Family Disaster Preparedness A Must for CEOs and Their Employees

Personal Disaster Planning Deserves Attention

If you have a plan for business emergencies — but none for your family in a four-alarm situation — you are shortchanging a major part of your life.

That realization — made abundantly clear for many of us after September 11th, 2001 — fuels the work of Vistage Member Norris Beren , who helps organizations help their employees plan for disaster.

After all, if our employees aren’t prepared to handle emergencies, how can they be expected to be productive?

“Your employees will have to make a decision if something happens. Unless they know their families are OK, you’ll lose them,” says Beren. “People just aren’t prepared to find each other in an emergency.”

That’s just one aspect of Beren’s program to help people help themselves in case of disaster. “Every year, 2 million homes in this country are struck by a disaster of one sort or another — whether it’s fire, flood, a shooting, or whatever,” he says.

Besides, preparing for emergencies is an excellent way to help you, your family and your employees alleviate the increasing stresses caused by the changes in our world since Sept. 11th.

“I spent a lot of years watching businesses go through all sorts of disasters. It’s amazing how many of them don’t have the ability to recover,” says Beren, who saw the world of risk management up close for the three decades he owned an insurance agency for the trucking industry. Now, he decided to turn to work with corporations through a non-profit organization, the Emergency Preparedness Educational Institute.

Now he teaches “How to Develop an Emergency Disaster Plan for Your Family” to businesses’ employees and, for Vistage members, “How to Save Your Business from a Disaster: A Briefing from CEOs.”

In the latter capacity, Beren is amazed at how many members react by saying, “What’s a disaster plan? We back up our computer every day.”

“That’s like taking one aspirin a day and hoping you won’t get sick in the winter,” Beren observes.

“I approached a major employer here in Chicago, who has a prominent, 44-story building where 4,500 people work. It would be a major potential target because of the business they’re in. They had a plan for people to get out of the building, but what then? It took 35 minutes for this $2 billion corporation to decide it would be worthwhile to do this training,” he says.

Where to Begin Your Own Disaster Plan

To see whether you and your family are ready for the disruption of a natural or manmade disaster, begin by filling out the checklist, “Are You Prepared for a Family Emergency or Disaster?”  Your answers will show you where you can take steps to increase your family’s safety.

Beren says family emergency preparedness involves six key steps. They are:

1.    Discussing the need for a plan with your family.

2.    Creating the plan.

This includes:

    • Gathering emergency contact information,
    • Preparing tools and supplies;
    • Setting aside food and water, clothing and bedding
    • Collecting First Aid supplies.

3.    Organizing essential tasks. (That is, what responsibility does everyone in the family have in case of an emergency?)

4.    Developing evacuation procedures.

5.    Practicing your evacuation plan and updating it as needed.

6.    Activating the plan. (Give it to the appropriate parties.)

Giving Yourself the ‘Emergency Edge’

It’s also important to learn when you can’t rely on existing rescue systems to come to your aid. For instance, there are three steps to cutting response time for “911” calls to your home or business:

  1. Ensure that your addresses — both home and business — are correct in the 911 system. You can do this by calling your local police or fire department and requesting permission to make a “test” 911 call. The dispatcher can verify your address.
  2. Make sure your home — and business — street address numbers are prominently displayed and visible at night. For instance, you can paint your house number in white on the curb of your street.
  3. In an emergency, arrange for someone to stand outside the building or residence to quickly direct fire, ambulance or police responders.

Another hidden danger is in smoke detectors, which sometimes don’t work even though the “tester” button seems to indicate that they do. Actually, the alarm that sounds is a test of the battery — not the sensing device.

“I once had a kitchen full of smoke from burnt toast, and the smoke detector didn’t go off — but the battery check worked,” he says.

Beren now recommends using a product manufactured by fellow Vistage member Scott Pyle . He sells “Smoke Check,” a chemical sprayed from an aerosol can that checks the sensing device.

Finally, Beren suggests designating a relative or friend outside your immediate area as the person everyone in your family should call — in case you can’t get in touch with one another. That person may be able to coordinate from a distance what you cannot accomplish at home.

Beren is putting all of his checklists, worksheets and forms into a book entitled, “Disaster: A Family Guide for Living Through the Unthinkable.” The book will help families prepare for anything that could befall them.

After years of risk management, Beren is convinced that mitigating risks on the homefront — for yourself and your employees — can make everyone more secure as they go about their daily lives.

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