The word “disaster” is often associated with images of events of catastrophic proportions; school shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks. However, many people fail to acknowledge the fact that disaster comes in many forms and even one that is seemingly small in comparison to other possibilities can have devastating consequences if its victims are unprepared.
Proper disaster awareness and preparedness benefits any organization, whether it’s a hospital in a city, a small school or a basic warehouse. Each of these places contains hundreds of lives that can be irrecoverably altered or destroyed in a second, so understanding the risks and knowing how to properly deal with unexpected disaster is imperative. Preparing for any disaster may seem like a daunting task starting from ground zero, but organizing a plan and having it written out will provide a peace of mind in sense of security to everyone involved.
Getting Started: From the Ground Up
We all hear about disasters on the news and maybe even know about people who have survived them firsthand, but the truth is that the majority of us have no idea what we would do if we were ever caught in the midst of such a situation. The first step to disaster preparedness is to inform yourself and to reduce any risks that could prove harmful and disruptive to your plan.
You should first identity any hazards or disasters that are more common to your location or in your industry. Areas that have frequent twisters or earthquakes or warehouse workers who are more likely to suffer a machine-related industry or be caught in a fire are some examples.
Assess the situation and risk associated with your situation and prioritize the likelihood of different possible disasters. This will help you organize your plan in order of probability and potentially save lives by sparing precious minutes scouring for the necessary information.
Check your organization’s history and see what disasters have occurred, how they were handled and review existing emergency plans to implement what is proven to work in your own plan. From there, a crisis team that includes various members of the organization should be assembled. Having multiple people involved increases the probability that one of them will be around in case of emergency and their expertise could prove to be life-saving later on.
Any disaster plan should be considered a living document, one that is reviewed, updated and practiced on a regular basis to ensure its effectiveness and success. An operational plan will provide specific guidelines of conduct to the crisis team and any occupational staff at any given time. Managing a real-world disaster will be challenging, and certainly a lot different from simply memorizing the details of a plan, but having one in place and even running periodic drills will help make sure everyone is ready and can remain calm and operate smoothly should disaster strike.
Securing the health, security and welfare of others is no small feat, but thorough understanding of the plan among everyone will enhance the resiliency of the organization and foster a sense of security that will improve the overall work environment.
Taking a Plan to the Next Level
If your organization already has an existing plan in place, now may be the time to take the next step by introducing more in-depth training for your staff and practicing more detailed drills that will help each member of the crisis team master their duties. Relational training can help the front end of potential disasters by helping train staff to recognize, respond to and minimize confrontational threats in a non-physical way. Training in regards to trauma will also help build your staff’s understanding of the long-term psychological effects of a disaster and equip them to better help themselves and others in the future.
Nearly every facet of the work place involves human contact on some level, so establishing a sense of security and mutuality in these relationships frees people from any insecurities or potential conflicts to respond to any given task at hand. This is especially critical during an emergency, where every second counts and teamwork can help save lives.
If your organization is one that has frequent customer-employee interaction, it is important to train workers on how to diffuse situations and manage customers who may become volatile or uncooperative without putting others or themselves at risk so the plan can continue without disruption.
Implementing a system of gradual and graded alternatives of diffusing rapidly escalating human-to-human scenarios and managing people will help your staff recognize the warning signs of potentially violent behavior and allow them to have the know-how, confidence and calm demeanor necessary to intervene proactively and effectively. This type of training is also an excellent leadership exercise and allows those in a managerial position to practice their skills as well as help instill and build those skills in others.
Any crisis communication training’s most vital step is attitude and mindset. A team who does not respond calmly or is unable to assess and decrease an intensifying situation are facing disastrous consequences. Maintaining respect, dignity and kindness for all parties involved during a confrontation is difficult but a critical aspect of disaster preparedness. Make sure that your staff is able to regulate and control themselves and their emotions during when under pressure so they can learn to communicate better with one another and customers during an emergency.
Every organization holds the responsibility to be prepared and act on behalf of those who are under the organization’s care and those who are employed. A workplace violence prevention program that includes aspects of crisis management, behavioral health and technology literacy is a necessity in effective crisis preparedness.
The core of trauma is something that must be addressed before, during and after a disaster. Knowledge and understanding are two of the main factors that attribute to the successful treatment and management of a trauma-related incident as a result of a crisis. Front-line staff and all members of the crisis team should be well-informed of the various types of physical and emotional trauma one can undergo in a disaster and understand the impact the trauma has on someone’s life in addition to ways to quickly and successfully manage each one.
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires and car accidents are known as “acute episodic trauma”. The physical impact of these events are the most obvious and should be addressed first, but the psychological effects can be long-lasting and should also be seriously considered when staff are undergoing training. Being a mediator during a crisis can have an effect on your staff as well, so preparing them for the potential psychological aftermath a disaster can have on them as well.
When people see harm being done unto others, the event is coined “observer violence”. When bystanders witness a violent act such as a shooting or robbery, the interventions to keep people safe can sometimes serve as a trigger and re-traumatize an individual. This is why it is necessary to have a solid understanding that a person in the midst of a traumatic event or who has experience chronic trauma in the past may not have had access to all of the higher-level brain function they normally do. This allows your staff to understand that even simple behaviors may have to be handled much differently in a high-stress situation than when the stresses are not present.
Trauma-informed training equips your staff with greater insight and compassion, granting them the ability to manage a crisis without creating a ripple effect that could have grave repercussions. Organizations must increase the understanding of all types of trauma and the effect that the aftermath has on a person’s social life, work ethic, well-being and overall physical and mental health. Any disaster preparedness plan should include plans that continually address the long-term affects of employees, customers and the community after the disaster has ended.
To summarize, the first step in creating a successful disaster preparedness plan is to assess the disasters and crises most likely to occur in your organization and/or community and prioritize your preparedness plans in order of likelihood.
Once you have assembled a crisis team and your staff has been informed and educated, it is important to routinely review and practice the plans through various exercises and drills. It is also a good idea to introduce relational and trauma-informed training so staff can work productively together and understand and treat the aftermath of any disaster. You can also focus on more individualized training that will guarantee every member of the staff is informed and capable of responding in the best way possible during a disaster.
An organization’s disaster preparedness plan will evolve as times change and new risks arise, but the most important thing to remember is that any plan is better than none and disaster preparedness is just as critical to a workplace’s success as any other aspect of business.