Here in Houston and the Gulf Coast region we just passed the first anniversary of Hurricane Ike. Tom, some of our staff and I were in Philadelphia teaching a CLNC® 6-Day Certification Program, not only during the storm’s strike but also during the aftermath. For days (or weeks in some cases) people were without electricity, businesses and offices were closed, traffic lights were not working and Houstonians were scattered throughout various evacuation points.
We’d left for Philly earlier than normal because of the storm. We caught one of the last available flights from Houston and then the airport closed until well after the storm. Good thing we’d thought to get out when we did. Before we left Houston, we prepared not only the office but our home. Despite the short time period between preparation and evacuation, we were able not only to pack for the seminar but also to do a staged shutdown of the office, put our emergency plans into effect and also prepare the house.
Why were we able to do this so easily? Back in 2005, Houston had a major scare facing Hurricane Rita. Coming just one year after Katrina, a category 5 storm roaring towards Houston drove the majority of Houston’s and Galveston’s populations onto the freeways (remember the photos?) reducing them to parking lots. Tom and I evacuated for Rita to Austin at the last minute, missing all the traffic issues. But Rita was such a fizzle for Houston (luckily), we were home the next day before the FEMA helicopters were even lifting off from their emergency staging areas at the Astrodome.
As part of our preparation for Rita, I had the Vickie Milazzo Institute staff develop a shut down plan for the office, set up telephone call chains for staff, determined what we needed for backups and issued laptops, cell phones, etc. to key personnel to ensure business continuity (as best we could). Much of this was not developed from scratch because we had met after Katrina and did our best to prepare for such events. It turned out that we’d done a fair-to-middling job. Any nurse will tell you that working in a theoretical world you don’t always fully prepare for real world disasters. Since Rita was a bit of a fire-drill we didn’t have to face the realities of the shortcomings in our plan.
Getting ready for Ike and in Ike’s aftermath, we learned there were things we hadn’t thought of or corrected after Rita that turned into issues (such as our telephone service provider’s staff evacuating for five days leaving us no way to transfer phone service to an active line or FEMA taking over the Blackberry bandwidth for emergency personnel and blocking out businesses). But at least we had a plan to start from and work with. We did our best and were back in the office, functioning, as soon as the building had electrical power two days after the storm.
After things were back to normal, we sat down and did a plus/delta analysis of our performance. We discussed what we did well, what we did poorly and what we needed to do differently next time. We also determined what changes we needed to make to our plans and operations. And, we began planning for the next unforeseen emergency.
This brings me around to the point of this blog. Are you prepared for an emergency in your office? I don’t care if you run your legal nurse consulting business from home. When Tom and I were first married, a serious fire in the condo building next to ours came within a few minutes of jumping buildings. We were the only family in our building actively moving our business and personal items (computers, clothing, records, etc.) to our cars in case they evacuated our building or the fire jumped buildings. If you work from an office there are probably sprinklers, etc. but all they’ll do is soak your work and make some of it unusable (computers, files, etc.).
When we were in New York City in 2003 for the Northeast Blackout, we learned firsthand to carry a prepaid phone card because cell towers and their backup batteries started failing after about four hours without power. I’ve been in areas affected by forest and wildfires and have seen the effects of forced evacuations on unprepared populations. Having grown up in New Orleans, I know to keep water, canned foods and batteries around (and change those batteries out) in hurricane season. We can all learn from our experiences and put that learning into place.
Every Certified Legal Nurse Consultant should have a business continuity plan that covers unforeseen emergencies to prevent damage to, or loss of, your home or office. This should cover everything from telephone continuity, computer and data backup, client file and other records storage and clothing (your business suits). You should also have a plan for your family. The Texas State Bar Association offers a basic plan for business continuation that can be adapted to any legal nurse consulting business. Download it and review it for yourself. It’s a thought provoking document for any legal nurse consultant – whether you live in a hurricane threatened area or not.
We’re all nurses, we can write care plans, we can write policies and procedures and we can put them into place. Plan on doing just that for your legal nurse consulting business. Once you create a plan, don’t just file it in a cabinet or drawer, test it and revise it. Review it annually and make changes as necessary. Make sure all your staff and/or family are aware of their duties under the plan. Make sure you know your priorities. Panic is the result of lack of training and preparation. Be prepared to move decisively and you’ll be one step ahead of any crisis and one of the first back in business afterwards.
Success Is Inside – when you’re prepared!
P.S. One thing I learned after Rita was that no matter how good a job you do packing your stuff and loading your car for evacuation – if you don’t remember to take your backpacks and bicycles (yes we have a bike rack for the car – no we didn’t think to put it on) you’ll have to walk if you need to abandon the car and go for gas or safety.
P.P.S. Share your tips and ideas for preparing for unexpected emergencies.