26 Jul How good (or bad) is your local emergency plan?
It doesn’t matter what type of disaster you get hit with, chances are your municipality is not prepared, your county is not prepared, and your state is not prepared.
If you looked at the Emergency Operations Plan for New Orleans, it would say that it was not updated for five years before Katrina hit. It was last revised in January 2000, and according to an article that was published after the disaster, it “goes hand-in-hand with the state’s Emergency Operations Plan, which outlines government agencies’ responsibilities in big emergencies.”
You would have thought that after 9/11, New Orleans would have revisited their Emergency Operations Plan and at least made some revisions pertaining to terrorist attacks and add other insights that municipalities learned after 9/11.
So many organizations are not prepared and many problems that I saw in the private sector are mirrored in the public sector. After going through several once-in-a-lifetime disasters that seem to hit every year, you would think that many organizations would learn from others who were unprepared and lost valuable time in trying to recover from a disaster.
Simper Paratus? (Always Prepared?) Not
From the 1988 Hinsdale Central Office Fire to the Chicago Flood of 1992, there are many catastrophic events that have tested the viability of both corporate and municipal disaster recovery programs and emergency operations plans (EOPs). You would have thought that after all those events, organizations would have really focused on what to do after a disaster and develop comprehensive contingency plans. They did not.
After 9/11, many organizations, who saw how unprepared some of the companies caught up in the World Trade Center disaster were, started to review what they had as far as disaster recovery plans and found out they were sorely lacking. On the corporate side, legislation like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act required corporations to have disaster recovery plans.
Others in other industries also put emergency plans together, but have not revisited them since. Others have revised plans and are probably in a better position to be able to apply them in a disaster.
A good rule-of-thumb is that the newer the date on the plan, the more likely it will be of some use if it gets put into action.
A disaster or emergency operations plan is only as good as the last time it was tested. Oh, you never tested it after you put it together? Chances are, it will be of minimal help when you dust it off. That was the experience of all those companies in the World Trade Center that had a disaster recovery plan, but never tested it.
After 9/11, another natural disaster created a wake-up call in both the private sector and the government. If you read what some other states did after Katrina, you would see that they created a well-organized approach for dealing with emergencies and disasters. Here is something the State of New Jersey enacted after the Katrina disaster:
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. Section 20 of P.L.1989, c.222 (C.App. A:9-43.3) is amended to read as follows:
20. Each county and municipal Emergency Operations Plan shall conform to all relevant federal and State statutes, rules and regulations concerning emergency operations and shall include the identification of significant hazards affecting the jurisdiction. Each county and municipal Emergency Operations Plan shall be based upon planning criteria, objectives, requirements, responsibilities and concepts of operation for the implementation of all necessary and appropriate protective or remedial measures to be taken in response to an actual or threatened emergency as determined by the State Director of Emergency Management. Each Emergency Operations Plan shall provide for a command structure that affords appropriate command support for the incident commander. Deputy chiefs and battalion chiefs and company officers shall be included in the county fire mutual aid plan to respond to any emergency to supply command support or be assigned to the command structure. Each county and municipal Emergency Operations Plan shall be reviewed and updated at least every [two years] year.
This bill requires counties and municipalities to review and update Emergency Operations Plans at least every year. Under current law, counties and municipalities are only required to review and update their plans every two years. The bill also contains an appropriation of $100,000 to assist counties and municipalities with the costs associated with reviewing and updating Emergency Operations Plans more often.
See in the STATEMENT paragraph: “The bill requires counties and municipalities to review and update Emergency Operations Plans at least every year.” If you have a plan that’s five to seven years old, it will be useless in a disaster.
How long have you waited in doing a review of your systems? Whether you are a private organization or a local government, you have to have a plan that is fairly recent and has been tested at least on a yearly basis.
TOP TEN LIST OF “KNOWING WHEN YOUR PLAN IS BAD”
1. You try to look for it but the last person that had it on their desk is retired.
2. The plan talks about how to turn off all the gas lights on each block in case of a tornado.
3. The plan has a date on it that precedes 9/11/2001.
4. The contact list is so old that half the names on it are now names on your city’s street signs.
5. You could look for it but you are waist deep in water on the first floor and have to figure out how to get to the basement where it is stored.
6. The plan has a date preceding 8/29/2005 (Hurricane Katrina).
7. When you open it up and half the pages are missing because someone was using a page every day to start the space heater in the winters.
8. After six years you decide to finally test it and the equipment that it describes how to operate has all been upgraded twice in six years.
9. The area codes that are defined in the plan have been changed.
10. The plan refers to all the policies and checklists that you can get from the files on the 5-1/4 inch disk that’s in the folder jacket pocket.
In all seriousness, plans that have not been tested are probably not worth the paper they are printed on especially if they are a couple of years old. With all of the money that is spent on various emergency programs, you would think that your municipality is pretty much safe in the event of an emergency.
Don’t take it for granted. The newer the date on the Plan, the more likely it will be of some value if it is ever put into action. Hopefully, it was tested in some dry run or simulation exercise.
Carlini-ism: Emergency operation plans are only good if they are tested and revised yearly.
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This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
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