The Gift of Peace of Mind

The fall of 2017 wreaked havoc on my sleep. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Katia, and Maria all directly impacted loved ones in the U.S. and neighboring countries. In the midst of each storm, I received text messages from friends requesting prayer as they fled storms or waited in their homes watching flood waters rise. The earthquakes in Mexico prompted a similar flurry of messages. The fires of California and other western states further contributed to my sleeplessness.

A disaster can strike anywhere. Ask anyone in Central Virginia about the derecho of 2012. I was buying supplies for a cross-country camping trip that evening. My departure the next morning was slightly delayed by the need to remove limbs from my driveway. Nearly every business nearby lacked electricity for the better part of the week including the gas stations. Fortunately I had enough gas in my tank to make it to the first open station 30 miles down the road as I started my vacation.

Ask the old-timers of Nelson County about the rains from Hurricane Camille in 1969. Nearly half of the 250 recorded deaths from that storm were our Central Virginia neighbors. The other half lived along the Gulf Coast and became my neighbors when my family moved to New Orleans in 1985. To be honest my wife and I were a bit anxious as we drove along the I-10 corridor from Mobile to New Orleans seeing landscape scarred by the storm from 16 years earlier. As we settled in to the West Bank of the Mississippi, a seasoned neighbor reassured us we would be fine as long as we stocked our attic with canned goods and bottled water prior to hurricane season. He also suggested storing an axe in the attic so we could escape to the roof if necessary.

We heeded the advice. We used the food and the water during power outages, but we never retreated to the attic and the axe remained untouched through the landfall of four hurricanes. After our introduction to hurricanes, preparedness became the rule in our family.

When our daughter took a job with Google in Mountain View, California about 10 years ago we were elated knowing Google had presented her with an earthquake preparation kit. We knew she had already accepted preparedness as personal responsibility. She had been trained to keep fresh batteries at hand and canned goods in reserve, but knowing her employer shared our concern about her safety gave us extra peace of mind.

According to the Department of Homeland Security website
(https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit) common items to include in kits include:

• Water—one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
• Food—at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
• Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
• Flashlight
• Extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
• Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
• Manual can opener for food
• Local maps
• Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

The Department of Homeland Security recommends preparing and maintaining an emergency supply kit for home, work and vehicles. I was thankful for the small amount of food, water and other supplies in our van when we broke down several years ago on Christmas Eve on a deserted stretch of road atop a mountain in West Virginia. Not one vehicle passed by during the nearly four hours I worked to restart the car. The emergency “car blanket” was especially nice when the wind started howling around us!

Kits should be modified to match the most likely emergency scenarios for any given location. Rotating the kit contents will ensure expiration dates have not been exceeded when an emergency does arise. Keeping a small amount of emergency cash and being sure all vaccines—tetanus, pertussis, influenza, etc.—are current will provide extra measures of readiness beyond an emergency supply kit.

Emergencies can happen any time or place. They are never convenient and the business place is not immune. No one scheduled the earthquakes of Mexico, the fires in California, the historic hurricanes of the past and present seasons, or the Election Day flood of 1985 in Lynchburg. Preparedness requires readiness for the unexpected, and business owners have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of employees in the workplace.

An emergency plan is the first step. Proper preparedness may well make the difference between a simple emergency and a tragedy. The plan must be tailored to meet the emergencies most likely to impact the specific business. Just like the home kit, all of the items listed above to meet the needs of the workforce for a few days are a must for every employer.

The emergency plan should take into account the days, and perhaps weeks, following a disaster. Each employer should consider “what if” scenarios because life goes on post-disaster. The ability of a business to function in the wake of any disruption is dependent on the ability of the business to anticipate and prepare for continuing operation and for the well-being of its employees so they can continue to work.

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