Is Your Nonprofit Disaster-ready?

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Nonprofits are not immune to disruptions caused by fire, flood, storm, human action—or as many organizations have recently learned—global pandemic. Some or all of your staff could be required, now or in the future, to evacuate your organization when you least expect it.

The best way to protect your employees, your facilities and those you serve is to prepare for the unexpected and develop a detailed emergency action plan to guide you when you need to act immediately. If you were caught off-guard as an organization by the social distancing and safer-at-home restrictions in recent weeks, imagine the situation if your facilities were severely damaged or other circumstances caused the uprooting of your programs and services for an extended period of time.

Here are some disaster preparedness tips for your nonprofit organization.

Create an emergency action plan. Your organizational emergency action plan should outline steps to be taken to provide employees safety during emergencies. Your nonprofit may not be legally required to have such a plan, but putting one in place is an excellent way to protect yourself, your workers, and your business.

Include your management team in the planning process to ensure maximum input on your plan to protect lives and property in the case of an emergency.

Don’t wait. Many nonprofits develop crisis action plans only after navigating a disaster or other major service disruption.

Save your leadership, board and stakeholders stress and frustration by getting ahead of the curve; brainstorm possible scenarios or kinds of disasters that could occur and start planning your organizational response well in advance.

Educate yourself about nonprofit crises (the CDC, FEMA and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration all offer helpful resources). Attend community disaster preparedness meetings and trainings; talk to those who’ve been through them. Invite an experienced leader to speak to your organization’s staff and your board. Seek out training and resources. Ask your staff to draft a crisis action plan for their individual departments or programs to be sure all operations are addressed in your preparedness planning.

Remember, crises take many shapes. All crises require different responses. Prepare for as many of them as you can think of—extreme weather, fire, extensive theft, power grid failure, etc.–and put plans in in place to minimize the damage to your staff, facilities and beneficiaries.

If you work in an area of the country prone to certain kinds of natural disasters, think tornadoes in the Midwest or hurricanes in the deep south, you should ensure you have backup for computer files and systems either in another part of the country or in the cloud. Onsite servers can be lost—and with them valuable documents and information—in the blink of an eye.

Even if an event you didn’t anticipate occurs, your plan for other types of emergencies can help. Practicing any crisis response will make your organization better prepared for others.

Address communications and logistics.  A logistical plan includes getting everyone out of the building in case of fire, handling a medical emergency and contacting your staff and clients to share what has happened.

Be sure to regularly involve all staff in practicing your evacuation plans.

Put a risk management program in place to deal with the loss of staff, property or other insurance issues. Identify key employees who can take action quickly.

It never hurts to also collect resources and create plans for helping staff and your beneficiaries navigate these tense times and process the aftermath.

While we hope your nonprofit never has to enact your disaster preparedness plan, your staff, board and community will sleep better at night knowing you have one!

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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