The Japan EQ and Tsunami – A Strong Case for Preparedness

Like you, I have been mesmerized by the video on the television news channels and the internet of the catastrophic 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan. Watching the violent shaking that occurred as well as the falling debris and fires. The visual of that huge wall of water sweeping away everything in its pathway. Cars looked like simple toys floating in water, homes and buildings being washed away. People confused, scared, and lost. Many waiting to be rescued. And then, an explosion at a local nuclear plant resulting in leaking radiation and a possible meltdown. If you hadn’t witnessed the event yourself through the power of television and internet you probably would say it’s even too much for Hollywood. Of course some still don’t believe the United States successfully landed men on the moon. And now the citizens of Japan must live through the aftershocks.

If there is any shred of early good news coming out of this mega-disaster, it’s that given the large magnitude of the earthquake, the people were prepared (yes, it could have been worse) and that many of the larger buildings in the region seemed to have fared fairly well due to the building codes in place. Japan is considered the most earthquake prepared country in the world.

It will take years, if not generations for Japan to recover. And while Japan may be a long way from where each of us is, we must recognize that this is yet another harsh reminder that no matter where we live we face some level of risk and that we should take the time to become better prepared ourselves.

Here’s some of my thoughts on what we can do …

Government

We must make citizen preparedness a priority in our communities. On a continual basis we need to encourage our citizens to learn and practice preparedness for the risks they face.

Through federal grants, a lot of money has been spent since 9/11 on first responder readiness. Today, our focus and priorities should be moving increasingly toward greater citizen preparedness. Why isn’t a significant portion of our current Homeland Security funding being allocated toward citizen preparedness efforts?

Every community should establish an objective that X% of the community (where X is a community set objective) will receive preparedness training (ie. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) www.citizencorps.gov/cert/ ) training within the next year. If we don’t set a goal, how will we now we are making progress?

It’s understandable that funding has been very tight given our current and past economic woes. But with honest determination and creativity there are ways in which to accomplish citizen preparedness with limited financial support. Start a community discussion with key-stakeholders. Partner with neighboring communities and seek out community partnerships within the private sector as well as with faith-based organizations. Look further at how working together we can make great things happen.

Business

While traditional teachings hold that the role of Business leaders/managers is to protect shareholder value, they also have a moral obligation to protect their employees. Some may say that given the past display of greed by some business leaders there is a lack of morals in business. I hope they would be wrong. I prefer to think that many leaders want to do the right thing but aren’t sure where to start.

The simple answer is lead by example. First, become prepared yourself. Then, look for opportunities to champion preparedness for your business and your employees.

Large Business

  • Start a discussion with those in your company tasked with Business Continuity (you do have a Business Continuity program in place don’t you?) about what’s really needed to improve your company’s preparedness (readiness) .
  • Ensure that they aren’t just looking at how to protect and recover your essential business functions, but that they are also looking at how your company will respond to an event and subsequently work with external responders that will be at your door step.
  • Ask what is being done in your company to help your employees prepare – not just at work, but at home as well. If your employees aren’t prepared at home, they won’t be coming back to help with your recovery.

Small and Medium Business

Remember KISS – “Keep It Short and Simple”.

  • Assume you will be displaced for at least 72 weekday hours
  • Identify who your essential employees and decision makers are and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify and prioritize your critical business functions – not everything is critical.
  • Identify where you will work if you lose access to your facility and what you will need to function while you are there.
  • Identify key suppliers and vendors and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify the tasks your essential employees will need to do to Respond and Recover from an emergency. Don’t forget to also include how you will Return your business after the fact.
  • Document Document Document – all of the stuff mentioned above. Remember KISS.
  • Once you have your documentation – practice with your essential employees.
  • Look for improvement

Here are a few great resources to assist you:

About the Author
Tim Bonno is currently an Adjunct Instructor for both a midwestern State Emergency Management Agency and a state university. Tim also produces two highly popular conferences in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Tim enjoyed a successful 30+ year career with a Fortune 50 telecommunications company where he held a variety of positions, leading the company’s business continuity and emergency management efforts. Tim is a co-founder and current President of the MidAmerica Contingency Planning Forum (MCPF). He also served as a Governor-appointed Commissioner on the Missouri Seismic Safety Commission.