Natural Disaster

Your people, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gillian Dacey, Crisis Resilience

Are your staff prepared if a natural disaster occurs? Gillian Dacey explains how you can prepare for the worst.

You are deploying staff overseas – you have sorted their insurance, got meetings scheduled in the diary, tickets and accommodation in order. But what about their safety?

You have warned them not to lose their mobile and laptop, and to stay out of danger. Ensuring your staff are safe whilst out working involves more than just sorting their insurance and giving them a card with a 24-hour contact number in case of emergency.

Maybe you sent staff to Italy recently? Or Turkey? Japan? New Zealand? Chile? Did you also provide them with safety advice about what to do when an earthquake strikes whilst they are there working? Probably not. Employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees are supplied with the necessary information and advice to enable them to be safe whilst at work. Providing adequate safety and advisory briefings, ensuring training is completed and having internal systems in place to act on and respond to warnings and crises is vital.

So, why should we be concerned about the risk from natural hazards? The IFRC (Royal Marines Commando Officer World Disaster) Report 2016 points out that climate change and disasters present a growing risk for businesses. The increase in intensity and frequency of hazards and events, combined with rises in population and challenges to developing infrastructure in many parts of the world contribute to an increase in the vulnerability of communities. This is not only in countries that we would usually associate with these types of natural hazards such as Bangladesh, but closer to home, many European countries have been affected by abnormally heavy snowfalls this winter, and flooding continues to be an annual risk to us all.

Disasters, especially large-scale ones can have a significant cost in lives through injury and death, loss to property and infrastructure, and a reduction in economic output. Whilst prevention of the events is not always possible, mitigating the impact and saving lives can be achieved. There is much to be said for the phrase “prevention is better than cure”. In a report just released by Aon Benfield (Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report 2016) they highlight that the top three hazards – flooding, earthquake and severe weather, accounted for 70% of economic losses in 2016. The message is clear – preparedness and resilience are essential to reduce the impact of these events.

Maybe you have company offices in countries at risk from natural hazards. Just as you would take precautions for preventing fire and ensuring fire drills are held, do you also prepare for earthquakes, flooding or extreme weather? What business continuity plans do you have in place that cover natural hazards? It would not be wise to rely on receiving assistance from authorities as you might do here in the UK.

Preparing for events involves a number of steps, but a key stage is to identify those hazards and events that pose a risk. Undertaking a risk assessment and looking at the likelihood of events occurring will enable identification and subsequent planning. Scenario planning and running simulation exercises enables preparation and testing for responding to events. These scenarios should also include events that not only take place outside the UK, but those that also impact here. A recent example of such an event was the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in 2010 and the disruption caused to individuals and businesses. Similarly, disruptive events in the future cannot be ruled out. Scenario testing enables planning for the future and allows for the development of response plans.

This article hasn’t looked at recovery, but planning for the phase immediately after an event, that must be factored into your crisis planning process. This should also incorporate the return process for staff who have been deployed abroad and are returning after exposure to a disaster or crisis event. As earthquakes are one of the few natural hazards to strike without warning, preparedness is vital. Advice for anyone travelling, working, or living in an earthquake-prone area includes:

Before an earthquake:

  • Have a response plan with family and work colleagues, including about where to meet after an earthquake • Earthquake-proof your office and home, such as securing heavy or moveable items like bookcases and pictures to walls
  • Know the fire exits (stairs not lifts) from a building, even in the dark
  • Have a first aid kit and survival kit – do not expect official assistance for at least 72 hours after an earthquake
  • Do a first aid course

During an earthquake:

Inside a building

  • Stay inside until the shaking stops
  • Shelter under sturdy furniture such as a table, protect your head and neck. If there is no furniture, shelter near an internal wall away from glass windows
  • Avoid glass or loose objects
  • Don’t use elevators or lifts
  • If in bed – stay there, protect your head

Outside a building

  • Keep away from buildings, tall structures and powerlines
  • Seek shelter in open spaces
  • Avoid falling debris and masonry
  • If driving, stop the vehicle when safe and pull over to the side of the road
  • In coastal areas, move inland, do not go to the beach in case of tsunami

After an earthquake:

  • Provide first aid and check the welfare of people around you
  • If inside, go outside, be aware of falling debris and move away from buildings
  • Aftershocks will likely follow
  • If the earthquake has been severe and there is damage to buildings, do not re-enter buildings until deemed safe
  • Follow the advice of authorities For further advice on preparedness and response