Disaster Management 101: Preparing and Cleaning Up Safely after Emergencies

Disaster Cleanup

The frequency of natural disasters, and the subsequent damage, vary from year to year. Nevertheless, on average, various emergency situations claim the lives of 60,000 people every year. Aside from deaths, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes, and other natural occurrences have left injuries, homelessness, and damage to property in its wake. 

With that said, your office space is not exempted from the possible onslaught of these circumstances. As a business owner, the responsibility of keeping your employees and equipment safe falls on your shoulders. 

No expense should be spared when it comes to preparing for emergencies. After all, being ill-equipped can cost lives. This article is a comprehensive guide to disaster preparedness. From workplace precautions to deal with the aftermath, the steps below can help ensure the well-being of your workers and the success of your business. 

The Most Common Natural Disasters in the United States

Because of its sheer vastness, the United States is a hotbed for a slew of natural disasters. Different states experience different types of emergency situations. These occurrences leave even the most developed counties vulnerable to injuries, damage, and deaths. 

Knowing the enemy is half the battle won. Below are the most common natural disasters across the country: 

Earthquakes and Wildfires: Pacific West 

If your office is based anywhere in Oregon, Washington, and California, earthquakes, and wildfires are two of the most common natural disasters that you should be prepared for. Seven major fault lines make the area highly susceptible to earthquakes. Likewise, 2020 saw the biggest wildfire occurrence in Oregon to date. The fires, that started early in July, devastated 1,000,000 acres of land and have resulted in 11 deaths. 

Winter Storms: New England & Mid-Atlantic 

Snowstorms are widely common in the mid-Atlantic and across the Northern Great Plains. These areas experience extremely low temperatures, especially during the wintertime. In some areas in New England, temperatures can drop to below zero. 

Tornados: Midwest, the South, & the Southeast

The midwestern states are a hotbed for tornados. This is especially true across Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. In fact, there is an area spanning these states that are known as the country’s Tornado Alley. 

Tsunamis: U.S. Territories

The US territories include Guam, American Samoa, Saipan, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Because of their proximity to large bodies of water, most of the areas in these locations are prone to typhoons and tsunamis. If your office is based in the US Territories, it is also best to prepare for subsequent flooding. 

Preparing Your Office for Natural Disasters

Your response to natural disasters may differ based on the type of emergency your office is going through. Nevertheless, the steps below can help you safeguard for most types of occurrences. 

Create a Disaster Management Plan

Unlike people, disasters do not discriminate. It truly doesn’t matter the kind of operations you run or where you are located, developing a well-researched disaster management plan can be the difference between saving lives and losing your company altogether. 

The disaster management plan that you create should be specific to the major risks that are prevalent in your area. A great plan should include a step-by-step guide on what to do during a specific emergency event, a communications and coordination plan, and emergency training programs.  

Safeguard Important Documents

During an emergency situation, the number one priority is to keep people safe. This means that no equipment or document should be put before the well-being of your workers. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t protect your company’s valuables. 

It is best to keep these important files in a waterproof, fireproof safe. This way you don’t have to think about the safety of these documents while trying to navigate through an emergency. 

Plan Out Drills and Training

As a business owner, you are no longer JUST responsible for your own safety during a natural disaster. It is important to train your employees and provide them the information that they need in order to survive an emergency situation unscathed. Panic almost always sets in when a person doesn’t know what he or she has to do in a situation. When a person panics, they are less likely to make logical decisions. 

Ideally, you should have an annual earthquake and fire drill in your office. 

Prepare In-Office Emergency Kits

Your office probably already has an emergency medical kit. While this could suffice in the short-term, it is also best to prepare for natural disasters that would keep your employees returning home. Your disaster kit should have at least a secure stock of food and water, a tool kit, a radio, several flashlights, and toiletries on hand. Depending on the scale of your operations, these supplies should last at least a couple of days. 

Create an Effective Communication Structure

The efficacy of your disaster management plan depends on how well you and your employees communicate with each other especially during unforeseen situations. Again, chaos and panic can make an already difficult and tense situation even more challenging. 

Each office is different. However, it is a good idea to assign a person for each task during an emergency. This way everyone knows who to go to for every level of a disaster. 

What to Do During an Emergency Situation 

When an emergency strikes, it is always best to have a clear step-by-step plan as to how to keep your office and your workers safe. Again, different methods apply to different types of disasters. However, for the most part, below are the key steps that can ensure the well-being of your workers amidst any type of disaster. 

Keep Everyone Home

The best way to keep all of your employees safe is by keeping them home. If authorities have already alerted you on the possible risks of operating during a natural disaster, there is no reason for you not to take heed to expert opinion. 

Asking people to go to work during a natural disaster is not only irresponsible but also heartless. Should everyone survive, you risk destroying employee morale. 

Put Your Emergency Plan in Action

In the unfortunate case that you and your employees are already in the office when disaster strikes, it is time to put your emergency plan into action. 

At this point, you should be familiar enough with your disaster management plan in order to implement it. As a business owner, take charge of the situation and remain calm. Again, when panic sets in, logic is impaired. Remember to keep communication lines open between you and your employees as well as responders. Aside from your phones, it is a good idea to invest in emergency communication means to make sure that you have a full grasp of your office’s situation.  

Remember Life should Always Be the Main Priority 

No equipment, no document, no amount of money is more important than you and your employees’ safety. In any kind of disaster, human lives should be a priority. 

The Aftermath: Cleaning Up After an Emergency Situation

Cleaning after a natural disaster is a completely different league than your typical office maintenance. It takes a certain level of expertise in order to ensure that your office space is safe for your employees. 

Wait for the Go Signal

Cleaning up your office is tedious and would take a long time. While it is understandable to be eager to get right to work, this isn’t the place to be proactive. Just because the situation seems contained, doesn’t mean your office is already safe for you and your employees. You simply do not know the kinds of risks you are exposing your employees to. 

Wait for the advice of authorities before allowing your maintenance crew into the workspace. Provide protective equipment if possible. 

Call Your Insurance Provider

Before moving anything, call your insurance provider to get a clear picture of how you can recoup damages. It is best to wait until after the call before cleaning up because your insurance company might require pictures and documentation of the damages incurred. This way you are able to gauge the expenses that are covered and the bill that you have to foot. 

Opt for the Help of Professionals

Cleaning up after a disaster is no easy feat. While most office maintenance jobs can be done in-house, it is heavily advised to hire the help of professionals when it comes to cleaning up following an emergency situation. 

After a disaster, it is likely that your office is no longer a safe space for your employees to be in. Deep cleaning is a must and it takes a certain level of expertise to accomplish just that.  At the end of the day, investing in your office after a disaster is as important as preparing for it. 

As they say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. This statement rings incredibly true when it comes to readying your office for disasters. The steps above cover most ground. Nevertheless, do not forget that the most important thing during emergencies is to stay calm and remember that you are prepared.