May 3 witnessed Cyclone Fani in the coastal state of Orissa which claimed 64 lives and caused a mass destruction to property and land, disrupting power and water supply. In the midst of all the damage, an evacuation strategy by the state government spared the public safely from some of the worst consequences of the storm (it could’ve costed millions of lives).
This fine-tuned disaster management strategy can serve as a template for the world to learn from. In the very same fashion, it is critical that organizations take mainstream risk mitigation into planning processes to devoid of such effects.
It is difficult to predict the time and place of a crisis; but if we can, one can save precious time, if one is aware of what to expect from it. One can think about crisis in terms of its primary target (public and immovable assets); the threats (legal, technical, operational and financial challenges) while the reactions of the key stakeholders can constitute the secondary threats.
The emergency plan is nothing but a living document that is periodically adapted to changing circumstances and provides a guide to protocols, procedures and division of responsibilities under emergency response planning.
In the case of an emergency (or about to occur), one of the first actions should be to create a cross-functional team to construct a detailed scenario of the primary and secondary threats. This can allow the organization to form early judgments about which path the crisis may travel.
At Arkema chemicals, temperature sensitive organic peroxides exposed to the elements of rain, subsequent flooding led to a chemical incident which the authorities did not anticipate; thus, a full-fledged responsibility mapping and backup roles become critical.
A logical scheme can involve establishing a complete inventory of potentially hazardous materials that can present a significant risk. Building such memory is necessary for the relevant officials and needs to be incorporated in the overall developmental efforts.
Investments in physical and human capital are important to design resilient pathways.
A variety of hardware mechanisms such as improving design in structures, shifting to resilient building materials can be introduced. Also, software mechanisms like periodic training, capacity building and access to timely information can help design a sound emergency response plan.
It is necessary to conduct a risk assessment for the identified adverse events based on the expected frequency and their potential impacts. History of incidents can enable establishing an integrated plan to mitigate the effects of those events which are presented as ‘high risk’. Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and Hazard Identification and Risk assessment (HIRA) software tools can be the resources necessary to conduct such plans.
Employee personnel should receive periodic trainings to recognize such hazards and understand their role in the emergency response/disaster preparedness programs.
People have spent a lifetime and they have absolutely no idea of how to do an evacuation or a response drill that involves a workforce in case of emergencies. This ignorance can count on the lives of the current and the forthcoming generations. Developing the skills and knowledge can aid in carrying out such emergency response plans effectively and efficiently.
Safety of the assets (people, property, reputation) is paramount while dealing with emergencies. Long term resilience to such uninvited threats is the key to alleviate their impacts.
This vulnerability assessment combines both- the hazard focused paradigm and the perception paradigm (how receivers perceive emergencies). A participatory approach to vulnerability will not change the organizations for short-term but multitudinous efforts can eventually result in positive affirmation of concrete alternatives.