Six steps to ensure your staff are ready when natural disasters strike

Just this week, we’ve had floods in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania and cyclonic storms in South Australia. Natural disasters – whether floods, droughts, heatwaves or bushfires – are rarely far from the headlines in Australia.

Which makes it all the more shocking that 25 percent of community organisations say they might need to close permanently after an extreme weather event, while half think they’d be out of action for at least a week.

That’s why the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is suggesting that community organisations are generally ill-prepared for disasters and emergencies.

To help address this, ACOSS has developed a toolkit to help community organisations measure and improve their resilience in such circumstances.

Named ‘Resilient Community Organisations’, the resource comprises six practical steps to help equip your staff with the skills to plan for and deal a disaster.

It also includes a benchmarking system to help you assess your organisation’s current state of preparedness for disasters and help identify areas of improvement.

So in the event of a natural disaster or emergency – like a bushfire, flood, energy supply disruption, heatwave or pandemic disease – how prepared will your staff be?

From the Resilient Community Organisations toolkit, here are six steps to building your organisation’s preparedness for disasters:

1) Lead resilience

Community organisations have a responsibility to their clients and the broader community to effectively bounce back from disaster.

And the ability to do so hinges on strong leadership. Your organisation’s leaders need to understand their roles and responsibilities in each phase of the emergency management cycle – and be able to lead staff and volunteers through that process.

That means developing a clear mandate for action by asking questions like:

  • What are your organisation’s objectives in relation to disasters and emergencies?
  • Which services are essential to maintain?
  • Which services are dependent on third parties?
  • How would an absence of essential services impact your clients, partners and other stakeholders?

This information then needs to be communicated to everyone in the organisation – which might prompt questions about existing structures – in order to improve the decision-making process during a crisis

2) Build networks

Built on compassion and trust, the community sector is uniquely placed to help clients prepare for and recover from disaster.

But no organisation works in a vacuum – resilience relies on your organisation’s connections with its community. This means establishing networks with local government, emergency services, private sector organisations and other community organisations, as well as clients who might be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of disaster.

Why? You’ll be better equipped to share expertise and knowledge; build local emergency management plans; and collaborate and coordinate in planning for and responding to disasters and emergencies.

3) Know your risks

Are you familiar with the risks your staff and volunteers face from a disaster?

While it can be a challenging process, identifying risks is imperative to improving the resilience of your organisation. This means engaging in ‘what if’ thinking and using examples, case studies and hypotheticals to guide the risk identification process.

ACOSS has created the Community Sector Risk Register to help you identify risks, which should then feed into your organisation’s risk management process.

4) Manage your risks

While it’s important to consider hypotheticals, a practical approach to managing risks is imperative to your organisation’s resilience.

That’s where a disaster resilience plan comes in. What actions will you take in response to the risks you identified in step three? What is the likelihood of these risks? Who is responsible for managing them?

It’s important to clearly detail policies and procedures surrounding disasters, as well as clarifying details around insurance and disaster recovery.

Download this disaster planning template created by ACOSS specifically for NFP organisations, and get started now.

5) Prepare others

Disaster resilience hinges on the ability to help people stay safe during a disaster and recover afterwards – something community organisations are particularly well placed to assist people with.

And it’s critical for staff to prepare for disaster before it occurs – during a time of crisis, your organisation may not be able to support your clients, other staff and volunteers in the way it usually does.

To this end, ACOSS recommends employing the Red Cross’ effective, easy-to-use all-hazards emergency preparedness tool called REDiPlan.

6) Learning and inspiring

Building resilience isn’t a one-time endeavour – it requires a commitment to ongoing learning and improvements to the plan you’ve established.

This means regular (at least annual) testing, monitoring and making improvements to your disaster plans. Staff tests within your organisation could include:

  • Evacuation procedures
  • Staff familiarity with emergency equipment
  • Power failure
  • Internet failure
  • Decision making process when the disaster or emergency triggers have been activated.

Finally, consider how your organisation could work with the local community to improve your collective disaster resilience.

Disasters and emergencies are testing at the best of times. But if your organisation doesn’t prepare for these challenging events ahead of time, it can be all the more difficult to bounce back – and that can have a devastating effect on both your staff and volunteers, and the community of people you work with.

Does your organisation have a disaster resilience plan? Please share! We’d love to hear more in the comments below.

Image attribution: Thanks to DocklandsTony

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