If you’re raking ashes in California or ripping out sheetrock and carpets in Louisiana, you are disaster-wise. We grow through adversity. If you have never lived through a disaster, you are probably, with all due respect, dumb, fat and happy. Today I want to make you think about the unthinkable. The more willing you are to consider a worst case, the more likely you’ll be able to deal with it when it occurs. But mere thinking about the worst case is not enough.
“Talking about bulls is not the same thing as being in the bull ring.” (Spanish Proverb)
It’s not too soon to act in preparation of the next disaster. Let me help you plan.
I’ll offer you 10 scenarios for you to honestly evaluate your preparedness. Once you complete your self-evaluation, you will not actually be better prepared for a disaster, but you may be motivated to prepare better. Your pass or fail course grade will come when your home or your business is restored and operational following a loss.
In the movie Patton, the general said, “In the face of war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” I believe that disasters are the same.
- People – Who are you responsible for and responsible to? If the local nuclear power plant melts down and all must evacuate immediately, who in your circle of responsibility (children, spouse, parents, employees) must you help? How can you coordinate their escape? Remember that Friday evening traffic is a pleasure compared with evacuations that move at zero to 10 mph.
- Necessities (food, drink, medication, toiletries, to start with) – Do you have a week or more of food at home or your office if you are forced to shelter in place? If the evacuation process takes days, do you have what you need packed in your vehicle?
- Emotional readiness – Evacuations are never easy. Have you and your spouse or your staff thought through the challenge of dealing with and living through a crisis? If not, you should be thinking through the process and challenges while hoping your plan is never needed. In disasters, proactive is better than reactive. Reason has more benefit than emotion, and both will be in play.
- Destination – If you are leaving here, you must get there. If you are in a herd of evacuees heading west, west can be hundreds of miles away. Place and money (cash) matter. Knowing these are available makes the process run smoother. If you have a predetermined place where you can establish a safe haven, let everyone know, so you can meet. If you have the resources and can find living and work space for yourself and your family and your team, rent what you can. Place will be at a premium or not available in disasters.
- Transportation – Who needs a ride? Who has a ride? Assume mass transit will be mass chaos. Gas stations may not be open, so filling up may not be possible. Keep your cars near full. Fill up tonight.
- Communication – Effective communication is most important in disasters, at the evacuation end or the recovery end and everywhere in between. iPhones, the internet, the telephone, social media, email, the spoken word are tools for communication. Often in crisis, many tools for communication are not available for days or weeks.
Do you and your family or you and your organizational team have a communications plan to ensure that you can ultimately connect with each other after the worst has occurred? Provide each individual a list of all needed cell numbers and email addresses and passwords. Plan cloud access. In the short term, your tools requiring electricity or access to internet may not work. Paper still has value.
Identify a person miles away who can be the central contact or gathering point for all being forced out because of the disaster. Recruit a family member of friend who is willing to be called daily by each member of your group and capture and share the information necessary to facilitate connection and reunion.
- Evacuation – Know your alternatives. What may be the most comfortable route west (or east, north or south) may not be workable in chaos. Bring a map. You may not able to access GPS. Gas, food, restrooms and a place to sleep make the trip more bearable.
Your marketplace and organization
- Marketplace and team awareness and readiness – Once the levees break, the neighborhood is on fire or the 24th inch of rain falls, it is too late to prepare your organization, your distributors, suppliers and clients for trouble. Trouble is here.
Clients deal with you, and you solicit prospects, based on a value proposition to help them when they need it. Your problems are not their problems. Your needs are not their needs. When the world is working according to plan, doing what you promised or meeting and exceeding expectations is easy. When fires are burning, flood waters rising and the community is evacuating, it is too late to prepare your clients for troubles ahead. Your readiness is valuable to your clients.
Tomorrow, plan what is necessary to give your clients and staff access to information needed, even when the world seems broken. In the industry’s equivalent of the Dark Ages, we would post the names and numbers of carrier claims offices and locations on the agency windows as we evacuated for higher ground. After Katrina, Rita and more recent hurricanes and the collapse of the electrical and electronic communication structure, the sign on the door approach was still an effective tool. Whoever communicates best before, during and after a disaster wins.
- Chaos/combat – In the chaos after a disaster, agencies and teams that evacuate have to relocate and build a temporary operation for their own safety and sanity, deal with their own losses/problems and serve their clients who are in yet-to-be-determined places.
Many of these folks have lost family members, homes, cars and most of their worldly possessions. They are hurting. Nonetheless they have to be there for their clients and their fellow team members. Who they were before the storm may not be who they are after their loss. Storms change everything.
Some of your best workers may not be able to do what they did in the good times. Others who may have been suspect before become star storm troopers in the chaos. All are human and need to get support from and offer support to each other. Expect that several times a day the displaced team may need to stop working, hug each other, have a good cry and then get back to work.
Your systems are robotic; your team is made up of living, breathing, feeling and hurting individuals who can do so much, but all have a breaking point. Don’t cross it.
- 10. Contingencies – Every day, you’ll discover something new, something different, something you didn’t plan for. You must adapt.
What is offered here is not necessarily a plan that will work, but it is a plan that I hope will get you thinking and acting. Find a better way.
MICHAEL G. MANES is the owner of Manes and Associates, a New Iberia-based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change. He has over 49 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of Risk and Insurance at Louisiana State University. Manes can be reached at www.squareoneconsulting.com or 337-577-3885.