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When disaster strikes: is your team prepared to respond?

Is your community ready to handle disaster if it strikes? Here are some tips on how to begin structuring your oval community disaster preparedness plan. The more information about the community that is available to the emergency responders, the better they can help bring the situation under control. Know the location of all utility shut offs in the buildings; have a list of building residents on hand. For a high-rise, most disaster experts say a set of building plans is invaluable to a firefighting team, many of whom may never have responded to a high-rise tire before, Know which apartment homes may have individuals who may have difficulty in an evacuation situation.

Author's note: This is not a comprehensive emergency plan by any means. It is a list of some tips on how to get started.

1 Call 9-1-1 before contacting your corporate office. Make certain you have an after-hours contact number for your immediate supervisor, as well as a second and third individual to contact if your immediate supervisor is unreachable. Explain as clearly as possible the seriousness of the situation and what steps yon have taken to secure the property.

2 Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross for community disaster educational materials. Each year, the Red Cross responds to more than 65,000 disasters, both natural and man-made so its knowledge on disaster preparedness is comprehensive. The American Red Cross Web site has many resources,

3 Establish a "calling tree." Each person on your list is responsible for calling one member of your staff. This way, contact is made more quickly, and everyone knows exactly who was called. This eliminates the need for everyone to start calling one another. Practice your calling tree procedures. Occasionally, run a drill by calling the first contact on the list and inform them that you are running a drill. The last person on the list should call you back so you can time the completion of the drill.

4 Designate one team member to man the phones and disseminate information to residents during an emergency. A bilingual team number may be best suited for this position ff many residents speak English as a second language.

5 Have laminated cards made containing outside assistance phone numbers for each of your team members. All team members should have in their wallets a card (laminated for protection) of two phone numbers for:

* Tree removal service

* Roofing company

* Glass replacement company

* Water extraction company

* Restoration company

* The American Red Cross

Having these numbers on hand will allow the appropriate people to be contacted immediately rather than waiting to obtain numbers from a closed and locked leasing office.

6 Make sure your team has been trained on how to respond to a disaster at your community. They should all be able to answer the questions, "What is my role?" and "Where should I go?" in case disaster strikes.

7 In the event a disaster takes place, offer displaced residents a place to gather and immediately provide food and beverages while they wait to find out where they will be staying if relocation is necessary.

8 When handling media requests, consider the following guidelines:

* Follow corporate office guidelines on media requests. Most management companies do not want their first line teams responding to the press. In this case, refer them to the designated company spokesperson. Alert the company that the media will be contacting them.

* For those selected to speak to the media, ask for a deadline. This provides time to make yourself presentable if necessary, as well as providing time to gather the facts. Generally a deadline is in place, so get it and use that time to prepare.

* Always get a contact name and number for a follow up story. Things usually look better a day later and follow up information can be provided to help the community respond positively to a disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site,, has an Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry that is available for downloading for no charge. This guide covers information about some of the most common hazards, such as:

* Hazardous materials incidents

* Floods and flash floods

* Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes

* Severe winter storms

* Technological emergencies

According to the Red Cross, no business should risk operating without a disaster plan because as many as 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen after major disaster, such as flood, tornado or earthquake. These shuttered businesses were unprepared for disaster; they had no plan or backup systems.

Lisa Trosien has more than 20 years of industry experience. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Onsite solutions: special report
Author:Trosien, Lisa
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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