Earthquake in Haiti

Wed, 06/30/2010 - 8:00pm
Buffy Rojas Editor-in-Chief

Haiti is one of the least developed, poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It’s not a place where many businesses have significant investments, but there are lessons to be learned there. And that’s because earthquake response in Haiti is exactly the kind of post-disaster scenario we’re not very good at – widespread, long-term, and complex. Doubt that? Think New Orleans.

The 7.0 earthquake that struck at 4:53 p.m. on January 12, 2010, left about a third of the nation’s population of nine million in need of emergency aid. With no real construction standards, the nation’s capitol Port-au-Prince was hard hit and destruction was pervasive. The quake’s epicenter hit just 10 miles west of the city and its two million inhabitants, many of whom remain in shelters and temporary housing.

Small but Mighty

Long-time business continuity professional Angela Devlen spent a week in Haiti in the months following the quake. Devlen, a managing partner at Wakefield Brunswick Management Consulting, is also president of Mahila Partnership, a grassroots women’s nonprofit organization committed to issues related to education, community development, and disaster management.

Devlen worked with a network of non-profits, “trying to identify needs and meet them in areas where gaps remained. These small NGOs were agile and were already connected to other small NGOs in Haiti, so were able to be effective.”

And that’s lesson one – establish connections and relationships ahead of time. “It really makes a difference,” says Devlen. She suggests looking beyond traditional public/private partnerships and “engaging with community relations departments” in your organization as well as with NGOs to “collaboratively work on getting preparedness information out to the community.” Devlen says working with NGOs is an excellent learning experience for BC professionals. “One of the things that NGOs have that most business continuity planners don’t have is field experience. They are great to learn from, as they are informed by real-life practice.” And creative, innovative programs that help the community prepare are “mutually beneficial in the long run,” she says.

POWER Principle

Devlen says the POWER principle applies to lessons learned from Haiti. POWER stands for people, ownership, women, excellence, resilience. First up, people. “In your preparedness, you cannot forget about your people. A lot of times our plans are not people-centered and if we don’t take care of our people, they can’t take of others. In Haiti, we were taking care of the nurses so that they could care for people in the community.”

“Ownership means taking responsibility and accountability,” says Devlen. “In a post-disaster setting, some organizations will not do what needs to be done because they say they haven’t been ‘tasked with’ it.” Devlen says no one should have to tell you to do the right thing. “Do what needs to be done to produce meaningful results, believe that you can do it, and move past the bureaucracy.”

Women are at the heart of Mahila’s mission, and they are also the heart of every community and possibly your organization, says Devlen. She says healthcare organizations in particular, because they tend to employ a high percentage of women, need to consider the unique needs of women in crisis scenarios. “If your employees are largely women, you need to recognize that, and understand what it will take to get them back to work. It is likely that they have children in school or they may have elderly parents to care for. And if they can’t do those things, they can’t come to work.”

Devlen encourages all BC professionals to strive for excellence. “Don’t settle for the status quo,” she says. “It’s really excellence that will enable people to recover their businesses and make sure their organization is still standing.”

Finally, resiliency, especially as it applies to supply chain. “Identify your single points of failure and ensure there is resiliency built into your supply chain. Logistics is one of the major things that breaks down in a disaster.”

Logistics, Not a Nightmare

The importance of logistics is certainly not lost on Howard Price, director of business continuity and crisis management for ABC News. While Price wasn’t on the ground in Haiti, it was his job to ensure that new crews who were had the supplies and support they needed to do their jobs.

According to Price, “it’s critical to get your logistics team on the ground in the first deployment wave. These are your professional “get-it-done” guys and gals ... the ones who are the MacGyvers of your organization. They know where to find what they need, even in the most chaotic of circumstances. And they’ve drilled response like this down to an art form.”

“Next, always observe the 72-hour self-sufficiency rule. Anticipate complications, ascribe your early arrival to dumb luck and good happenstance – then assume nothing else is coming your way for at least three days. Bring plenty of water and shelf-stable food, medical and comfort supplies to get you going – and know what you’re going to do about fuel. Add some solar and crank technology to your power arsenal.”

“Communications is the lynchpin of any successful emergency response. In circumstances like this, forget wired and cellular phones. Any circuits that work will be overloaded or seized by authorities. Satellite phones are expensive ... but regardless of your line of work, you need them in your utility belt if you are a disaster manager.”

And this common gadget is also critical: a GPS. “One thing our people found immensely essential – a GPS to help them navigate a country where road signs (under the best of circumstances) were tough to find, and impossible to find in an earthquake. For organizations like ours, devices already configured with world mapping are essential (since most of us likely own devices loaded only with the U.S., Canada and maybe Mexico).”

“When your supply chain finally gets established, figure out immediately what you need to replenish on what schedule ... and figure out how to get it from where it’s likely to be to where you will need it. Assume transportation complications – from border crossings to blocked roads to marauders to panicked and desperate civilians. That was the circumstance in Haiti ... but was also true during Katrina right here in the U.S.”

“Finally ... have an exit strategy. You likely can’t or won’t want to remain where you are indefinitely ... so figure out not only how to get your people in to where you need to be ... but how to get them out when the time comes.”

Pack and Play

According to Price, “One of the lessons learned from Haiti – and from Katrina, too – [is] the standardized packup. We’ve started to assemble them in ergonomic backpacks that can be grabbed off a shelf and deployed with one of our production personnel.”

“The kits contain sleeprolls and a bivvy, cooking utensils, personal protection and first aid equipment, shelf-stable food, water purification gear ... just about everything you might need if you really had to rough it for a few days.”

“We’ve also started applying a more standardized protocol to how we deploy operationally for long haul deployments.” He has developed checklists of gear, grouped by function. “The checklists details what’s in each case, where the case is, when it rolls out, and what part of ABC News is responsible for its contents and its transportation. This is a great way to plan, by the way, for execution of any alternate worksite strategy as well. Think about it – you have a limited amount of time to relocate your operation. What do you grab to go? This makes it easier to plan.”

“Your responders should also be reminded to keep their own personal go-packs, above and beyond those that the organization provides. Essentials that will pack in no more than two carryons (a suitcase or duffle that will fit in a standard airplane overhead bin) and a shoulder bag or backpack that will fit under a standard airplane seat. Remember, the leaner the pack, the more versatile – regional jets and charters don’t have the same storage aboard that big jets do.”

The physical and emotional well-being of employees in a disaster area are key considerations, says Price. “It’s also important during high-stress, thin-resource deployments to see to it that your troops take personal responsibility for being ‘good to go.’ Being healthy and in fighting trim before the alarm bell rings just makes sense.”

“Let’s not minimize the importance of relaxation – and providing for it amid the chaos of a disaster. No matter how driven we are, the physical and mental demands placed on humans require that we rest periodically. Rest as in totally disengage from what’s going on around us. Make sure your people are provisioned as much for relaxation as for work. Some light reading, an iPod loaded with music or movies to allow for an escape – these are all things people should pack for themselves.”

And you have to know when to say when, Price says. “This is a message that must come from the top down in an organization ... since it’s in the DNA of line-level folks to keep pushing. Your logistics or operations managers must be empowered to tell employees it’s time for a break. It will reduce the post-traumatic stress, and increase productivity during the crisis.”

Adds Price: “Think holistically ... not in a purely functional way. Understand that what you are doing in essence is building what may be an entirely new work environment for your personnel ... and however temporary it may be, it must also be complete in its provisions for what your employees need while they’re working, and at those times when they are not.” CI



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