published Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Safety panel gets disaster-planning tips

David Hartin, EMA director of Tuscaloosa, AL, discusses disaster preparation with a crowd of 50 safety professionals at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
David Hartin, EMA director of Tuscaloosa, AL, discusses disaster preparation with a crowd of 50 safety professionals at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Paul Leach

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Preparation and adaptation were key elements of a disaster planning presentation given to a crowd of 50 safety professionals at the Cleveland/Bradley Safety Council this week.

In front of local industrial and emergency response officials at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, David Hartin, director of the Emergency Management Agency for Tuscaloosa, Ala., shared experiences and lessons learned from the April 27, 2011, storms that battered his community.

Emergency management plans cannot have too many backups, Hartin said.

"Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy," he said. "What you think you've got backed up, back up a second time, back up a third time."

Communities need to be able to cope with critical damage to emergency-responder and short- and long-term relief systems during a disaster and its aftermath, Hartin said. The loss of cornerstone facilities, communications and vehicles can throw existing plans and logistics into disarray during a crisis, he said.

"My goal is that local businesses consider high-level what-ifs," said David O'Boyle, chairman of the Safety Council. "We need to plan beyond knowing how to get to the storm shelter."

When Tuscaloosa's Emergency Management Agency sustained major damage in the April 27 storms, Hartin said he and his team had to adapt quickly. Smartphones allowed the staff to create mobile offices, he said.

Every emergency management plan ought to establish and monitor communications through as many formats as possible, including email, text and social media, he said.

A plan needs to have the flexibility to repurpose facilities that may not necessarily be included in first-line recovery plans to provide shelter and emergency supplies, Hartin said. Those plans should take into account that many storm victims may have to walk to distribution and aid centers.

Coordination and cooperation can make a big difference in maximizing efforts and minimizing waste, Hartin said.

Directing volunteers and allocating relief resources "can be a headache" if you are not , Hartin said. However, officials should expect a small group of individuals who will do what they want, when they want, regardless of any recovery system in place.

The presentation gave the audience a lot to consider, whether their own company's emergency plans or how they might participate in communitywide efforts, said Lisa Pickel, director of existing industry programs for the Chamber.

O'Boyle said he hoped the participants not only revisited their emergency plans, but encouraged employee participation in revising those plans.

Emergency plans need to be engaged, not simply exist within a big binder, said O'Boyle.

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