Hurricanes and pandemics are dramatically different disasters, but COVID-19 still provided some lessons that can encourage more thoughtful planning and preparedness for city and town governments. This can be especially true when considering business continuity after an emergency strikes.
Forecasters predict that the upcoming 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1, 2021, will see an above-average number of hurricanes. Planning for hurricanes or any other disaster should involve developing an emergency action plan focusing on preparedness and a business continuity plan to help restart operations after an emergency.
City and town leaders should designate one individual to be in charge of the municipality’s entire emergency management. A central point of contact should serve as the primary liaison with all team members, which lessens the chance of tasks being overlooked or duplicated.
An emergency plan is usually a written document, designed to establish employer and employee actions during an emergency. The elements of the plan should include
- evacuation procedures and escape routes,
- procedures to account for all employees, and
- steps to prepare and safeguard the municipality’s employees and property.
Be sure to develop checklists to prepare for different types of emergencies, whether it be fire, a weather event or an active shooter scenario. For hurricane preparedness, here are a few examples of items to include on the list:
- Remove and store all unsecured items such as chairs, planters, trash cans, pallets, signage and similar items, as these may become flying objects because of high winds.
- Secure windows and doors, check roof coverings and remove items such as awnings to prevent damage. Move items away from areas where roof leaks have occurred previously.
- To help prevent flood damage, move contents from low-lying property to property on higher ground.
- Make sure important paperwork and equipment is moved to a safe location. Cover computers, files and other electronic equipment with plastic sheeting or other types of waterproofing. Move equipment away from windows and from the floor. Unplug electrical equipment and appliances.
- Move vehicles and equipment out of low-lying areas. Disperse equipment to several locations to prevent a catastrophic loss at any one location.
- Keep contact information for claims staff readily available.
- After a loss, make every effort to secure damaged property to prevent further loss. For example, secure leaking roofs with plastic or tarps, cover damaged property and take photos of the property. If the municipality must dispose of the property, please document the loss using photos and lists describing the property. Cell phones can be used for this purpose.
- SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members should be prepared to contact SCMIRF immediately after a loss to submit claims even if they are not sure of the extent of damage. Municipalities insured with SCMIRF have 30 days after landfall to report hurricane losses.
- Designate one person to be in charge of hurricane losses.
After the Emergency
An emergency action plan should also include steps for recovery after the event, including checklists of actions to take and a strategy on how the city or town will continue operations during or after any service disruption. Checklists may vary depending on the type of emergency. For example, a hurricane recovery checklist may include securing damaged property to prevent further loss by tarping leaking roofs, covering damaged property and taking photos of the damage.
Lessons learned from COVID-19 have helped many municipalities determine that operations can sometimes continue or resume more quickly when they provide employees the ability to work remotely. Planning and being prepared can ensure the safety of employees, mitigate any potential loss to property, and enable quicker resumption of municipal services after an emergency.