Disaster Management: 7 Principles Of A Disaster Preparedness Plan For Nonprofit Organizations

Discover the essential elements of disaster management. Learn how a well-considered emergency preparedness plan can safeguard lives and nonprofit assets.

January 12, 2024 / CSkidmore

Already in 2023, the U.S. has experienced 23 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters as reported by Axios, making it the worst-year on record since documentation began. 

As the frequency and severity of disasters increases, nonprofit organizations must be equipped with a thorough disaster preparedness plan that has been tested and proven effective. 

What Is Disaster Preparedness?

There is no telling when an emergency might strike. With that in mind, the most effective tool to keep nonprofit team members and the residents they care for safe is a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan.

Many nonprofit organizations are required to have some sort of disaster preparedness plan per their insurance, regulatory, or municipal requirements. However, what is required and what is practical can differ, with some disaster preparedness plans missing key safety elements. 

Without a comprehensive plan, nonprofits run the risk of chaos during a life-threatening situation.

What Is a Disaster Preparedness Plan? The Steps to Building Your Own

A nonprofit’s disaster preparedness plan will be unique to the organization. A number of considerations go into creating one including an organization’s location, the services they offer and various other risk factors. 

The first step in creating a disaster preparedness plan should be a complete risk assessment of all properties an organization operates in. A risk assessment will reveal specific risks such as property concerns, risks related to weather or risks posed to residents and employees.

From that risk assessment, nonprofit leadership should create protocols that consider all exposures in the event of an emergency such as a weather event, fire or active shooter situation. Factors such as an up-to-date emergency contact list should not be overlooked if an organization loses internet and/or phone service.

Next, management should assemble a team of employees who are charged with managing and communicating during an emergency to ensure protocols are adhered to and employees, residents and volunteers can be guided swiftly and safely. 

What Are The 7 Components Of Disaster Management?

Consider these seven essential elements of a basic disaster preparedness plan:

1. EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM

When an emergency hits a nonprofit organization, staff and residents need to know what needs to happen next and who is in charge. Before a disaster preparedness plan can be made, nonprofit leaders should form an emergency response team with defined roles. They should also outline responsibilities and a chain of command for everyone involved.

2. RISK ASSESSMENT

Organizations across the globe are impacted by different risks based on their geographic location, property, population, and more. A comprehensive risk assessment can help nonprofit leaders identify areas that could pose a threat in the event of an emergency.

3. COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY

Emergencies, especially natural disasters, may impact power or phone service. Especially for human service organizations, disaster preparedness plans must allow for communication strategies absent cellular and land-line phone services. 

Consider planning for a few of the following potential resources:

  • Satellite phones
  • Citizen band or CB radios
  • 5G internet routers
  • Old-school phone tree planning with those outside of harm’s way

4. HAZARD SPECIFIC ACTION PLANS

As mentioned above, a risk assessment may reveal hazards specific to an organization. Once the hazards have been identified, specific disaster preparedness plans should be developed. 

For example, a fire threat will require an evacuation plan. Meanwhile, an active shooter situation may require shelter in place protocols.

5. TRAINING AND EXERCISES

With a disaster preparedness plan established, all on-site personnel should be properly trained and made aware of the chain of command. Exercises or drills should be conducted to ensure everyone understands their role and how the plan works in practical terms. 

This phase also provides critical room for testing and improvement. The emergency response team can assess what works and what needs to be adjusted in your disaster preparedness plan.

6. AFTER ACTION REPORTS

When an emergency does happen, the emergency response team should put together an after-action report. It should analyze how well the disaster preparedness plan worked and where improvement may be needed.

7. ANNUAL REVIEWS

In addition to after-action reports, nonprofit leaders should review their disaster preparedness plan annually. This ensures all hazards are considered and the property is insured to value. 

An annual review is a good time to consult an insurance agent or broker to guarantee that any monetary aspects of the organization are protected in the event of a disaster. This might include property damage, business interruption and niches such as flood insurance.

3 Common Mistakes in Disaster Preparedness

Mistakes made in disaster preparedness planning are often highlighted during an emergency. There are a few common mistakes nonprofit leaders should consider in the planning process. 

1. OVERLOOKING RISK ASSESSMENT

As mentioned earlier, the first step of disaster preparedness should be a thorough risk assessment of the entire operation. Some organizations tend to bypass this step under the assumption they already know their risks. 

However, failing to do an assessment generally results in missed details. This oversight could become an issue in the event of an emergency. 

If you’re unsure where to start, an insurance professional who specializes in nonprofits can help guide business owners through the risk assessment process. The expertise they bring can ensure you’re considering all aspects of your property as well as any emergency scenarios. 

2. UTILIZING EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS PLAN TEMPLATES

A disaster preparedness plan must be unique and meaningful to a nonprofit organization, how it operates and where it operates. Some people assume such plans are one-size-fits-all and can be built from online templates. 

But by using an emergency preparedness plan template from the internet, nonprofit leaders could be using a framework designed for a traditional business. An organization might also end up overlooking the sensitive risks nonprofits assume. 

While building an emergency preparedness plan template from scratch might seem like an immense undertaking, an insurance professional who understands nonprofit risk can help. Using their knowledge and experience of the nonprofit space, they can assist you in building an effective emergency preparedness and response plan catered to your specific needs. 

3. LACK OF TESTING

Once a disaster preparedness plan has been created and roles have been assigned, all employees should be trained and refreshed on the protocols. At minimum, this should happen when they are hired and also on an annual basis. 

Tabletop exercises are a great way to play out different scenarios and showcase what would be expected of each party. Training for disaster preparedness in this way also presents a great opportunity to answer any questions your employees may have. 

Similarly, drills allow the entire organization, including residents, volunteers and employees who are not on the disaster preparedness team to play out evacuation processes and shelter in place protocols. Tabletop exercises and drills should be run on a regular basis to ensure everyone is prepared for an emergency event. 

The Importance of Having an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan

A disaster may not seem imminent throughout day-to-day operations. But the truth is that having a well-considered disaster preparedness plan can save lives. 

Having systems in place that are designed to protect employees and residents when disaster strikes is crucial for any company, including nonprofit organizations.

With the help of a specialty insurance brokerage like Lamb Insurance Services, leaders can properly protect their property and assets. We can develop a disaster preparedness plan and put your team members and residents at ease thanks to our understanding of the nuanced needs of nonprofits.

Consider taking the first step. Discuss a risk assessment with Lamb Insurance Services to ensure your organization’s disaster preparedness plan is effective and up to date. 

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