Five Lessons Learned in Disaster Planning

Nurse wearing mask

Even in the continuing uncertainty we find ourselves in this week, there is opportunity to pull out learning that can guide your nonprofit in the strategic and operational planning that will have to be considered in the coming months. You are likely in the midst of picking up the pieces, damaged from the force that is Covid19 – a decimated volunteer program, cancelled events, staff layoffs, and clients you cannot serve and who may have no where to turn.

Where are you going to start? How are you going to start? As you convene your emergency meetings and assemble your working committees, keep in mind these five key components to ensure an adaptive and organized approach to whatever is coming next.

Communicate with your teams

With the sheer volume of facts and figures and response plans that are shared during an emergency situation, it is critical to keep the flow of information to your team members timely, concise, and on point.

  • Include only the details that pertain to the priorities you have identified within your scope of work, and have a method of collecting extraneous but valuable information that may be useful in the future.
  • When sending out mass emails, add descriptors in the subject line such as “response required” or “read only” so your recipients will know what is expected of them.

Collaborate with stakeholders

Although final decisions will need to be made by a select few, whenever possible and safe to do so, you should gather input from everyone that matters to your organization.

  • Your donors and volunteers are invested in your success. Not sure how to adapt your events or give them meaningful roles? Ask them.
  • Your clients will tell you what matters most; use it to build a list of priorities and focus your limited resources on very specific goals.
  • Your employees are loyal but they may be afraid. Give them a safe space to share their concerns and help them channel their energy toward solutions.

Delegate tasks

You will need to designate one person (plus a backup) in each of your key areas to make communicating and collaborating easier, and avoid duplication of work.

  • Consider who is best equipped to serve as a point of contact with: emergency and health personnel; government departments; donors and volunteers; like-minded community agencies; media and the public.
  • Set up a central document on a shared network drive to collect reports from each of your delegates by a specified time each day.
Emergency vehicle on street

Self-care for leaders and staff

Responding to an emergency situation is stressful, and between navigating your organization’s response and their personal lives at home, your employees may not be taking any time at all for their own self-care.

  • Check in with your staff members often, enforce rest breaks, and provide opportunity for debriefs
  • Share resources geared toward mental health and boundaries.
  • Provide opportunity for de-escalating activities between work and home: a walk outside, a treat break, or a recap of the day’s successes.

Have an emergency plan in place

It goes without saying that all this would be easier with an emergency preparedness plan in place, before the emergency even occurs. There will always be some element of surprise and need to ‘roll with the punches’ in these types of situations, and that is okay. But there are some foundational elements you can have in place if you take the time to plan for the worst, first.

  • Keep staff, donor, and volunteer contact details up to date in a network database that is securely accessible from outside your workplace when necessary.
  • Have a policy, process, and job descriptions for continuity of work and rapid on-boarding of staff and volunteers; keep an up to date list of volunteers willing to be on-call during an emergency.
  • Set up key partnerships with local government, health facilities, and other like-minded agencies to facilitate a rapid response format should an emergency occur.

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