Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Conference Notes (Part 5 of 7) Evacuation

Another featured topic at the conference was evacuation. You would think evacuation would be a fairly simple idea...get out and get out now. However, when you are talking about evacuating large buildings or large amounts of people, there are many tips and tricks that you wouldn't think about until after you had experienced such an event. Here's some ideas:
  • Pay attention to the local news for information and other local sources of information about evacuations in your community. Communications is key in being able to know the what, when, where, and how of evacuations.
  • Set up your incident command center as soon as evacuation may be a possibility. Consider having an incident command center set up sheet so that anyone could set the center up if needed.
  • You need duct tape, markers, and sign board. These items will be used to make signs either directing the evacuation or leaving a sign to tell the public where you have evacuated to.
  • If you are evacuating a large building, have one (or more) out-only doors. It is difficult to have workers going in and out of the same doors that you are trying to get everyone out of. Ditto for evacuation routes for cars--one way traffic works better than cars going every which way.
  • Can you lock your doors? Some facilities such as hospitals and casinos usually never close so some have found that when they do need to evacuate and lock down, they have no locks!
  • Work with your local fire department and emergency management department. They may be able to help provide fire breaks around your facility (ie: in the event of a wild fire evacuation), help with evacuations if necessary (ie: helping to evacuate patients from hospitals or provide buses to transport large groups of people), and may even place a strike team at your facility depending an the amount of loss that could occur due to fire, flood, etc.
  • Consider what else you need to evacuate besides people. Nursing homes may need to collect up patient records, hospitals may need to bring all of their medications from the pharmacy, offices may need to quickly back up records and bring them along, etc.
  • Have maps on hand. If you are evacuating a hotel or other location where you have people who are unfamiliar with local roads, you may need to provide evacuation maps (ie: if there is a tsunami evacuation, you will need to highlight the route people will need to take to get to higher ground).
  • Create department closure checklists. Depending on how much time you have to evacuate, you may want your staff to officially close down their department (ie: securing computers, securing money, securing files, etc).
  • Review your business hazard insurance and business interruption insurance. Are the types of disasters most common to your area covered? Many organizations may find that they aren't covered for floods...after a flood has decimated their facility.
  • Hold regular evacuation drills.
  • Purchase temperature monitoring software for sensitive areas. If you have a major investment in food, pharmaceuticals, temperature sensitive equipment, etc. these items will need to be trashed if you can not prove that they were kept within an optimal temperature range.
  • Create mutual aid agreements with similar organizations (you may be able to share supplies, employees, equipment, etc. if your facility is evacuated or destroyed).
  • Prepare to be able to evacuate vulnerable populations. If you have ever tried to evacuate a hospital full of sick people, a casino full of elderly and infirm people, an apartment building of elderly people, or other vulnerable populations, you will realize that not everyone can simply evacuate themselves. Many of these people need lots of help to be able to evacuate.
  • Do what you can to minimize damage based on the reason you are evacuating. If you are evacuating due to flooding, try to put your most expensive equipment on a higher floor. If you are evacuating due to a hurricane, try to put things in a secure area in the basement.
  • Don't wait too long to evacuate. It can be a tough decision to know the exact moment you should begin an evacuation process but it is better to be too early than too late.
  • Consider phased evacuations. If you are evacuating a huge building or a huge city, telling everyone to leave immediately will create a bottleneck. Consider phasing the evacuation process so that everyone can leave in an orderly fashion.
  • There may be some social dynamics to consider when evacuating. If you empty an inner city neighborhood and send everyone to one shelter, there can be conflicts between members of different gangs. Something to consider anyway...
  • Have a place to evacuate to. If you are sending people in your community to a shelter, make sure the shelter is #1 open, and #2 can handle the influx. Remember what happened when everyone in New Orleans were told to evacuate to the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina? The place you are evacuating to should have shelter, staffing, supplies, power, food, water, security, etc.
  • Evacuation usually entails the need for fuel, food, water, maybe medical care, bathrooms (if the evacuation route is many miles long), etc. Are these items/services available along the evacuation route? What if the gas stations are closed, the population is too poor to be able to afford gas, there are no bathrooms along the route, etc?
  • Consider how to get your people back after the evacuation is over. If you sent staff away, how will you tell them they can come back. If you sent customers to other locations, how do you let them know you have reopened for business? If you have transferred patients out, how to you get them back?
  • What will you do about clean up after an evacuation. Whether you evacuated because of a flood, wildfire, tsunami, bomb threat, etc, if the reason you evacuated actually came to fruition, you will probably have a mess to clean up. Do you have contracts with companies that can do the clean up? Can you afford the clean up? Will you keep your employees on the payroll and have them help clean up?

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