Recovering after a disaster
After a natural disaster occurs and the dust has settled, it is time to return to your facility and assess the damage. A strong communication plan is a key element in your recovery efforts. In a time of disaster it is imperative that you communicate clearly and concisely the status of your operation to not only your staff, but also your members.
Messages should come from your organization's leadership or an appointed spokesperson to ensure consistency. Inform your staff and members of the damage that occurred to the facility, reassure them that actions are being taken to recover and share any plans for restoration that are underway. Popular avenues for communication could include:
- Phone (Implement call trees and record away messages on the answering system)
- Mass notification systems
- Social media
- Company websites
The true impact of the event could be overblown as people see the events unfold on social media and the internet. Therefore, it is important to communicate the condition of your facility even if your damage is considered minimal.
Your communication plan should include local emergency management services. Work with emergency responders so they have access to the disaster zone and your building. Continue to review and revise recovery plans until all clearances are obtained.
Returning to your building
Once you have received permission from local emergency management coordinators to enter the disaster zone, the next step is to cautiously return to your building to assess the damage and prevent further damage from occurring. Keep these points in mind when preparing to return to your building.
Who will return?
Well before a disaster occurs, it is wise to designate the people who will be the first responsible for returning to your building. For everyone's safety, no one should be asked to return to or enter your building alone. Consider who will be most accessible and physically capable of returning following a disaster. Establish a plan for these people to communicate with each other and meet in a safe place prior to proceeding to the disaster zone.
What to bring
When preparing to return to your building, bring adequate supplies to keep you and your people safe and address any issues you may find. Make sure you have plenty of personal protective equipment including gloves, eye protection, masks, respirators and sturdy footwear. You should also bring along a first aid kit, plenty of water and a means of communication to be used in the event of an accident or emergency. Finally, come prepared with tools, tarps and other supplies you may need to secure your building.
Approaching the disaster zone
As you approach the disaster zone, be sure to check with local officials and emergency management coordinators to ensure it is safe to do so. Only proceed if conditions are safe and if your presence will not interfere with ongoing emergency management activities. Heed all warnings from local officials, safety barriers and signs and NEVER drive through flood waters.
Upon arriving at your facility, it is highly important to proceed with caution so as not to put yourself or others in harm’s way. Consider the following before approaching and entering your building:
- Verify your building is structurally sound. In some disasters, building officials may have “tagged” your building with a color coded marker to indicate the extent of damage suspected. Follow any directions or warnings found on these tags. If no tags are present, look for signs of serious damage to the roof, exterior walls, or foundation that may point to instability. If you see these, do not enter. Remember that not all structural damage is visible, so proceed with caution.
- Check for hazards. Disasters can leave numerous hazards in their wake that may pose a threat as you approach and enter your building. Look for the following:
- Power lines - aAvoid all downed power lines and contact emergency services if you suspect downed power lines may be "live".
- Gas - Gas leaks are common following disasters. Evacuate the area immediately and contact emergency services if you smell gas in the area.
- Animals - Dangerous animals may have found their way to your property during a disaster or may have even entered your building if an opening was present. Keep an eye out for animals and give them space.
- Unknown people - Looters or squatters may also be lurking in your building upon your return. Search for signs of forced entry around your building prior to entering.
- Safety inside. While inside your building, be mindful of hazards that may cause you to trip and fall, mold growth, exposure to asbestos, and toxins that may have been left behind from stagnant water. Always wear protective gear such as gloves, eye protection, masks or respirators, and sturdy footwear. Whenever possible, avoid contact with stagnant water as it may be contaminated with sewage, chemicals, or other toxins. If using a generator to supply power, never run a generator indoors and follow these generator safety tips from IBHS.
Assess and report the damage
When visiting your building, take the opportunity to document any damage observed. Take photos, videos and notes to record and provide a detailed account of the condition of your building. Contact your insurance carrier as soon as possible (preferably within 24 hours) and share your documentation with your insurance carrier.
Secure your building
Before leaving, consider what you can do to make temporary repairs and protect your building from any further damage. If possible, work with a licensed and insured contractor to make temporary repairs to your building. If professionals are not available, only make repairs you are comfortable doing and can accomplish safely.
If your roof or exterior areas of your building have been damaged and will allow for interior water leakage, use tarps, plastic or plywood to close off any damage and prevent more water from entering your building.
If your building flooded or has other water damage, take action as soon as you can to remove water and begin drying your building. The sooner you are able to remove water and moisture from your building, the more likely you will be to avoid mold growth and return to normal.
If your building’s windows or doors have been damaged, make repairs or use plywood to close off these entry points. This will prevent animals, looters or squatters from accessing your building and causing further damage or safety issues.
In some cases, your building may have minimum damage and you may feel ready to allow others to enter your building. Before resuming operations and allowing employees, members or visitors back to your building, verify that your building is safe to inhabit. When in doubt, consult with local building officials or an engineer. Also consider electrical, water, plumbing and HVAC systems to make sure they are fully functional and safe for use or consumption. Indoor air quality should also be tested to verify it is free from asbestos, mold or other hazards. Make sure people only have access to areas of your building that are fully operational and safe to enter.
Often times the aftermath of a disaster event can leave your operation in utter destruction. It is important to assess your facility quickly and calmly. Continue to work with your insurance carrier and internal recovery team to develop a plan of action.
It is not uncommon for outside organizations such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army to reach out with assistance. Individuals from the immediate area and possibly throughout the United States may also travel to assist with the cleanup and recovery efforts. Determine how your organization will organize and accommodate extra volunteer labor.
Church Mutual’s Volunteer Safety and Management webpage provides some helpful tips to consider implementing. Coordinating the efforts of volunteers from within your organization, the neighboring community and throughout the United States can be a daunting effort; however, remember that they are all here to assist. Be mindful of the following:
- Require a signed release form from all volunteers assisting with recovery efforts
- Be mindful of upcoming weather including excessive heat or cold and schedule work tasks accordingly
- Prioritize tasks that need to take place immediately and match tasks with volunteers’ ability and skill
- Determine tasks that can be performed using volunteer labor vs. a contractor. Tasks such as mold removal, plumbing, electrical, and work at height should all be performed by skilled individuals
- Ensure equipment is appropriate for the job
- Provide personal protective equipment including gloves, eye protection, hearing protection, respirators, boots, and hard hats
- Have a well-stocked first aid kit and plenty of water on hand
- Shut off electricity at the main breaker to the building even if the power is out
- Test for carbon monoxide or other gasses/chemicals and take appropriate actions
- Be careful when moving furnishings or debris since they may be water logged and heavier than expected
- Throw out items that have absorbed water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected
- Remove all drywall and insulation that has been in contact with flood waters
- Work with your municipality to determine a plan for hauling refuse and damaged goods away from your property
Following a disaster event there are several ways your organization can help out those in need aside from donating goods/products or volunteering. Providing temporary shelter to refugees from the affected area is a common one. Should your organization elect to help in the manner we recommend you review our Risk Alert: Lending a Hand in Hard Times.
Some items to be mindful at your facility are:
- How to provide sleeping accommodations
- Adequate bathrooms and shower areas for men and women
- Changing stations for those with young children
- Who will be responsible for housekeeping
- How will you respond to a medical emergency
- Is there sufficient security and protection for the people you will be housing
It is in your best interest to report claims for property damage as well as any injuries that may occur to your insurance carrier in a timely manner.
- If your building, possessions, or vehicle sustain property damage during a disaster, document the damage and submit a claim as soon as possible.
- If a volunteer is injured while assisting your organization in its recovery efforts, triage the injury and call 9-1-1 as necessary. Report all injuries involving your volunteers to your insurance carrier.
- For any employee injuries, contact Church Mutual’s Nurse Hotline immediately or call 9-1-1 as necessary.