Plan Respond RecoverIn part 1, we discussed the five possible actions that either must be done or can be done to minimize the loss from an emergency.  In this post, we are going to examine what is arguably the most important step of all – planning.

There is a lot of information on the internet that can help you prepare for an emergency.  One of the best is www.ready.gov – a website of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have considered every situation that could potentially occur anywhere in the United States – your tax dollars at work and incidentally work that I supported in the 2002-3 timeframe.

So what should you actually do to plan for emergencies?

  1. The first thing you have to do is have a good imagination.  This usually surprises people but it is vital.  You can’t prepare for what you can’t imagine.  Throughout history, when someone says that an event can’t possibly occur so we don’t have to prepare – guess what happens?  Pearl Harbor, Hurricane Katrina, the loss of the Titanic are all well-known examples.  You have to imagine actual emergencies happening in your situation in order to plan or prepare.
  2. If you are having trouble imagining emergencies use frogs and Godzilla. I’ve previously written about how we categorize crises – and frogs and Godzilla are two of the characterizations.  You can read about them here.
  3. Once you have a list of emergencies, you need to determine what effect each emergency will have on you, your family, or your organization. Consider the critical needs for safety of life, health, and property.  Include what will affect how you respond and what will be required to recover.  For example, securing important papers may not seem important if you have a forest fire bearing down on your house, but being able to document what your house and its contents were worth will be important if you have to file an insurance claim.
  4. Decide how you will address each critical need. First you must decide if you will flee or stay in place.  Each option requires a different set of responses and the capability to execute those responses.  For example, if you will flee, does your vehicle have enough fuel to take you to safety?  Don’t imagine that you will be able to buy fuel when the time comes – all those who didn’t prepare will be in line before you.  I almost never let my vehicle’s fuel level get below a quarter tank – that gives me a range of at least 80-100 miles.
  5. Now you can prepare a list of the resources you will need to have on hand in order to execute how you expect to respond. It was a joke in the Washington DC area that a hint of snow meant that all the milk and toilet paper in the stores would disappear – but the real joke was that it wasn’t a joke.
  6. Now assemble all the resources. Put them where you will find them when you need them, and so you can easily and quickly get to them.

As I said before, www.ready.gov is a great resource.  The American Red Cross, as well as state and local emergency management agencies will also have great resources to help you plan.  So do it!

In addition to the above steps, you should also consider:

  • Your network of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or employees – these are people who have skills and knowledge. Don’t be afraid or hesitant to ask for help.  This is especially important for seniors.  See ready.gov for more ideas for seniors.
  • Be willing to help others. We live in an age where the expectation is that the government will be there to help.  But the government can’t do everything.  In 1927 the Mississippi River flooded millions of acres and uprooted millions of people.  Then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was sent to organize help.  His approach highlighted a unique strength of America: “I suppose I could have called in the whole of the army, but what was the use? All I had to do was to call in Main Street itself…”   “No other Main Street in the world could have done what the American Main Street did in the Mississippi flood, and Europe may jeer as it likes at our mass production and our mass organization and our mass education. The safety of the United States is its multitudinous mass leadership.”  That spirit still lives today.
  • Be prepared to help yourself. The single most important resource will be your own “72-hour kit” – enough supplies for you to survive for three days without help from anyone else.  Why 72-hours?  Because that is how long it can take, in most cases, before help can be assembled, organized, and travel into a devastated area.  Just google 72-hour kit – you’ll find many sites that will sell you prepackaged kits but it’s easy to assemble your own from what you have at home – and it will be items that you are familiar with – it will be embarrassing or potentially fatal to discover you need extra water or cooking facilities to prepare that special dehydrated meal you bought.
  • Prove your preparations by trying them out. You probably remember the fire drills you had at school when you were young or at work in the present day.  Yes, they were disruptive, but they give tangible proof that they worked.  If your plan calls for you being able to load the family car and leaving within 15 minutes, test it – and find out that without your daughter’s “special friend” – that white fluffy thing she carries around – she going to have a tantrum that you have to deal with.  I worked with one church group that developed an emergency response plan and helped them practice the plan – and they found out that the plan didn’t take into account that the church leader may not be available but nothing could happen without his approval or direction.  Whoops!  Oh, and you may discover that you need to include a hand-operated can opener – don’t ask how I know that.

There is nothing here that should induce panic or fear – in fact, planning and preparation will eliminate them and prevent an emergency from becoming a crisis.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.