Many businesses have developed an incredible reliance on technology and the automation of numerous processes. If any of this technology is disrupted for even a short amount of time, the businesses could be exposed to great financial losses and their very survival may be compromised. The management of an organization needs to be aware of potential disasters and the principles of disaster management in order to prevent such a situation from arising. They need to be able to come up with a plan that will minimize these disruptions, especially those that affect critical functions, and they need to be able to recover the functions of the business in a manner that is both timely and successful. But what is disaster management?
Disaster management is the complete set of policies, procedures and practices that are undertaken before a disaster occurs, when it occurs and after it occurs.
Definition of Disaster Management
A disaster is any occurrence that causes widespread distress and destruction. The definition of disaster management isn’t about stopping such an event when it occurs. Rather, it is about reducing the impact of these events on a company or community. When you don’t create a plan to deal with disasters, you could end up having to deal with lost revenue and massive human casualties. Disaster management covers a whole range of events, including communication failures, public disorder, terrorism, natural disasters and artificial disasters like electrical fires and industrial sabotage.
For you to be able to avoid the loss of revenue, employees, clients and capital investments in your business, you should identify any potential risks faced by your business and anticipate them. That way, you will be able to take some measures to prevent them and to also prepare plans that will enable you to mitigate the impact of these disasters if they do eventually occur. You will be able to ensure the continuity of your business and reduce the loss of revenue. It is important that your organization has procedures in place to determine when it is safe to say a disaster has occurred and when the disaster management protocol should be initiated. That is the greatest importance of disaster management.
A disaster is basically the difference between the sum total of the vulnerability a business or community has to a hazard and the actual occurrence of the hazard and the capacity of the community or business to handle that hazard.
The economic or social development of a business or community can be important components in the preparedness of that business or community for a disaster. However, these should be handled with caution, especially when all the risks aren’t well known. While development can reduce the risk of a disaster, it can sometimes also increase that risk and even make it worse if it does occur. On the other hand, while it may seem like natural disasters push a business or community back in terms of development, sometimes they can also provide the impetus for the business or community to explore the development opportunities they hadn’t considered before.
The term "disaster management" is used to cover all the aspects involved in planning for and responding to disasters. This includes the measures taken before the event happens and those taken after the event happens. Disaster management isn’t just about responding to the event and providing relief to the sufferers. It is also about reducing the total negative impact of the event and preventing its reoccurrence or consequences in the future.
Three Major Goals of Disaster Management
The three major goals of disaster management are creating a more durable and effective recovery, planning proactively to mitigate the risks faced by a business and reducing the loss suffered via more effective planning and response efforts.
There are many types of crises, or types of disaster, that should be identified during the planning process in order to implement different disaster management strategies for each. There are eight types of disaster in total:
- Terrorist attacks
- Workplace violence
- Organizational misdeeds
- Technological crises
- Natural disasters
The process followed by emergency managers is fairly straightforward and common among all organizations. It helps them to anticipate the disaster, assess the severity of the disaster, respond to the disaster and recover from it in a timely, effective and durable manner.
There are five phases to disaster management:
1. The Prevention of the Disaster
This is the phase where the human hazard of the disaster is prevented. It is typically used when you are dealing with terrorist attacks and natural disasters. You will take preventive measures which are well designed to provide the people with some kind of permanent protection from the disaster in question. You should note that you can’t prevent all kinds of disasters, especially natural disasters. However, you can and should mitigate the risk of anyone losing his life or suffering a major injury by planning for evacuation, planning for the environment and implementing proper design standards.
2. The Mitigation of the Disaster
This can be used for a variety of disaster types. Consider electrical disasters, for example. You could audit the power quality regularly and undertake maintenance processes that prevent any obvious but avoidable disaster from occurring. That way, you could prevent electrical fires or at least reduce the risk of them occurring. More than 85 percent of fires are actually caused by electrical malfunctions that could have been prevented by taking the right measures.
When you live an area prone to earthquakes, you could undertake some preventive measures, such as installing an earthquake valve that will shut off the supply of natural gas to a building in order to prevent a fire. You could also install seismic retrofits in houses and fit them with robust security systems. This may include mounting to the walls items such as water heaters, refrigerators, furniture and anything that is breakable. You can also add latches to the cabinets. If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, you might choose to build your house on stilts.
These mitigation measures can go a long way in reducing the negative impacts of disasters. It is best to be proactive long before the disaster hits.
3. Preparedness for the Disaster
This phase is about readying the equipment and processes that will be implemented in the event of a disaster. These will be used to mitigate the impact of the disaster if it finally strikes. They can also be used to facilitate efficient responses in the event of an emergency.
The steps taken to ensure proper preparedness include:
- Assessing the risks of the disaster
- Integrating environmental and social issues to the strategies and operations undertaken by your business
- Implementing systems and protocols that mitigate risks
- Creating plans for how you will respond to and recover from the disaster
- Undertaking disaster risk management. This is the application of management practices, procedures and policies to the process of identifying disaster risks and then analyzing them, evaluating them, treating them and monitoring them. You can then undertake disaster risk reduction, which involves undertaking measures to reduce the losses brought on by these disasters by treating the vulnerability of people to hazards. For you to undertake disaster risk management successfully, you should start long before the disaster happens and continue long after the disaster has struck. It will also involve the learning of important lessons which help to prevent the occurrence of the disaster in the future.
4. Response to the Disaster
This phase is an elaborate version of search and rescue and focuses on handling the humanitarian needs that must be fulfilled post-event. It is all about the actions undertaken during the disaster and afterwards in order to reduce the negative impact of the disaster and to provide people with support and relief. It involves providing people with rescue, medical aid, shelter, water and food, among other things. It is often a coordinated process and involves supporting the affected population by helping them to reconstruct their physical structures and infrastructure and to help them restore their physical, economic, social and emotional well-being. It also involves rebuilding their businesses and providing them with counseling.
5. Recovering from the Disaster
This phase begins immediately after the disaster has subsided or when there is no longer an immediate threat to human life. The goal of this phase is to restore the normalcy that had prevailed in the population prior to the disaster in the quickest and most durable fashion.
How to Prepare for Disaster as a Company
There are various components to this process and they all work together to ensure that the company is well prepared for the disaster and that the company recovers from it in a timely and durable fashion.
1. The Assessment of Risk
Before you can plan for a disaster, you need to assess the risks involved in order to gain an intimate understanding of the environment and the circumstances under which you will be planning for that disaster. You should start by establishing the context in which the risk exists, identifying all of the potential risks involved and then analyzing them by determining the probability of their occurrence and the impact they would have. You can finally prioritize how the risks will be addressed and treat them appropriately.
You can’t eliminate all risks. You can, however, minimize their impact by taking various measures. You will be helped in this by your own experiences, the practices that have been employed in the past by other companies that faced the same risks and technical measures you can undertake on your own.
2. The Planning Phase
Here you should develop contingency plans or update existing ones based on the experience you gained during a previous disaster. Planning for contingencies is effective when you include all the relevant actors in an emergency in a participatory process. You’re planning forward, so you need to agree on potential scenarios, actions and response systems. The key, however, is that you have a plan to begin with.
3. Testing and Training
There are many ways you can carry out training. You could carry out tabletop exercises where you hold interactive discussions about the possible scenarios that could occur in a disaster. You could have drills where you mobilize resources in a limited fashion and test response strategies. Drills are often focused on a single component of a response plan. You could also conduct a comprehensive simulation of the entire response plan with all of its components.
Disaster Management Around the World
There are various trends around the world regarding how disaster management is approached.
- There is a focus on managing the risk of disaster in advance.
- Corporate donations are shifting from cash to other resources as well.
- Disaster preparedness is being integrated in development programs.
- Rapid emergency response teams and emergency units are being developed.
- Development banks and the private sector are becoming more involved.
- Professional guidelines and standards are being improved.
- Mitigation programs are being emphasized more than response programs.
Disaster management is something that is important to all of us, both companies and communities alike. As a business, you can take part in the global push to adopt better disaster management practices, not only to protect yourself but also to protect the community around you in the event of a disaster.