Natural disasters disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and each disaster has lasting effects, both to people and property. In the United States, many of us, our communities, and the organizations that we serve have already experienced first-hand the perils, devastation and loss associated with natural disasters. The process of recovery and rebuilding from a natural disaster is an arduous and daunting task.
The United States experienced an historic year of weather and climate disasters in 2017.
- In the fall of 2017 alone, three major hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – were estimated to have impacted the lives of 25.8 million Americans (FEMA, 2017). The damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria alone are responsible for approximately $265 billion. More notable than the high frequency of these events was the cumulative cost, which exceeded $300 billion in 2017 – a new U.S. annual record.¹
- In 2017 alone, wildfires consumed a total of 9.7 million acres. The total acres burned were nearly record-breaking, and were the second highest number of acres consumed by wildfire per annum in recorded history. While wildfires have not necessarily become more frequent, there is one glaring trend; since 1990, wildfires in the U.S. have gotten larger and more destructive in nature.² Increasingly warmer and drier weather has contributed to making wildfires more difficult to suppress.
- In total, the U.S. was impacted by 16 separate $1 billion-dollar disaster events in 2017 including: three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze, drought and wildfire.¹
- According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) compilation of ‘billion-dollar weather’ events, the Top 10 most expensive U.S. natural disasters of all time include hurricanes (#1-Katrina, #2-Harvey, #3 Maria, #5 Irma, #6 Andrew, and #9 Ike). Superstorm Sandy (#4) Midwest Flooding (#8) and Drought/Heat Wave (#7 & #10) round out the Top 10 most expensive U.S. natural disasters.¹
Although the number of disasters has increased, the number of deaths resulting from natural disasters has decreased. Credit should be given to the countless hours that staff & volunteers have taken in disaster preparation, analysis, and planning. Fortunately, we know that having a sound disaster preparedness and recovery plan can make a difference for human service organizations in reducing the loss of life and the destruction of property.
See disaster preparedness resources and ready business toolkits at: https://www.ready.gov/business
Develop a Plan!
The process of developing a disaster recovery and preparedness plan begins with the identification of the most likely hazards that might be encountered by your organization. Invite your independent commercial insurance agent to be part of the process to ensure that the right coverages and values are in place. Understand your related property and liability insurance needs. Annual or more frequent inventory of real property, business personal property, inland marine, etc. is a critical step in the process of restoring an organization to whole after a catastrophic loss has occurred.
Respond Accordingly / Act as Trained
Response to a natural disaster is the process of implementing appropriate actions while the emergency situation is unfolding. In this phase, an organization will mobilize resources and implement emergency procedures necessary to handle the natural disaster. Develop a plan to communicate with employees if the usual lines of communication are unavailable. Organizations that serve youth or other vulnerable populations should develop a plan for personnel accounting for students/participants and staff, parent notification, student/client transport means, reunification plans and plans for dealing with the media.
Disaster Preparedness Checklist
- Develop a workplace emergency plan (specific to each location) and be sure employees know what to do before, during and after a disaster – staff should know and understand their role as it pertains to the emergency response plan
- Disaster plans should take into account individuals with special needs for whom each should have an individual plan for evacuation and/or shelter-in-place
- Know the risks and warning signs; keep informed with the latest technology in weather reporting
- Create a crisis communications plan to keep in contact with employees, volunteers, clients, etc. during and after the event
- Test, drill and practice your preparedness plan – keep the preparedness message in front of all constituents and stakeholders to grow the culture of safety
- Have emergency supplies available at the workplace
- Evacuation Routes should be well-marked, well-lighted, and well-known by all
- Partner with local businesses, agencies, and other human services organizations to share resources and to create a network of off-site evacuation center
- Invite local officials, first responders, police, fire, to review your plan and help train staff
Protect Your Physical Property
- Know where your gas shutoff valve is located – shutting off gas before an emergency may help avoid gas leaks and explosions
- Know where your electrical shutoff is – consider shutting off breakers or pulling out fuses in the breaker or fuse box – risk grows during a disaster
- Physically protecting your property from high winds can involve a variety of actions, from inspecting and maintaining your building to installing protective devices (i.e. shutters)
² www.wildfiretoday.com, 2018
Suggestions and comments contained herein are provided for purposes of general education only. Suggestions and comments are not intended for the purpose of providing you with legal advice or legal counsel, and are not intended to assure compliance with or complete analysis of any law, rule or regulation. In addition, suggestions and comments should not be interpreted to imply or infer that all exposures, hazards or loss potentials on any subject or issue were identified or considered. No warranty, or guaranty of accuracy, fitness or suitability, express or implied, is granted with respect to any of the information contained herein.
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