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.