As the impacts from Hurricane Florence affected many coastal and inland communities, our thoughts and prayers extend to those who suffered from this storm. While the recovery process may continue for some time, one of the best practices we’ve found to be extremely valuable after every disaster is the After Action Review. This process helps organizations to identify areas of improvement in plans while the event, actions, and timeline are all still relatively fresh. It’s great to have and implement plans in response to an event like Florence, but a critical improvement opportunity is missed if organizations don’t make time to identify and implement improvements quickly so the plans work even better next time. Following are some key areas to review and evaluate your plan’s performance, along with our observations during Florence.
Plan Triggers – Is your plan based on number of days until landfall or government announcements such as Operating Condition levels (OPCONs)? Generally those plans that used OPCONs or other government activation level announcements were in better position to coordinate with government along an evacuation decision timeline and were not caught unprepared when the Governor announced an evacuation order. We’ve also noticed in some cases that a hybrid approach, including both government triggers and days to landfall triggers, are effective in more complex organizations or plans.
Evacuation Team – Does your plan have a pre-identified evacuation team? While some of us may debate the timing and effectiveness of an evacuation order, the fact remains that the Governor’s order changes things quickly. Schools close, transportation routes change as lane reversals are implemented, and basic staples and supplies such as gasoline and groceries can become scarce. Plans that have an evacuation team identified to leave early and establish remote operations are in a much stronger position to maintain critical operations while these evacuation impacts are experienced even before the storm approaches.
Communications – Does your plan have redundant communication methods? If phone lines, cell towers, and/or internet service are disrupted, can you still communicate with your key people? Planning to evacuate key personnel, especially those responsible for communications to large audiences, to safe areas ensures that these critical functions continue. Always plan to position people with communication responsibilities (website updates, social media updates, email blasts, conference calls, etc.) to safe areas where power, phone service, and internet can be assured to remain active. Following Atlantic’s plan, I evacuated to a safe location well before landfall so I could continue providing support and updates to our customers and the business community at large. I had multiple means of communicating with a team back in the impact zone to get local reports and discuss the situation at regular predefined intervals.
Re-entry Passes – Does your plan include regular annual updates to re-entry passes for evacuated areas? I helped facilitate daily conference calls for business and industry as part of my volunteer responsibilities with the Charleston County EOC. During those calls we answered a number of questions regarding re-entry passes. Make sure you have the correct people identified and updated on your re-entry passes with local and state authorities as part of your annual preparedness tasks.
Operational Rhythm – Does your plan include predetermined meeting times, conference calls, and communication updates to employees and customers? Maintaining an efficient and predictable schedule of daily operations helps everyone to find some structure in the middle of the chaos. People awaiting information updates during a disaster appreciate predictable times for communications. Decision-making is more effective when team members can plan to collect the necessary information in time for a meeting when those decisions will be discussed. Make sure your plan has a daily operational agenda that can be adjusted as needed.
Worst-Case Plans – Does your plan account for worst-case scenarios for people, facilities, communications, technology, and operations? We’ve seen some of the devastating impacts from Florence in North Carolina. Make sure your plan accounts for the recovery of all aspects of your organization following a major disaster that takes months or even years to get back to normal. Too many plans we review make too many false assumptions regarding staff, communications, technology, and alternate facility availability following a major hurricane or other disaster. Plan for the worst of a Katrina, Sandy, or Florence impacting your area and prepare accordingly.
Now that you’ve reviewed these common planning shortfalls or issues associated with Hurricane Florence, conduct your own After Action Review. Assemble your team and review each of the above areas in addition to those issues that were identified during this storm. Then develop your list of actions to address each issue and track them through regular monthly meetings until your plan has been updated and all issues have been addressed. If you need any help, we have a comprehensive and effective After Action Review process that we can facilitate for your organization. Please contact us for more information and make sure your organization is even better prepared for the next storm.
Last year the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) launched a series of workshops to promote business emergency preparedness to the private sector. Atlantic’s founder and principal, Scott Cave, agreed to partner with SCEMD in facilitating these workshops, but instead of using the typical lecture workshop to convey the preparedness message, he recommended an interactive series of hurricane tabletop exercises. Mr. Cave has achieved the Master Exercise Practitioner designation through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute and leads dozens of exercises each year for Atlantic’s customers and in various workshops. SCEMD agreed to this interactive format and launched a Coastal Resilience Exercise series in Charleston, Georgetown, and Horry counties. Mr. Cave designed and facilitated the exercises to wide and diverse audiences of businesses between August, 2017 and April, 2018.
On June 12, 2018, Mr. Cave was invited to the SCEMD headquarters in Columbia, SC to receive the State Commendation Ribbon in recognition of these efforts. The commendation reads as follows:
“Mr. Scott Cave is commended for notably superior devotion to community and exemplary performance of duty as a Senior Facilitator for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s Coastal Resilience Exercise series for the period 25 August 2017 through 25 April 2018. Mr. Cave personally developed and was instrumental in the delivery of three separate tabletop exercises designed to promote emergency preparedness and continuity for the private sector in Charleston, Georgetown, and Horry counties. Mr. Cave’s broad wealth of experience and expertise in business disaster planning, coupled with his unparalleled willingness to volunteer personal time and hours from his own business to share critical best practices has greatly advanced the level of disaster preparedness of South Carolina’s coastal business community. Scott Cave’s superior performance brings great credit upon himself, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, and the Military Department of South Carolina.
Signed R. Van McCarty
Major General, SCARNG
Deputy Adjutant General”
We at Atlantic are honored by this recognition and appreciate our ongoing partnership with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. We look forward to working with SCEMD as we explore the possibility of extending this series of workshops and exercises over the coming months.
Hurricane Irma is now a one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. A storm this powerful bears careful watch and planning now for its impacts. With the ongoing uncertainty of the path and impact area in the United States, it is important for organizations along the Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina coastlines to start implementing their hurricane plans immediately. Following are ten tips to consider in your preparations:
- Make hotel reservations now. Hotels are already booked with reservations for this weekend and next week, as residents and businesses from several states are planning for a potential evacuation. Know your destination, your route, and your accommodation reservations. Don’t wait any longer; make your reservations now and encourage your staff to do the same.
- Identify your evacuation zone and route. Evacuation orders could be issued several days before potential impacts from the hurricane. Use the following information to identify your evacuation zone and route. Once the evacuation order is given, you may no longer have a choice of your evacuation route, so evacuate early if you want to be sure that you can travel the route of your choice.
- Develop a Communications Plan. Talk to your staff about their plans now and make sure you know where they plan to go and how you can stay in touch with them. Develop a regular daily schedule for briefings or updates to your staff, customers, and other stakeholders. Identify conference call lines, email distribution lists, alternate methods of communication if needed.
- Identify critical items for evacuation. Make sure each staff member develops a short list of critical items that are essential to performing their job. Then develop a packing list so everyone knows what they are taking with them during an evacuation to perform their job remotely.
- Follow local emergency information. In South Carolina, our state and county emergency management use Operating Conditions, or OPCONs, to identify the current status of their emergency operations. OPCON 5 is normal (good), and OPCON 1 is full operations (bad). For a hurricane in South Carolina, OPCON 1 generally means that an evacuation order has been issued by our Governor. You can follow OPCON and other emergency announcements on Twitter from these agencies (also sign up for emergency alerts at website listed in parentheses where available):
- Confirm re-entry process. Once an evacuation order is issued, a separate process known as re-entry is implemented in phases to return residents, workers, etc. back into the evacuated area. This process varies by jurisdiction, so check with your local government on their exact process for credentials and procedures. Following are some local links:
- Ensure technology availability. Make sure your IT systems, including computers, software, data, communications, internet, etc. are all prepared for an extended evacuation. Verify that your staff knows how to access these systems and use them productively while remote for an extended time. Work with your IT partners and vendors to make sure these systems are resilient and ready with a back-up plan if needed.
- Confirm insurance claim process. Make sure you know the process to follow if an insurance claim is required. Get all the proper documentation in order now so it is ready when needed, including policy information, contact numbers, video and photographic documentation, asset lists and values, financial information, etc.
- Prepare your home and family. Don’t forget that all disasters are personal, and you need to personally prepare yourself, your home, and your family. This includes boarding up windows and protecting garage doors, gathering important insurance documents, taking video of your home and contents, filling prescriptions, making hotel reservations for family members and pets, getting emergency supplies ready, etc.
- Prepare for the worst. This isn’t hype or fear mongering, but emergency and disaster plans need to be based on the worst case scenario so that you aren’t caught by surprise when things head south quickly. So prepare for the worst in this storm, including a direct landfall near your location, extended and prolonged evacuation, utility disruptions, personal impacts to your home and family, etc.
Overwhelmed, stressed, or confused? We’re here to help. Contact us for assistance before or after the storm. We will all get through this together.