I witnessed my first tornado when I was eight years old. Being in a tornado is not something you easily forget.
It was summertime and I was at Girl Scout Camp.
It drizzled a lot that morning. A group of us were at a campsite a few hundred yards from the shelter. We had been doing some sort of craft project under a canopy, and then moved on to making lunch. Lunch that day was one of those old-fashioned campfire pizzas. The pizza is basically two pieces of bread slathered with pizza sauce and cheese. The two pieces of bread are smushed together in this metal grate with long handle on it so that you can grill it over a fire. One of the things I remember most about that day is how much I liked that pizza.
Anyway, the weather turned nasty, and our Guide decided it was time to head to the shelter. We literally dropped everything and ran. When we got to the shelter, there was lightning and thunder and the sky turned very strange colours. A woman told all of us that it wasn’t safe to be in the shelter and sent us out into what could best be described as a low spot in an open field.
She told us to hurry and to lay flat in the ditch. I looked down and all I saw was a sea of snails. Plus it was soaking wet. I wasn’t necessarily a girly girl at the time, but I can tell you one thing, tornado or not, I was not going to lay down with those snails, so I crouched. I think this gave me a better view of what was going on, even if it was less safe.
Not long after, a small tornado came whipping by along the ridge. It was close enough that we could see and hear it but far enough away that we would not have been caught up on it. A few miles away it tore the roofs off of some barns.
I don’t remember much about seeing the tornado, but I will not forget those snails.
I thought a lot about this experience this past week following the tragic events in Joplin.
Here in Toronto, I think many organizations have established emergency plans. Because of SARS, and H1N1, I think a lot of these plans focus on what happens when people can’t come to work. They also focus on how to store data should there be a power outage. My concern though is that they don’t necessarily properly contemplate natural disaster.
Joplin is just a reminder that our emergency plans need to be both more detailed and more rehearsed. What do you do when the hospital is blown to smithereens? How do you deal with records management when X-Rays are blown 50 miles from the hospital? What should you keep on hand to deal with an emergency? Where should people go to report themselves alive or their loved ones missing? How does an employer find out this information? How does an employer respond?
A good plan has to incorporate both the corporate issues and the people/community issues. It has to figure out how to communicate when traditional channels don’t work, and the roads don’t work. It is an important public service to ensure your employees are well educated and prepared to deal with disaster. The plan also has to have several layers of redundancy since there are risks in a natural disaster that more than two layers may not be able to step up to the plate to help.
Not long after the tornado went by at Girl Scout Camp, a hoard of parents came running to find their children. What the found was a group of children who were a little wiser about the dangers of a tornado.
To quote Rosanne Rosanna Danna, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Tornados, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, gales and fires of significant magnitude seem to be never ending these days. As an HR Professional, do your organization a huge favour and get on top of emergency planning.