On February 10, 2013, I was home with my 3-year-old daughter. The tornado siren had been going off for hours but there wasn’t even any rain. I was annoyed because my daughter couldn’t nap with all the noise. Suddenly, it started raining and I felt a weird pressure in the house. Someone posted on Facebook that a tornado was nearby. I grabbed my daughter and put her in the center hallway. When I grabbed the doorknob to shut it behind us, it flew out of my hand. What followed was the longest 90 seconds of my life.
That tornado was an EF-4 and it had ripped not only through my town, but right across the front part of the university campus where I worked. We had something like 20 pine trees in our yard. After this, we had maybe two. We fared better than some neighbors, who had their homes leveled.
The campus had significant damage. Our alumni house looked like it had been bombed. (I lived about half a mile away and we found pieces of the Spanish tile roof from our alumni house in our laundry room that was windowless.) Southern Miss lost over 100 trees on our verdant campus, including many gorgeous live oaks.
At the time of this event, I had been promoted from one job which I was still doing until my replacement could be trained, held my new position, and another interim position. My boss was holding his position and an interim position. Five positions between the two of us. I was living with a co-worker for two weeks and moving since our landlord didn’t feel that making our rental home livable was a priority. To say it was a tough time would a bombastic understatement. And yet, we managed to get things on track and raise incredible amounts of money for relief and recovery.
I grew up in Mobile, Alabama and so hurricane preparedness is a part of life. But, this experience made me an advocate for disaster preparedness at work. Let’s face it: One part of strategic planning that often gets overlooked is preparation for times when things go wrong. I think the pandemic has made that plainly obvious. Here are a few things I’ve learned that can help your office weather (pun-intended) this pandemic as well as any future disasters that may come your way.
WHAT ARE YOUR DISASTERS?
Every area of the country has likely disasters. In California, it is earthquakes. In the Gulf South where I live, we prepare for tornadoes and hurricanes. What is likely where you live and work? Are you truly prepared for that? You need specific plans in case your office, your employees, or your constituents are impacted by a natural disaster that you can (if not predict) forecast as likely at some point.
REVIEW PROTOCOLS AS A TEAM
Sit with your team and review disaster protocols at least once a year (preferably twice). At one of these meetings, we reviewed active shooter protocols as a group. In our office, finance employees worked on one hallway and fundraisers on the other. We learned in that meeting about a back staircase none of the fundraisers even knew about. That information could have been lifesaving!
BACK UP FILES AND DATA
Yes, back data up regularly to file sharing, cloud-based software. But do not only depend upon that! If power and/or Wi-Fi is out for an extended period, this will do you little good. I recommend every employee saves essential files to a thumb drive at least one (preferably twice) per year. Those files should be turned in and kept off-site (perhaps the CEO’s home). This can get everyone up and running again quickly in an emergency.
CROSS TRAIN EMPLOYEES
Every major task should have a primary and secondary. Someone who usually does the job and a backup person who knows how to do the job if necessary. If only one person knows how to send out a mass email message, and that person’s home just got destroyed in a disaster, your organization will not have the human resources to communicate with constituents at a pivotal time. Make sure you cross-train and that it is documented who knows how to do which tasks.
Keep a phone list of all employees’ cell phone numbers and be sure to include important partners and vendors on this list. It should be updated and distributed in hard copy and digital formats twice per year. Office lines will not matter if the city is flooded and no one can get into work. Or a global pandemic requires everyone to start working from home on short notice. You will need cell phone numbers.
MAKE REMOTE WORK EASY
I was flabbergasted to learn that some non-profits still had fundraisers working with desktop computers in 2020. I learned this because some folks were still being made to come into an office for far too long into the pandemic because they didn’t have the technological resources to work remotely. Probably most offices are on top of this by now, but please make sure your folks have what they need to complete their mission from anywhere: including equipment, software, and communication services.
Taking these steps will put you on the path to disaster-proofing your office. This level of preparedness means that you are ready to continue your mission regardless of what challenges come your way. You owe it to yourself, your employees, and your constituents to take whatever steps you can.
What plans have you made (or has your office made) to be prepared for likely disasters? Are there some tips I'm missing? Let me know in the comments!
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.