Flood-Gate: Five Emergency Action Points

Monday was a water-shed moment for our office: there was lots of water, and it felt like working in a shed.

It was, if you like, Flood-Gate.

Apparently a pipe had burst over the weekend, and had slowly shared its goodness with the staff kitchen, main office, and the meeting space below.

When I arrived on Monday morning, it was like a biblical scene: sodden carpets, ceiling tiles on the floor, mushed up paper and books. And so began the slow clean up.

But it was certainly not, to stretch the metaphor, all plain sailing.

There were real difficulties dealing with the landlord; we lost access to servers, computers, and email accounts; our staff and volunteer contact details were stored electronically and couldn’t be accessed; and we didn’t have hard copies of key documents.

As a small charity it’s easy to forget that life happens sometimes.

And happen it did.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my Noah-esque adventures, handily summarised for you by the word of the day: FLOOD.

1. FOLLOW an Action Plan

When things go well, which is usually, getting on with work life is easy. But when things go wrong, it can get stressful, emotional, and difficult. And that is *the* worst time to start thinking about how to deal with emergencies.

Even as a small charity, you should be thinking about your emergency plan before things go wrong. Some of the main things to cover are: alerting your employees and volunteers, and making sure they are safe; reporting the emergency to the appropriate authorities; thinking about helpful procedures; identifying the right safety equipment; and delegating responsibility to the right people.

Our office is fortunate to have a Mother Hen office manager and management with life experience, but we’ll be better prepared next time.

2. LEAVE Emergency Supplies 

When we were came in on Monday morning, we had no electricity or heating, and all the windows were open to help dry the office.  And it was rather cold.  And it was raining. Yay.

We were fortunate that our neighbours were able to help us with coffee and teas, providing us with an electricity hookup, and letting us use their canteen and toilets.  But it might not have been as easy.

Think about what supplies would be useful in an emergency, and build a kit in an easily accessible place. You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and only take essentials with you: what would you need?

3.  ORGANISE Hard Copies 

Once we had sorted the immediate danger, the next round of questions were thrown out: do we have insurance, what does the lease say, who’s responsible for the leak; who do we contact about…

It was then I realised that being obsessively ‘paper-free’ at work has its disadvantages.  All the relevant documents were neatly filed on the server and in my inbox. D’oh.

You should think about what important documents and files you might need if everything starts going wrong, and keep them securely in a paper file. Consider keeping documents like leases, insurance details, contact forms, warranties etc.

4. ORDER  Backups and Spares

When we first arrived, around 6 staff computers were sitting in the pooling water.  We raised them off the ground, but the damage was done. Turns out electricity and water don’t mix. Who knew?

We have been fortunate in having spare capacity in our office with extra desks, computers and volunteer space, which we were able to use to relocate essential staff members.

But you should think about what spare capacity you might have to deal with the loss of key systems, personnel or space? Order in spare batteries, torches, paper, pens etc, so that life can go on without electricity.

And make sure your essential computer data is being backed up. When it’s gone, it’s gone….

5. DEVELOP Incident-Ready Staff 

We had recently undertaken some staff training on issues like data protection and office policies. But none of us had been trained in dealing with an emergency, or in following any action plans.

Think about training staff in your emergency action plan, where to find emergency supplies, spares and backups, who to ask about what, and who’s responsible for what.

Because time spent preparing is not time wasted.

So remember, even as a small charity, life can happen.

You never know when the FLOOD gates might open…


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