If you’re raking ashes in California or ripping out sheetrock and carpets in Louisiana (where I live), 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. This article is written with one intent – 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.
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was once asked the secret to his success. He replied, “Good decisions.” He was then asked how he made good decisions. His answer was, “Experience.” When asked for the source of his experience, he said, “Bad decisions.”
There is “wisdom in scar tissue,” learning that “souls don’t grow in the sunshine.” We rarely learn anything when we think we know it all!
“Talking about bulls is not the same thing as being in the bull ring.” (Spanish Proverb)
Reality is the facts. Perception is how we see the facts. These can be worlds apart or very much aligned. Your challenge is to recognize the difference. To change perception, you merely need to look at the facts differently. To change the facts, we must intervene with physical force, money, time, energy, etc.
As you consider the scenarios that follow, try to be honest. State the facts (circumstances) and how you would address these right now. Ten questions/scenarios are offered. Answer honestly. If 6 out of 10 answers suggest you’re ready, I’d suggest your preparedness is above average. You pass the quiz.
Once you complete the process, you will not be better prepared for a disaster but you may be motivated to prepare better. The final exam is completed as you arrive at a safe place following evacuation of your home or your business is restored and operational following a loss.
See also: A Real Checklist for Real Disasters
In the movie Patton, the general said, “In the face of war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” I believe that true disasters are the same.
1. 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, etc.) must you help? How can you coordinate their escape? Remember that Friday p.m. traffic is a pleasure compared with evacuation of communities that might move at 0 to 10 mph, if at all?
2. Necessities (food, drink, medication, toiletries, etc.) – 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?
3. 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, should you 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. Both will be part of the process – the ideal is balance.
4. Destination – If you are leaving here, you must get to there. If you are in a herd of evacuees heading west, “west” can be hundreds of miles away. Place and money 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 at all in disasters.
5. Transportation – Who needs a ride? Who has a ride? Assume “mass transit” will be “mass chaos.” Understand that gas stations may not be open, so filling up may not be possible. Keep your cars near full – fill up tonight. Don’t plan to do it in the a.m.
6. Communication – Effective communication is most important in disasters whether it is at the evacuation end or the recovery end or somewhere in between. Communication is the negotiation of meaning. iPhones, the internet, the telephone, social media, e-mail, the spoken word, etc. are tools for communication. Often in crisis, many tools for communication do not work are or 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? Perhaps have each individual have a list of all needed cell numbers and e-mail addresses and passwords. In the short term, your “e” and “i” tools may not work. Paper still has value.
See also: Realities of Post-Disaster Data Recovery
Identify a person/place miles away that can be the central contact or gathering point for all being forced out because of the disaster. This might be a family member of friend, willing to be called once by each member of your group and capture and share the information necessary to facilitate connection and reunion.
7. Evacuation – Look before you leap: 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, rest rooms and a place to sleep make the trip more bearable. Think through your options.
Your marketplace and organization:
8. 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. Deal with it.
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 (think New Orleans immediately post-Katrina), it is too late to get prepared or to prepare your clients for troubles ahead. Readiness is differentiation!
Tomorrow, plan what is necessary to give your clients and staff access to information needed, even if the world is 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 and Rita and the collapse of the electrical and e-structure of our world, that approach was still an effective tool. Remember that your website may go down. Electricity may be off for a month. If your cell phones fail, they are only as good as a paper weight. One friend found his sister-in-law’s cellphone (with a different area code) worked after Katrina had shut down his own phones. Whoever communicates best – before, during and after a disaster – wins!
9. Chaos/combat – Remember the chaos in the post-Katrina world in New Orleans. Those agencies and teams that evacuated didn’t leave the chaos behind when they left New Orleans. They had to relocate and build a temporary operation for their own safety and sanity and to serve their clients (who were in yet-to-be-determined places) and deal with their own losses/problems.
Many of these folks had lost family members, homes, cars and most of their worldly possessions. They were wanderers – hurting. Nonetheless they had 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 crisis (loss). The storm changed 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 support from and to offer support to each other. Bob (a friend and New Orleans agency owner who evacuated to Baton Rouge for many weeks) told me one thing he had never considered before Katrina was the need for a group hug/cry. He said, “Several times a day – we’d stop working and hug each other and 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 – Many agencies work like a Swiss watch – a very effective process. Unfortunately, you must build, maintain and sustain a living system. Every day, you’ll discover something new, something different, something you didn’t plan for – you must adapt. As you process and progress, ask yourself and each other: What now? What else? What next?
In closing, I’ll flash back to one of the most memorable days in my life. It was October 1962. I was a high school sophomore. The U. S. and Russian navies were facing off over nuclear weapons in Cuba.
Coach Blanco was sitting on top his desk. He told us, “Boys, if I get off this desk and crawl under it, you do the same. That means I’ve seen a mushroom cloud.” We had regularly prepared for such disasters with “Atomic Bond Drills” (crawling under our desks). Obviously, such a plan would not work.
What is offered here is not a plan that will work, but it is a plan that I hope will get you thinking and acting. Find a better way. Do more than crawl under your desk.
Remember, some day soon the “merchant of misery” may visit your town. BE PREPARED!