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Prepare for disasters with planning, practice and communication: Risk managers


LONG BEACH, California — Planning, practice and communication can help make responding to a disaster more manageable, according to two city risk managers discussing the lessons they learned from the September 2013 floods in Colorado at the Professional Risk Managers Association 2014 Annual Conference.

Storms dropped nine inches of rain in 24 hours on the City of Longmont, Colorado, and Longmont’s emergency center was activated at 3 a.m. Sept 12, the city’s risk manager, Debra Darnofall, said Tuesday at the conference in Long Beach, California.

“You know you’re going to have a bad day when you show up at work and The Weather Channel is right outside your office broadcasting,” said Stewart Ellenberg, risk manager for the City of Boulder, Colorado. “Nobody saw this coming.”

Preparation can make all the difference, both risk managers said.

“We had our act together; we had practiced many, many times,” said Ms. Dornofall. “We knew where we were going to locate different command centers, both on the north side of the river and the south side of the river, and where we were going to have emergency evacuation centers, and who was going to do what in the emergency operation centers.”

Have an emergency operations plan already set up and “lots of practice, practice, practice,” Ms. Dornofall told her audience. Accurate and timely communication also is vital to the response process, she said.

“Make public information your top priority,” said Ms. Dornofall, and aggressively address false information.

“Social media isn’t optional; get information out there,” she said. When its own website crashed due to the volume of hits it sustained, the Longmont emergency response team turned to social media to inform the public, she said.

Planning is also vital in order to sustain the efforts of those responding to the disaster, said Mr. Ellenberg. Housing and food for staff are critical — with no restaurants open, there was no food for responders and limited housing due to the flooding.

He also advocated having adequate coverage for all infrastructure equipment. Debris washing into the city’s water treatment system caused substantial damage to machinery but was not anticipated in every case, he said.