Disaster Response Basics

For those of you responding to disasters who are not Emergency Workers or Organizations, you are probably overwhelmed right now if you live on the East Coast.  Help may not be coming for days, and you may feel personally responsible for members of your organization, group, building, or even your employees.  What can you do?

First, if you are in a position of leadership, the most important thing you can be doing right now is looking at your responsibilities as a whole.  You should not be trying to rescue people, pick up debris, or be managing some specific aspect of this disaster.  You need to take charge and make a plan.

First Prioritize. Take an half hour right now, stop DOING, and start thinking about the big picture.

The first principal of Disaster Response is do “Most Good for the Most People”.  Keep this principal in mind. Next make all your decisions on the following priorities:

1) Life Safety – Yours First (you can’t help if your hurt or dead) – then the people you are trying to help

2) Scene Stabilization – Put out the fires, so to speak (Meaning stop further destruction if you can, like sand bag or create a safe dry space amid a destroyed area, gather food and water and put in a safe storage)

3) Property Preservation –  This is last, stuff isn’t worth anyones life.

Now organize.  Get out a piece of paper and make a list of

1) Safety Issues – How are people going to get hurt or sick after this?  What can we do to prevent it?  (Safety)

2) What you need to DO based on those priorities (Operations)

3) What resources you HAVE and what resources you NEED – include people who can help (Logistics)

4) What you need to keep track of – who you are responsible for, what your plan is (Planning)

If you have help, assign someone to each of those questions and work closely coordinating them as a team.

Now LEAD.  Start assigning people to do tasks based on your plan.  Keep Safety the utmost priority of everyone involved.  Always work in twos – the buddy system is required for your physical and mental health in an emergency.  Remember, you can’t do water rescues without training, personal flotation devices, and throw bags or someone else is going to drown.  You can’t go into buildings destroyed without lighting, personal protective equipment, expertise, and a plan or others will be hurt or killed.   But you can gather resources (such as sending teams to get food from FEMA for elderly), set up shelters and safe places, protect, and feed people if you have the stuff to do it.  Think about sanitation issues as soon as possible.  Assign someone to think about food safety.  Write stuff down, re-group often with your team, and stay positive.

An organized response is the best thing you can do to comfort and protect those you are trying to help.