May 22, 2011, an EF5 (wind speeds of 200 mph) struck Joplin, Missouri. The path of the tornado was 13 miles long and 1 mile wide. Despite the widespread destruction, Government agencies and responders in Joplin still had to respond to the disaster.

  • 17,000 people were directly affected, including 161 people who lost their lives.
  • 7,500 homes were destroyed or damaged.
  • 553 businesses were destroyed.
  • Ten schools were not functional (six destroyed, four damaged), and 4,200 students were displaced.
  • Two fire stations were destroyed.
  • One of two hospitals was destroyed.
  • Buildings not destroyed were often uninhabitable due to destruction of critical infrastructure.
  • Employees and responders were also personally affected.

The Joplin tornado exemplifies an emergency that required the widespread activation of continuity plans. Localities and Government agencies needed to:

  • Assess and select a course of action to coordinate the re-establishment of supply chain for critical goods and services.
  • Locate suitable structures to support temporary schools, hospitals, and medical facilities.
  • Address impact to public safety (fire protection coverage and EMS response times) and damage to response vehicles.
  • Assess critical infrastructure systems for power restoration, street signage, traffic control lights, outdoor warning, water, sanitation, and communications.

Case Study: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is another example of an emergency that required the widespread activation of continuity plans.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina:

  • 83 General Services Administration-owned and -leased buildings were damaged in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
  • 2,600 Federal employees from 28 agencies had to be relocated.
  • Numerous Federal, State, and local offices were affected.

AND YET, despite this large-scale emergency, The National Finance Center paid half a million Federal workers on time during Hurricane Katrina, without delays.

How was this possible?

Due to continuity plans, The National Finance Center took the following actions which minimized the hurricane’s effects on essential functions:

  • Surged work force before the hurricane’s landfall, allowing completion of payroll processing for Federal employees
  • Shut down operations and deployed to backup locations
  • Backup data was trucked out of the New Orleans facility
  • Advance deployment team moved to backup sites
  • Began catch-up processing within a 50-hour period

However, it’s important to remember that continuity plans are also necessary in emergencies much smaller than Hurricane Katrina (e.g., threat of impending emergency, power failures, water-main break, snow or ice storms).

Both of these, along with Sandy, should inspire any community/town/city to start their risk analysis tomorrow. I’ve mentioned before that response and recovery can’t be planned for after something like this hits. You need to develop a plan ahead of time so that you can execute it rather than react.

Both of these are great examples where some ‘devolution’ is necessary. This means moving to another facility or setting up a temporary facility.

How do you make this happen with the least amount of ‘pain’? Plan ahead for this by looking at other buildings/facilities and knowing how to convert a building into a temporary office, school or hospital. In some cases this could be tents or having transportation ready to move people and equipment to the alternate site.

Many of the 3CF concepts can provide mitigation to many of the impacts listed above. Housing destroyed or inaccessible can go to the long-term stay hotel tower. Tents can be set up on the grounds so they are in a secure area.

The 3CF office tower can accommodate displaced companies in unused space or doubling up in others. Apartments/Condos can be used as temporary office spaces. Executives can live in the back (bedroom area) and work out of the front (living room area). Can RV’s be parked in a secure area and be used for office and living spaces?

Not every 3CFortress will already have an Urgent Care facility but having one to catch hospital overflow or mass casualties would save many lives.

The hotel tower conference or meeting rooms can be used as classrooms. If trailers are available for this then move them close to or within the 3CF facility.

What the case studies don’t say speaks volumes. Think of all the people that went to the Super Dome thinking that they were going to a (viable) shelter. Conditions there became hell on earth. Don’t fall into the thinking that “the box was checked on that”. If you plan for and/or announce that you have a shelter make sure it is viable and staffed to accommodate victims. If it reaches its limit then where do the turn aways go?

Every part of your disaster or continuity plan has to be tested and rehearsed. Why not turn a local event into one that is held at the shelter facility. Don’t say it is a rehearsal for a disaster. Few will come, as most people don’t want to think about it. See if local businesses will provide some free give aways to those attending the event. Give people an incentive to come.

After each exercise or rehearsal make sure you do an after action report. Make sure that there is a corrective action plan on every follow up item shown as “needs improvement”. If you don’t, then plan on dealing with your own Super Dome catastrophe on top over everything else going wrong.

One last point on the two case studies is the Federal government will be impacted by catastrophic disasters just as much as the local government and citizens in the impact area. Look at what the finance center did to keep people getting paid. What would your community do to keep getting people paid, stay in business or continue essential functions?

National response has improved since Katrina and was very good in the Joplin case. But response takes time and recovery takes even longer. This is why I recommend your disaster or continuity plans should be a minimum of thirty days and more like ninety days. Sandy recovery, for many areas, was 120 days or longer.

Do you see the need for communities, of all sizes, to start planning for a disaster or crisis now? If your community leaders have thought ahead and have a plan then when was the last time it was reviewed or tested? Deficiencies in any area will cost lives.

Check It Out – Hopefully your community is one of the ones that were awarded with a Community Preparedness Award. One is from New Orleans. Wonder what made them think to be better prepared?

See the full list at: http://www.ready.gov/citizen-corps/citizen-corps-awards

There are different categories and honorable mentions. If your community is not listed then ask your leaders and emergency planners where your community stands on disaster or crisis planning. Don’t forget events like Ferguson or man-made disasters.

Quick Tip – September is National Preparedness Month. Go to ready.gov to learn more. This week is about wildfires but several other disasters are listed. No doubt one affects your area from one of the disasters listed.

Look Who’s Talking – 2015 has already shown to be a year to remember as far as declared disasters affecting many states. Follow any of the links in today’s post to another link and look into what resources are available to get your planning started. Make your community case study one to be copied by other communities as one to follow.

What Do You Think? – Was your community hit? Was it prepared? What can be done to prepare for the next one?

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