Are you prepared?

Most often we think about being prepared when we are loading up the car for a trip in the middle of the winter. We pack some waters, some granola bars (or candy bars to really maximize the amount of calories taken in if we get stranded), extra blankets and warm clothes, a shovel and a phone charger. I’m sure your emergency kit for your car is always fresh and ready to go. But what about your emergency response plan if something happens during the other times of the year?

By the time this article is published, many will have forgotten the devastation that happened in our state in early August. Many, but not all. As I prepare this article for print, I think about the chaos that ensued as the tornado and hail storms ripped through south eastern South Dakota. I think about those who had to be the pillars of the communities impacted, and who were called upon to make immediate decisions about what to do next.

When building your emergency response plan, there are a multitude of things that must be considered, but not all the problems that you will encounter after a catastrophic event will be negative. Your emergency response plan should include not only ways to address negative situations, but the positive ones as well.

When creating or reviewing your current emergency response plan, you should consider what resulting issues you may have. Does your plan address what happens when you have more than twice the number of volunteers you anticipated showing up to help? Who do you have in place to assign tasks to volunteers? How are you communicating with volunteers? Does your plan indicate how to facilitate the disbursement of donations, including perishable items? And have you established a relationship with a vendor or facility who can assist in storing perishable items before they are disbursed to those in need?

Other items to consider when reviewing or creating your emergency response plan include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

Communication will be key in managing any situation. Designating one person who will be in charge of receipt and response of all communication will reduce delays in recovery. Does your plan allow for an alternate in the event your assigned party is not available? Having a chain of command that is established in advance will reduce the anxiety and frustration of not knowing who to contact and how they can be contacted. Back up contacts for each level help to ensure that there is not likely to be a breakdown in the communications during the recovery from and event.

Resulting Situations
After a catastrophic loss, there may be resulting situations, which your emergency plan should account for. Depending on the type of loss, you may see an increase in crime, such as looting or vandalism, and your emergency response plan should account for these types of situations. Other issues such as resulting fires, power loss, and shortage of equipment and materials all should be addressed. Many of these issues can be addressed via a mutual aid agreement, in which you have established a relationship with a fellow community who can assist when needed. You also may establish similar relationships with private vendors.

Should it be necessary to evacuate all or part of your community, a plan should be in place to make sure this is done effectively and efficiently, to help minimize the chaos. Those departments who would be required to participate in these duties should be included during the preparation of this policy, as well as be trained on the most current policy. The initial part of the evacuation plan should be to establish a confirmed meeting point for those involved to begin the execution of the evacuation, in the event communication is made difficult or impossible. Consideration should be made for where those displaced people can safely stay until such a time the event has concluded, or they can be returned to their homes. Partnerships with local churches, schools and other volunteer groups may make those who are displaced feel more ‘at home’. Additionally, having those arrangements made in advance allows those who would be of service to be prepared to assist.

Contact Directories
Ensuring that your employee directories are up to date will avoid delays in communicating directives. Your contact directory should not only be kept up to date, but stored in a location that is accessible in an emergency. While online directories may seem the most efficient method, if your internet or cellular data capabilities are incapacitated, you should always have a backup that is accessible without these resources.

Back Ups
While keeping a solid and up to date copy of your contact directory, you should do the same with your important papers and documents. Keeping current contact information for your insurance company, and other service providers who will need to know when you are enduring a loss, in a location that is accessible by all parties will facilitate a smoother claims process. Additionally, backups of your operating systems which will allow you to return to as close to normal business operations as possible should be maintained off site. This policy is not only true for a catastrophic emergency, but also you’ve seen this recommendation in other areas, such as a cyber or computer attack which disables your system. Current backups of your systems allows you to pick up where the backup ends, rather than attempting to recreate all of your information systems prior to engaging in the day to day activities. For those who still maintain paper documents, ensure that crucial documents are stored in a lock box or safe that is fire and water proof.

Alternative Locations
After the storm has passed, you may have to operate at an alternative location. Having options for alternative locations where your day to day operations can resume, will help reduce not only costs, but also will help the community feel more at ease. When they note that you are ‘back in business’, they are likely to feel encouraged that despite the storm, it really can be business as usual, just from over at the rental office, rather than at City Hall. There are a variety of vendors that can be called upon to assist with temporary buildings and space. Having this information handy, either through your insurance carrier, or by prior engagement with a private entity, will get you back up and running quickly and efficiently.

Review / Update / Train
As with all policies, they aren’t effective if they aren’t current nor trained on. Your employees should be trained on your emergency response policy frequently, so they are ready to respond when an event arises. Remember when you were in grade school? How many times did you have a fire drill, or tornado drill in school? It didn’t matter that it was raining outside…all of a sudden you’d hear the fire drill and you’d get up, leave behind all your belongings and march in a line (sort of… sometimes a cluster) to the lawn where your teacher counted your heads to ensure everyone made it out. Are you doing your fire drills? Are you prepared for the emergency event?

The SDPAA is proud to offer assistance and services to 428 public entities across South Dakota. If you are struggling to ensure that your emergency response policy is up to date, or create one, please contact our office. We have resources to help ensure that your entity has the best risk management and loss control tools in your portfolio, and we want to share them with you. If you’re not a Member and want access to all of the services the SDPAA provides, give us a call at 800-658-3633 Option 2, or by email at for more information about the quote process. Already a Member, awesome! Give us a call or send us an email, we’d love to hear from you!

Lynn Bren, AIC SCLA
Director of Member Services