Is Your Organization Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

November 21, 2011

Katharine M. Nohr, JD
Nohr Sports Risk Management, LLC

Japan is in the process of recovering from a horrendous 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a deadly tsunami. The west coast of the United States and Hawaii also sustained millions of dollars of damages because of the tsunami generated from the Japan earthquake, but such damage was far less than feared. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, mud slides, and fires are some of the natural disasters that occur in the world every year, costing lives, destroying property and ending viable businesses. Some of those businesses are sport and recreation facilities, Universities, colleges, and schools. Just as families have to prepare themselves in the event of disaster, so should those in the business of sport and recreation.

Does your organization have an up to date, detailed and practiced disaster plan? Is the plan designed to protect people, property and business continuity? Most likely, your organization has somewhat of a disaster plan, but it is missing elements and staff and volunteers may not be aware of its details. With recent catastrophic disasters in mind, it is a good time to establish a committee and employ a risk management consultant to update the plan.

Three objectives should be met in considering your organizations’ disaster plan:

  1. Protect People
  2. Protect Property
  3. Protect Business Continuity

The following are some of the considerations for meeting such goals.

Protecting People
Protecting human lives is the most critical goal when a disaster occurs. A plan should be made for evacuation of people in the event the structure is at risk. In some circumstances there will be adequate notice for evacuation, such as a hurricane or tsunami warnings that are based on weather service projections. Alternatively, there may be very little time to evacuate, such as during a fire or earthquake. In any event, exit signs should be clearly visible and exits should not be blocked or locked. The people in the facility should have previously been advised of the evacuation plan so that even in smoke or darkness, they can make their way out of the building. Plans should be in place for evacuating disabled, elderly, and children that may need assistance. Alarms should be in good working order as well as fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, and other necessary emergency gear. Leaders should have been designated in advance, having practiced evacuation of all of their charges. A meeting place should have been planned and roll calls should be made in order to determine whether everyone has safely made their way out of the building.

Protecting people also means having emergency supplies available to provide them with food, water, shelter and warmth. Usually electricity goes out during natural disasters or catastrophic events. Generators, flash lights, and fuel are just some of the items that should be acquired in order to prepare for disaster. Without electricity, there will be associated shortages of gas, water, consumer goods and cash. These shortages should be anticipated and planned for before the calamity.

Protecting Property
Secondary to protecting people, organizations must consider how property can be protected. Structures should be built to withstand likely environmental events. For example, in an earthquake zone, facilities should be reinforced to comply with applicable construction standards and codes. Security should be addressed in order to prevent looting or other intrusions. Plans should be made to move valuable property to safe locations where there is sufficient time to do so. Safeguards should be made to prevent electrical surges to computers and other electronics. Boats, motor vehicles and outdoor equipment should be moved or properly secured in advance of a known impending disaster. Valuables should be kept dry and in safe locations. All computer files should be backed up to a server that is in a location that would not be subject to the same disaster. Sufficient property, hurricane, flood and other insurance should be procured in advance that will provide sufficient coverage for any likely peril. For insurance purposes, it is wise to have an inventory of property, photographs or video footage kept on an off-site server.

Protecting Business Continuity
When people think of disaster planning, they often don’t consider how to protect a business from becoming inoperable and possibly insolvent because of the disaster. Risk financial planning is essential in considering how to maintain the continuity of your organization after a disaster. This will likely include a combination of insurance and self insured retention. Another consideration is facility and equipment use. Two common risk control techniques are duplication and separation. Duplication is where your organization maintains duplicate equipment or facilities in another location that can be used in the event of destruction. Separation means that another available location is in a different geographical area that would not likely be impacted by the weather event. Utilizing either technique may allow your organization to continue operation.

There is much more to disaster planning than what is outlined above. It would be prudent for your organization to continually plan and practice disaster plans so that in the event a disaster occurs, you will maximize your protection of human lives, property and you will be able to continue business as usual.

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