We called it the Flood of ’95. A 36-inch pressurized water main fractured under the pavement in front of our office building on Jan. 28, 1995. The pressure from the rushing water blew a large hole in the street and blew huge chunks of concrete through the windows of the building.
A mini tsunami, carrying an estimated 6 million gallons of water, then poured through the broken windows on the lower floors of the building, sending office furniture, files and computers crashing through the halls. The flood shorted out the electrical and heating systems in the lower floors, causing a second catastrophe when frozen pipes warmed a few days later and burst. We lost all of our equipment, archived materials, paper files and personal items. Virtually nothing was salvageable, because what wasn’t destroyed in the initial flood was covered in asbestos insulating material falling from the ceilings or mold by the time we were given the okay 2 weeks later to go back into the building to determine if there was anything to save.We were out of the building for a year while it was dried out,cleaned up,repaired and renovated.
“Water damage and flooding is one of the most severe disasters that can impact a facility,” says Ines Pearce, manager of the Disaster Help Desk the Business Civic Leadership Center, a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.“Water damage to buildings and electronics [is bad enough],then you have mold,which becomes a second disaster.”
Water damage related to fighting fires often can be as devastating, if not more so than the fire, she adds, while earth- quakes can damage water lines and sprinklers, causing indoor floods in ad- dition to structural and equipment dam- age caused by the earthquake.
“Everyone thinks that disasters hap- pen to somebody else,” says Pearce.“But all businesses should plan for anything that might disrupt the business. It doesn’t have to be a major event like a tornado or fire or flood. It’s anything that keeps them from operating.”
Creating a Plan
The Insurance Information Institute es-timates that 40 percent of companies never reopen following a major cata-strophic event that disrupts business for any significant length of time.While that number is staggering, it isn’t surprising, given that an Ad Council survey reported that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of re-spondents said they do not have an emer-gency plan in place for their business.
Every business needs to create a di-saster management plan that takes all possible scenarios into consideration.“It should be a living,breathing document,a process to create strategies to help you re-cover from any disaster,”counsels Pearce. “And plans have the same basic steps whether your company is large or small or has one location or many locations.”
A) Create a team to work on the plan. No one person can know every-thing about the facility or company, the supply chain, the personnel or the ven-dors and customers.
B) There is key information that needs to be located in a place – an off-site server, an off-site storage facility or “the cloud” – where it cannot be de-stroyed or damaged. This information includes full contact information for employees (including a set of secondary contact info in case the entire area is devastated and employees evacuate and scatter), full contact information for vendors and suppliers (include back-up options for vendors and suppliers, in case your emergency actually is that your largest materials supplier is shut down for some reason) and a list of the key contacts with your largest customers.
C) Know your critical operations and operators. Who are your essential personnel and what are your essential, critical functions? Have options for a back-up facility where you can divert personnel, equipment, mail and deliveries in case your facility is shut down for more than a few days or weeks.
“Businesses have to prioritize what’s critical for them,” says Pearce. “It is completely different for every business and if they don’t plan, they will be completely overwhelmed and floundering.”
Such was the case of a company that recently called Pearce at the National Disaster Help Desk for Business. The help desk provides on-the-ground coordination of information among businesses, local chambers of commerce, NGOs, government responders and disaster recovery specialists. “I asked them, ‘Have you called your insurance company?’ Their answer was ‘no,’” she says, adding, “That’s the first thing you do!”