Preparing for a Disaster; Little or BIG Emergencies

October 25, 2018

Preparing for the great flood – in February?!

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. We were not in a flood zone and it was not a time of high rain either, so to get the early morning phone call from a team member that they stepped into standing water upon entering the office that morning was shocking, to say the least.

We had been going through a week-long stretch of freezing temperatures.  There were pipes housed in the wall behind the washing machine at the back of the practice that normally froze in low temperatures.  This meant we needed to wait until mid-day to do laundry.  However, on this cold morning in February, these pipes had succumbed to the repeated days of freezing temps and busted.  We later learned it was likely the rush of water coming from the wall had been running for an hour or two by the time our team had arrived.

Unexpected emergencies like this don’t allow for time to prepare, at least in the traditional sense.  General preparedness training makes the biggest difference.  I say this in hindsight (like most of us do!).  During this flood, my team went into reaction mode instead of referring to any type of training.  While it seemed to be spinning outside of my control at the time, I feel we did some things right (instinctually) and learned a lot, too.

There are several key areas to educate your team on to have the tools when faced with an unexpected emergency. Training for an emergency may take very little time and yet the benefits far out weigh the initial training time.

Safety First

A written expectation of personal safety is paramount in any good emergency preparedness plan.  Everyone in the industry has a desire to take care of others. Without defining individual safety as the first thing to consider, your team will go straight to saving animals and equipment, forgetting about personal safety.  During a crisis, team members may be driven by instinct (save the animals). Through repetitive safety training, establishing clearn expectations for personal safety and putting it in writing (decreasing liability), the team may act accordingly .  Personal safety is number one.  

Facility Knowledge, floor plan and operations

General knowledge of the building’s floor plan is important for all team members, not just practice owners and managers.  Knowing the location of electrical shut-offs, how to operate them and water main valves can save lives.

When orienting new employees, include a hospital tour, serving two purposes.  One being the general building tour and the second being a safety tour.  Show them where safety equipment, shut-offs and water valves are located instead of referring to a written manual.  Keep safety training visual. 

Contact List

Evaluate and update the contact numbers posted by each phone.  The list includes the fire department, local police and management team phone numbers.  Seeing and referring to the list on a daily basis will make it easier to use during an emergency situation.  Make safety tools commonplace. 

Business Continuation Plan

When there is a barrier to business operations, having a written plan can make a stressful situation a little less stressful.  It takes the guesswork out of what is going to happen next and what could be feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty become optimism and empowerment.  Once a plan is established, remember to share it with your team!  When a team knows there is a plan in place for the ‘What If’s’ there is a greater feeling of security, decreasing anxiety they might experience during an emergency.  Nothing beats the feeling of being prepared.

Recovering from the Flood

After the water was shut-off, we stepped into recovery mode.  Weeks of drying out the drywall, insurance evaluations and decisions galore followed.  We did experience financial loss from the event and were thankful it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Being on the other side of the crisis I learned that preparation for the unexpected shouldn’t wait for the fully developed, written disaster plan.  Every tool created for disaster preparation and safety is valuable. The most valuable component is giving the tools and resources to the team, big or small.  Emergencies won’t wait for you to be ready!

Yours in Disaster Preparation,

Jamie Davis, CVMP