Across the country this last week, communities have suffered from flooding. Here, in Findlay, Ohio, we’ve seen our local community brought to stand still as the Blanchard River (just a few blocks from the Findlay All Hazards offices) crested at 16 and ½ feet – the fifth highest crest since local record-keeping began. As you might imagine, normal activities throughout our area were interrupted or cancelled, and transportation routes disappeared underwater. Downtown companies turned their attention to draining and cleaning instead of business as usual, and only after it was safe to enter the area and re-open.
Findlay was hardly alone in this crisis. The Fox River Valley area of Illinois, made up of four counties west of Chicago, was declared a disaster area just yesterday when the Fox crested at 12.4 feet, deep enough to bring towns to a standstill, though that crest was thankfully shallower than that of another flood that swept across the area just four years ago. Meanwhile, the nearby Des Plaines river did indeed break a 30-year record, cresting at about 12 feet and engulfing part of Lake County, Illinois.
And, of course, the saddest recent case of a high-water emergency was the heartbreaking story of how a flash flood along the Verde River in Arizona took the lives of nine family members this past weekend. Only the quick action of first responder heroes, who were already nearby for another call, prevented a greater loss of life.
As the trainers, techs, and project managers here at Findlay All Hazards watch the waters recede, we think about how businesses can plan for a calamitous event like a flood so that their employees stay safe and the organization resumes operations after the crisis – or even maintains processes during the ordeal.
EHS managers usually maintain many plans. They keep checklists ready for everything from spill control to mechanical accidents. And severe weather plans are often among them. But Findlay consultants sometimes find that such plans are outdated, and do reflect the current state of the company’s physical plant. And a common omission among their preparations is what to do in case of a flood. Businesses in “tornado alley” are often very ready to shelter-in-place, but those same shelter areas could be the spots most vulnerable to flooding, as the landscape around facilities changes, and water control architecture (dikes and dams) erodes. Evacuating the facility in case of rising water nearby might be as bad a choice as keeping people on site. Those leaving the company in their cars could find themselves driving into a suddenly flooded area, and then become trapped. And what about a company’s transportation fleet? Managers may be able to reach drivers by mobile phone, but do they have the resources at hand to safely and confidently revise their travel routes? If a driver must park their vehicle, and they are carrying any hazardous material, are the vehicle placards where they can be seen, even if the vehicle should be partially submerged? Hazmat and water don’t always mix, as we all know… What happens when even a minor flood should carry contaminated water away from a production facility or distribution center? These “what ifs” are part of comprehensive incident management and planning. And the necessary skills can be sharpened by training to the standards set by NIMS – The National Incident Management System (Findlay All Hazards offers NIMS ICS 300 and 400 level workshops).
But, even if NIMS training is current and your disaster plan complete, what about the continuity of your business operations? Are your employees cross-trained so that those people who may be prevented from reaching an office or production facility can be replaced by other available team members? Do you have alternate sources for suppliers, so that just-in-time materials don’t run out if the usual supply lines are lost?
Findlay All Hazards always views a potential crisis from the widest perspective, looking for ways to prevent what can be stopped, for signs that an impending emergency cannot be avoided, and for the best means to manage the event and recover from the damage. The results of that wide-angle view are different for each possible calamity and for every organization. But Findlay’s 30-plus years of experience and our on-site delivery options ensure that a plan and a training program can be created for any organization.