Disaster and emergency management protocols are a vital need, not only for public governmental entities, but also for private companies as well. Organizations that lack emergency management plans, or whose plans fall short of the “best practices” that have been identified for emergency management, may thrive in the short term, but are headed for a date with the major news media. Sometimes both the public entities and private companies fail to ensure proper disaster and emergency management protocols, leading to unnecessary tragedy, in the form of death and damage to property. One example of this is the Bhopal disaster that involved the Union Carbide plant. It is true that the plant was storing methyl isocyanate (MIC) in amounts and at temperatures that varied from the accepted norms in the industry, and that the Indian government did not do enough to follow up on complaints about the plant, but the way that the government and the company handled the disaster in the hours and days after the spill also contributed to loss: the police went to their bullhorns and told people to flee the poison gas; when people started to run, they inhaled even more of the gas because of the increased effort (Ramesh; Cherukupally). Union Carbide tried to downplay the toxicity of MIC, blaming the piling bodies on a mysterious phosgene leak that turned out to be false (Tierney). As a result, the first responders were not able to treat cases appropriately, leading to even more unnecessary fatalities. Having a solid plan in place is important for organizations of every size.
At my current employer, our overall emergency management philosophy and design is supposed to maximize student safety over all other concerns. Damage to property, whether the emergency is natural or manmade, is a secondary concern to ensuring that students remain safe until their parents can come and get them. Because accountability for the presence and safety of each student is the underlying theme of our emergency management plan, every procedure is designed to match that theme. For example, when we have fire drills, each teacher must take roll again, once the class is outside. The teacher has three cards to hold up (red, green or yellow), and has forms to write down the names of absent students, or students who ended up in their classroom for some other reason besides attending class, such as delivering an item for the office. The green card means that all students are accounted for; the yellow card indicates that some are absent, or that some are extra; the red card indicates that someone in the group needs first aid. The entire emergency management plan follows this main theme. While roll is not taken during other emergency drills, as with tornado or lockdown drills, because the students do not leave the teacher’s immediate supervision for any time, the emergency management plan has their safety in mind. They are taken to spaces that do not have dangers of glass; the lockdown procedure moves all students away from the visibility of any potential gunmen. Hand in hand with student safety goes parent communication; in the event of an actual emergency, automated calls go out to all parents, indicating the current status of the situation.
When our organization ran an HIRA (Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) (IMS for Ontario), we identified several ways in which we could improve our methods for ensuring that we know where all of our students were. The first step was finding instances where we didn’t know this – during fire drills, our former practice had been for administrators and counselors to quickly go through the school building, looking for children, while the teachers took the students in their classes outside. This left the distinct possibility that, if a student had passed out, or was trying to hide, the student might be missed. This would not be a problem in a drill – but in the case of a real fire, the results could be tragic. Because our program priorities, we devised our solution that was listed above, ending up with a list of missing and extra students. Missing students are compared with a list of student absences recorded at the beginning of the day and in the case of any dismissals during the day for such things as medical appointments. With this priority of consistent student tracking in place, we developed specific procedures in case of severe weather at the end of the school day, lockdowns for an internal or external threat, and other contingencies.
In a school environment, mitigation and preparedness strategies revolve around two primary areas: teacher preparedness and orderly resolution. If teachers know where they are supposed to go in different contingencies and what they are supposed to do, then they will be calmer for the students, should a real emergency happen. As a result, at the beginning of each year we have training sessions for each major type of emergency. With teachers properly trained, they are more able to help students manage the emergency in an orderly manner.
Emergency planning and decision making come from the district level, but our school has an emergency planning committee that, each year, is charged with coming up with suggestions for changes. All of these suggestions go to our building principal for review, as well as to the district safety committee, which will decide the changes that need to be made to even further refine the emergency management process. Crisis communications all go through our district’s office of public relations. Warning systems on the campus level include fire and smoke alarms, as well as loudspeakers for communication. Tornado sirens are posted at various points throughout the community, close enough so that residents throughout the city can hear them and take cover when needed.
If I were an emergency management consultant, I would focus on ways to foster social behaviors to encourage prevention of as much disaster as possible. Other forms of education can lead to community-wide preparedness for disasters and emergencies; this preparation can end up mitigating the emergency’s impact significantly. For example, I would engage the corporate sector to help with preparedness in areas of relief and recovery. Big-box retailers with a major transportation infrastructure can be enlisted to help move emergency supplies when needed. Engaging them to ensure that their emergency and disaster plans meet the same goals as those put in place by local government entities will ensure that the communication breakdowns that have marked such tragedies as Hurricane Katrina, in 2005 in the United States, in which private enterprises such as Wal-Mart attempted to provide assistance but were turned away by the federal management response agency (FEMA) (Barbaro and Gillis; Consumer Affairs). Engaging these corporate entities can help expedite the removal of dangerous debris and can help foster a sense of community between business leaders and their counterparts in the public sector. The Corporate Network for Disaster Response, established in the Philippines, is an excellent example of partnership formation between the public and the private sector. Over 50 major corporations, foundations and business associations have joined together to put together emergency and disaster plans – primarily for earthquake, because of the 1990 quake in Luzon – to help end the suffering that goes with those events as quickly as possible. Because the Luzon earthquake left the public and private sectors paralyzed (Factoran; Villafania), the leaders of these corporations wanted to put together a response that would be more proactive – and more effective. The end result, between Luzon and today, has been savings of over 9.5 billion pesos in damage that could have happened in secondary events, had the communities not been ready to respond (Mishra).
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Cherukupally, A. (2011). Union Carbide and the Bhopal disaster. Global Research 19 October 2011. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=27161
Consumer Affairs. (2008). Real Katrina hero? Wal-Mart, study says. MSN Money 2 April 2008. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Insurance/InsureYourHome/RealKatrinaHeroWalMartStudySays.aspx
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IMS for Ontario. (2008). Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://www.emergencymanagementontario.ca/stellent/groups/public/@mcscs/@www/@emo/documents/webasset/ec077494.pdf
IRP (2009). Luzon earthquake, 1990. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://www.recoveryplatform.org/countries_and_disasters/disaster/21/luzon_earthquake_1990
Mishra, P. (2006). Corporate best practices in disaster management: An overview. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://earthmind.net/drr/docs/cases/dp007-corp-dr-mgt-india.pdf
Ramesh, R. (2009). Bhopal marks 25th anniversary of Union Carbide gas disaster. The Guardian 3 December 2009. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/03/bhopal-anniversary-union-carbide-gas
Tierney, K. (2001). Facing the unexpected: Disaster preparedness and Response in the United States. New York: Joseph Henry.
Villafania, R., (2010). Remembering the July 16 Luzon earthquake. Loqal. Web. Retrieved 10 December 2011 from http://loqal.ph/nation-and-world/2010/07/19/remembering-the-july-16-luzon-earthquake/