Posted in be prepared for emergencies, BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, Floods, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Uncategorized

Are you ready for Extreme Weather?

Tsunami devastating the cityThe Global Climate Risk Index 2017 analyzes the extent to which countries have been affected by the impact of weather-related loss. I wish there was an index for cat-related loss. My entries would be at the top of the list! This year’s climate index confirms that, although less developed countries are generally more likely to be devastated by weather than industrialized nations, even areas that are typically immune from such risk would do well to prepare. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of climate change, experts agree that the risk of extreme weather events threatens the entire world. And wherever it strikes, extreme weather profoundly impacts facilities, operations and personnel –financially, emotionally and physically. 

So how should you prepare for a weather-related disaster?

  1. Don’t wait until the threat is imminent. Instead, proactively plan and stock supplies and run drills to make sure your family, friends, staff and/or building occupants are set to “weather the storm.” Most canine drills involve chasing our tails or circling over an area to properly flatten the grass.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the threats that are most likely to strike your region. If you aren’t sure, check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center to find out about your geographic risks. rain storm backgrounds in cloudy weather
  2. Take specific steps to prepare for each and every potential weather-related emergency. Here are a few specific tips three of the most common extreme weather emergencies:

Extreme Heat

  • Keep fans on hand.
  • Regularly service your AC.
  • Make sure your emergency kit contains plenty of fresh water – enough for at least one gallon per day per person, for three days. And if you have a dog, make sure you leave the lid off of the toilet so we have access to our favorite water source.
  • Cover windows to reduce “heat gain.”
  • Learn about heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Thunder and Lightning

lightening boltThe sound produced by high temperature bursts of lightning, thunder rapidly expands surrounding air, resulting in a sonic boom. I’ve never been a fan of thunder. I guess that’s why the guys at the fire station pitched in to get me a thunder shirt.

  • If you are inside, steer clear of exterior windows.
  • If you are outside, avoid isolated tall trees.
  • Wherever you are, seek inside shelter immediately.
  • Within a building, avoid using electricity, which contains conductive elements.

Tornadoes

  • Designate a safe room to shelter in place during the storm.
  • Practice tornado drills at home and in the office.
  • Remove dead or diseased trees near buildings. In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt to remove anything that’s dead or diseased even if you don’t face a tornado.
  • If you are in your car, drive to a safe shelter location. Or, if that is not possible, stay in the vehicle, buckle your seatbelt, and place your head between your knees.
  • The CDC offers tips for safety after a tornado, including watching for downed power lines, and avoiding the use of gas-powered generators or heaters inside a building.

Safely managing extreme weather events requires planning and teamwork with building occupants and staff. Remember that safety is a daily priority for everyone, regardless of whether the disaster you face is weather related. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

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Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Floods, Health & Welfare, High-Rise Buildings, Uncategorized, Winter Weather Hazards

What to Do After a Flood

fotolia_89746277_xsAccording to the National Weather Service, the recent historic flooding in Louisiana was a result of torrential rains that dropped three times as much water as what fell relative to Hurricane Katrina. When storms like this occur, dangerous floodwaters can lead to immediate loss of life. What’s more, the aftermath is often greater still.

In Baton Rouge, cleanup crews are moving street-by-street to pick up flood-related debris.  Officials report that teams gathered 12,000 cubic yards of refuse in a single day. And this figure only reflects refuse on the street. Massive cleanup efforts are still underway, with sanitation companies repairing, cleaning and demolishing homes which were devastated by the flood.

Rescue Service assorted debris
Floodwaters destroy homes simply because most household items do not do well under water (That goes double for dog houses, which are light enough to float away in heavy floods):

  • When saturated, wood floors swell. Sounds a little like how my stomach swells when I eat too many bones.
  • Window casings can quickly rot and shift, breaking windows.
  • Electronic components can short, posing electrical fire risk.Electric outlet fire icon
  • Drywall absorbs water readily, and should be removed before mold grows.
  • Extreme flooding within a structure can cause a home to shift, stressing the foundation.

 

 

 


 

Important Note for Property Managers and Building Owners:

Prior to a flood, make sure that important records and operating equipment are not located in underground basements or parking garages, as these are typically the first areas to flood. 

underground parking


Mold Removal after a Flood

Mold is a major concern for homeowners and disaster relief agencies following floods. Even if the variety of mold that grows is not toxic, the side effects of exposure can produce serious health issues – such as hives, bloody noses and migraines. So, regardless of the type of mold that grows following a flood, it’s important to seek out an experienced remediation firm. Avoid scammers who prey on flood victims, demanding payment in full, upfront, for mold remediation that will never be provided. Mold removal requires special chemicals, breathing masks and equipment; so leave the job to professionals. And if you do run into someone who is trying to scam you after a disaster, I would love to give them a peace of my mind!

Steps a pro will take to prevent and remove mold growth following a flood:

3d render of abstract organic mold structure

  • Replace carpeting, drapes, and pads that were exposed to water. Mold spores can remain in carpets even after thorough drying.
  • Remove drywall to properly sanitize walls.
  • Discard affected materials to remove mold spores.
  • Open windows and utilize masks rated N-95 or higher to prevent respiratory illness.
  • Wash affected areas with special detergent.
  • Use ammonia to kill mold spores. Be careful not to mix bleach and ammonia-containing cleaners.
  • Dry the entire home using dehumidifiers, heat-producing devices, and high-speed fans. I could use one of those fans after I take a bath.
  • Inspect areas in walls and behind wall coverings.
  • Use infrared cameras to detect and target moisture.

In some cases, where moisture penetration is pronounced, insurance providers could deem the dwelling a total loss. Talk to a mold remediation specialist, or a facility services company such as Universal Building Maintenance, which is part of Allied Universal,  and your insurance provider about the severity of conditions affecting your home.

Remember that safety is a daily priority. Flooding is not only extremely dangerous while it is occurring, but could also lead to a long and potentially toxic cleanup process. Homeowners and business owners should understand the flooding risk inherent in their buildings, review flood insurance coverage to make sure it is sufficient, and plan to quickly remediate flood damage in the event it occurs. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

 

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, FEMA, Floods, High-Rise Buildings

Flooding: Tips for Rising Above it all

Our guest blogger, Angela Burrell, Public Relations Manager for our corporate company, Universal Services of America
Our guest blogger, Angela Burrell

Thanks to our guest blogger, Angela Burrell, Public Relations Manager at our corporate company, Universal Services of America. As a show of appreciation for her help, I have refrained from adding my usual “firedogisms” to this post. 

Being prepared for any type of man-made or natural disaster is the focus all month long during September. The first week of National Preparedness Month is devoted to flood awareness. Please review the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Ready.gov tips to help  make sure you know how to prepare for a flood.

Fotolia_76091392_XS (1)Flood Risks

Flooding can occur in any region or any season. It may be in the form of a few inches of water or enough to cover a house. For example:

  • Coastal areas are at greater risk during hurricane season (June to November).
  • The Midwest is most at risk in the springtime and during heavy summer rains.
  • Low-lying areas near a body of water or downstream from a levee are also at-risk areas.

Types of Flooding

  • Slow onset occurs due to prolonged rain over several days, whereby flood waters receded slowly.
  • Rapid onset happens when heavy rainfall occurs within hours or days.
  • Flash floods, caused by rapid onset rainfall, occur with little or no warning. They can also be caused by breaks in levees, dams, ice jams or water systems.
  • Storm surges happen when strong winds from a tropic cyclone or hurricane push seawater up onto land and, in some cases, causing storm-tide surges of up to 35 feet high.

National Weather Service Alert Systems

  • Flood Watch advises area flooding is possible. Be prepared to evacuate or move to higher ground on short notice.
  • Flood Warning indicates flooding is occurring or will occur soon. Follow any evacuation advisements.
  • Flash Flood Watch denotes threats of flash flooding in a region, or near a coast or river. You may be advised to evacuate or move to higher ground on short notice.
  • Flash Flood Watch Warning signals a flash flood is in progress or may soon occur in a region, or near a coast or river. You will be advised to immediately seek higher ground.

Fotolia_46876308_XSHow to Prepare

  • Visit FloodSmart.gov to learn how to determine your flood risk:
  • Know your evacuation routes. Plan ahead by selecting methods and routes to evacuate, whom you will notify of your status and where you will stay.
  • Reduce your risk of damage to structures by elevating critical utilities, including electrical panels, switches, appliances and waterproofing basements.
  • Keep emergency kits and supplies on hand and business continuity plans in place.
  • Install battery-operated generators as backup in case of power outages.
  • Hold a tabletop exercise. See a guide in FEMA’s Prepare Your Organization for a Flood Playbook.

Protect your business

  • To prevent structural damage, ensure your building’s drains are free of any debris; you may consider calling a roofing contractor to ensure your roof is water-tight.
  • Ask your engineering, janitorial and security teams to walk through your building frequently to identify any water intrusions.
  • Always protect your data with backup files, and make plans for alternate communication in the event of a power outage.
  • In the event of rain, consider placing heavy mats in all major paths of travel.
  • Review your insurance coverage ahead of time to make sure you will be covered in the event of weather-related damage.
  • Establish a procedure to communicate warnings and other information to employees and tenants during an emergency.
  • Read the RJWestmore Case Study: Hurricane Sandy for examples of how one commercial property management team dealt with severe flooding caused by the 2012 natural disaster.

When driving in the rain

  • Allow for more travel time and drive at a slower pace than normal, as heavy rains, mixed with the buildup of oil and grease on our roads, could lead to extremely slick driving conditions.
  • Brake earlier and with less force, and do not use cruise control.
  • Stay toward the middle of the road and never attempt to cross running water.
  • After crossing a puddle, tap your brakes lightly to knock off some of the water from your rotors.
  • Keep your headlights on, defog your windows and watch out for pedestrians.
  • If you start to hydroplane, slowly release the gas pedal until the car regains traction—never brake suddenly or jerk the wheel.
  • If you can’t see the road or car in front of you, pull over immediately and wait until visibility is good.

If a flash flood occurs

  • Never drive through a flooded area, even if it appears shallow enough to cross. Just six inches of moving water can knock a person off his feet, and a foot of water can sweep a vehicle off the road.
  • If your vehicle stalls, leave it and seek higher ground to avoid being swept away.
  • Keep away from storm drains, streams or ditches, and beware of swift-moving water.
  • Do not go near downed power lines or electrical wires, and report any you see to the authorities.
  • If caught outdoors, be aware of quick wind shifts and drops in temperature, and never try to outrun a flood—move to higher ground immediately.

If you are trapped

  • Call 911 for help. Give your location and detailsand wait for help.
  • Get to the highest level of a building. However, avoid attics, and particularly basements and lower floors. Only retreat to the roof as a last resort.
  • Stay in the vehicle if it is trapped in rapidly moving water.
  • Turn your vehicle around, if you can do so safely, if floodwater is blocking a roadway.
  • Seek refuge on the vehicle’s roof, if you are trapped and water is rising inside.
  • Move to higher ground, climbing as high as possible on a sturdy object, if necessary.

Another failsafe of being prepared is to stay informed by monitoring your local weather reports via news media. Consider signing up for community weather alerts via text or email. Coordinate with your security and emergency preparedness teams and heed any evacuation orders from local authorities.

We hope the FEMA resources and this blog post will motivate you to do whatever it takes to #BeSafe in floods as well as every other type of emergency…particularly if you live or work in a high-rise building! A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about our system, or to subscribe, click here.

 

Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Floods, High-Rise Buildings, Hurricanes, Workplace Safety

How to prepare for and respond to flooding when you are in a high-rise commercial building

Case Study: Hurricane Sandy

(Because much of this post was graciously provided by Chris Rodriguez of Brookfield Property Partners, I have not added my usual “firedogisms.” Thanks for your help, Chris!)

City submerged in water because of climate changeThe most common natural disaster in the United States is a flood. In the U.S., floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning. This week, we will focus attention on this severe weather-related disaster, because El Nino could potentially produce the types of conditions that often result in floods.

Since flooding generally occurs at or below ground level, you may be surprised to learn that there are specific flood-related dangers and steps to take to deal with floods if you work or live in a high-rise building. As a service to our subscribers and friends, this post focuses on preparations to take before, during and after flooding if you are in a high-rise commercial building.

Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners
Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners

In the third edition of his High-Rise Security and Fire/Life Safety, Vice President of Universal Protection Service, Geoff Craighead, writes this about flood safety as it relates to high-rise buildings:

“Torrential rain, melting snow, a tsunami or a hurricane may produce too much water for land, rivers and flood control panels to handle and therefore results in serious flooding that will impact an entire area, including high-rise buildings. Floods also can occur as a result of a public water main pipe break or a reservoir failing.

Subterranean parking garages located beneath high-rise buildings can become flooded with water. This can result in damage to vehicles and substantial damage to elevator systems because of water cascading into elevator shafts. Building operations can be paralyzed for days as a result of cleanup of impacted areas and repair of damaged equipment. Also, a severe landslide could result in the collapse of a building.”

Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners
Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners

Our friend and client, Chris Rodriguez, is the Director of Security for Brookfield Property Partners at One New York Plaza. He was onsite at that location in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. Chris stayed on the scene for days, and was kind enough to provide us with the steps he and his team took before, during and after the hurricane. We chose to include excerpts from his notes despite their length, because we believe it provides great insight into a real-world scenario relative to managing and recovering from flooding in a high-rise commercial building.

Pre-Sandy

  • Secured the building perimeter and all entrances to the building, 12 hours prior to the expected landfall of the storm.
  • Protected all street-level entrances with sandbags.
  • Advised tenants to remove their personal vehicles from the subterranean parking garage.
  • Monitored perimeter surveillance as well as live television broadcasts.
  • Brought in an evening security platoon prior to the shutdown of public transportation systems.
  • Advised personnel to be prepared for an extended stay.
  • Reviewed the Emergency Action Plan.
  • Double-checked the security cache of radios, flashlights and backup batteries.
  • Instructed critical operation staff personnel to don high-visibility clothing that identified them as “security, engineers, or life safety personnel.”
  • Made sure that engineers checked and tested critical building emergency utility systems, days prior to impact.

During Sandy

  • Equipped building personnel on duty with walkie–talkies.
  • Maintained perimeter surveillance from the elevated plaza level.
  • Continued to monitor local TV news and weather.
  • Upon notification that the sandbag “levee” had been breached by the incoming tidal surge, instituted the Emergency Action Plan.
  • Gave evacuation orders over the public address system for all areas below the lobby level.
  • When water started entering the loading dock and other areas of the building from the street level, parked elevators on upper floors.
  • As the three sub – surface levels of the building continued to flood, one final check was conducted.
  • When emergency power and lighting was lost throughout the building and downtown area, made sure all personnel were accounted for.
  • Ordered everyone in the building to assemble at a refuge point.
  • Continued to monitor the rising flood waters.
  • After the tidal surge appeared to have peaked, personnel “hunkered down” for the night.
  • The engineers on duty threw all the breakers connecting the service from the sub-cellar to the upper floors, which proved to be a vital maneuver contributing to the rapid recovery of power to the upper floors.

Post-Sandy Actions

  • By daybreak, the tidal surge had receded. The streets were dry but the damage was done. All three sub-levels of the building were under water.
  • The building was officially closed to all tenants.
  • All civilians remaining in the building were evacuated to allow for a damage assessment and to address safety concerns.
  • Perimeter patrols were resumed to ward off inquisitive sightseers and maintain the integrity of the building. Manual sign-in was mandatory and enforced.
  • The building Life Fire Safety system was non-functioning. So a fire guard patrol was established for all 50 floors.
  • Everyone was required to have a flashlight and walkie-talkie at all times.
  • Personal cellphones were the sole means of contact with the outside world.
  • Emergency generators were brought in to supply limited power to critical areas of the building.
  • Security Supervisors contacted all off-duty personnel to inquire about their personal wellbeing and potential availability to relieve peers. (The personnel onsite from the evening of the storm remained on-site for four days before relief was available from off-duty personnel).
  • Food vendors in the area of the city with power delivered three hot meals, per person, each day.
  • Security measures were addressed as the first sub-level street entrances were compromised and exposed by the receding water.
  • New security posts were established to maintain a secure environment.
  • The building remained closed to tenants for one business week, which is when sufficient emergency generators were in place to light stairways and restore the Life Fire Safety system.
  • On week two, the building was partially opened only to Critical Information Personnel for certain high-profile tenants’ data centers.
  • Security teams supplied supplemental officers to assist the newly established posts deemed necessary to protect tenants’ assets during their absence.

Lessons Learned

Chris had this to say about his experience: “No matter how much you prepare, you will likely never be ‘totally prepared’ for an event of historical magnitude. A storm the likes of Hurricane Sandy strikes only about once every 100 years. So the road to recovery is much longer than the avenue of destruction. Patience is indeed a virtue.”

Here are a few of the other lessons Chris says he learned:

  • A three-foot levee of sandbags does not standup to a 12- foot storm surge.
  • You probably will not have sufficient resources to handle a large-scale emergency and safely equip all personnel.
  • An easily assessable cache of equipment and resources must be maintained off-site, like radios, food, water, extra uniforms, toiletries, flashlights, etc.
  • Certain critical building resources should be relocated to upper floors, where feasible.
  • A team of supervisors trained and experienced in handling emergency situations begets a staff of efficient, disciplined and task-oriented personnel.
  • Personnel including supervisors must be able to accept and adapt to modified working conditions and hours.
  • Supervisors must be able to execute and display confidence in new and revised policies.
  • It will take some time to get back to “business as usual.”

FEMA has prepared a free, comprehensive 12-page PDF booklet that goes into great detail about flood preparation and recovery. We hope the FEMA resources and this blog post will motivate you to do whatever it takes to #BeSafe in floods as well as every other type of emergency…particularly if you live or work in a high-rise building! A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about our system, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Floods, Uncategorized

Would you be able to survive a flash flood?

flash flood firedogWith the advent of hand-held video technology, virtually anyone can capture amazing impromptu videos of weather-related events, including flash floods. Scenes of cars, people and animals being carried away by forceful currents serve as grim reminders that flash flooding is more common than you might be aware. Videos like that always make me wonder why the camera man is filming instead of trying to help!

NOAA defines a flash flood as: A flood caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than six hours. Flash floods are usually characterized by raging torrents after heavy rains that rip through river beds, urban streets, or mountain canyons sweeping everything before them. They can occur within minutes or a few hours of excessive rainfall. They can also occur even if no rain has fallen, for instance after a levee or dam has failed, or after a sudden release of water by a debris or ice jam.

Flash floods can be produced when slow moving or multiple thunderstorms occur over the same area. When storms move faster, flash flooding is less likely since the rain is distributed over a broader area.

flash flood firedog2Here are 10 little-known facts about flash floods:

  1. The national 30-year average for flood deaths is 127.
  2. Almost half of all flash flood fatalities occur in vehicles. So I guess I am reducing my risk of being killed in a flash flood by staying on all four paws!
  3. Rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more.
  4. Two feet of water on a bridge or highway could float most vehicles.
  5. Flash flood damage and most fatalities tend to occur in areas immediately adjacent to a stream or arroyo.
  6. Highly populated areas have a high risk for flash floods.
  7. During a flash flood, low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages and basements can quickly become death traps. So move to higher ground, people!
  8. Embankments, known as levees, are built along the sides of river banks to prevent high water from flooding bordering land. In 1993, many levees failed along the Mississippi River, resulting in devastating flash floods.
  9. In the United States, there are some 76,000 dams, 80 percent of which are made of earthfill construction.
  10. The majority of flash-flood victims are males.

Turn Around. Don’t Drown.

One of the first steps to take toward flash flood safety, is to evaluate your risk for being caught in a flash flood. Since many flash floods occur along small streams, you can determine your risk by assessing your proximity to streams. Be aware that flooding can be caused by rain that falls several miles upstream and then moves rapidly downstream. Here are 10 more suggestions to keep you safe in the event of a flash flood:

  1. Since many leisure activities occur in and around streams and rivers, be aware of potential risks.
  2. Don’t play in flood waters. This is especially applicable to children and pets. Does that mean adults can play safely in flood waters? No!
  3. Whenever thunderstorms are occurring in the area, pay attention to rapidly changing conditions.
  4. If you notice a stream start to rise and become muddy, or hear a roaring sound upstream, a flood wave could be rushing toward you. Head to higher ground immediately.
  5. Never drive into a flooded roadway or through flowing water. Turn around. Don’t drown.
  6. Don’t walk through moving water. Six or more inches of moving water could cause you to fall and could carry you away.
  7. Monitor NOAA Weather Radio, or your favorite news source for vital weather-related information.
  8. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
  9. If caught in a flood, abandon your car. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. Here again, I notice it’s safer to stay on your feet and out of a car.
  10. If you are at home when a flash flood hits, if you have time, secure your home and turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

When a disaster of any kind strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, it saves lives.

 

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Floods, Hurricanes

Help Arrives for Some Victims of Hurricane Sandy

A significant number of RJW Training System subscribers are located on the east coast. Our hearts go out to each of them. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, consider giving through a reputable charitable organization such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way, World Vision or Operation USA. We are currently devoting RJWestmore blog space to lessons we have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from Superstorm Sandy. This week, we will focus on whether disaster victims should rely on disaster recovery efforts provided by charitable and government organizations.

(We excluded my usual “firedogisms” in this post, out of respect for those who are still suffering from this storm’s devastating effects.)

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the situation was grim. Millions of people were without power, gas was in short supply and desperate east coast residents dug through dumpsters to find food. Time Magazine estimates the amount of damage caused by the Superstorm will exceed $60 billion. Citing data compiled by a forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, Time projects the sobering figure that Superstorm Sandy will end up causing $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business.

Two weeks after the Superstorm slammed the east coast, claiming 43 lives; millions of struggling survivors have criticized organizations including FEMA and the American Red Cross for a perceived slow response.

“I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation,” said Gail McGovern, chief executive officer and president of the Red Cross.

Although the Red Cross continues to list available resource offerings on its website, many victims are still without power and, so, are unable to check the nonprofit group’s updates. The Huffington Post reports that many experts point to the sheer nature of the storm’s damage, which they say precludes relief organizations from offering up a perfect response.

“This is going to be, I think, more challenging than (Hurricane) Katrina in the sense of the large geographical areas that were impacted,” said Ky Luu, head of the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy at Tulane University. “From a logistical perspective, it’s going to be very complex and difficult to manage.”

Nevertheless, recovery is underway:

  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announcing an end to odd-even gas rationing.
  • The head of NJ Transit said a severely damaged rail line could be restored sooner than expected.
  • State officials announced they are readying a shuttered military base to temporarily house residents displaced by the mega-storm.
  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker recently announced the opening of a disaster recovery center in Newark, saying, “The station will help residents dig out from the tremendous damage suffered by the state’s largest city when Hurricane Sandy hit last month.”
  • The Newark Community Center will be run by city officials and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will remain open 12 hours a day for at least a month. Mayor Booker urged residents who suffered significant damage to their homes or businesses to come to the center to register for federal aid.
  • FEMA has been directing federal resources to support state, local and tribal communities in affected areas before, during and after the crisis.

However, an editorial in the New York Times recently called attention to what has yet to be done: “For all the efforts of federal, state and local officials to help people after Hurricane Sandy, unacceptable pockets of suffering remain. Ten days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people in New York City’s public housing are still without heat, water, electricity or food. Many people needed assistance after the storm, but the most vulnerable of the city’s inhabitants seem to be among the last in line to get it.”

Since it’s safe to say people are rallying and federal and charitable organizations are working hard to address the myriad needs relative to the storm, it makes sense to consider this:

Is it fair for victims to rely on charitable and government organizations to bail them out after a natural or manmade disaster? Are large groups expected to quickly and efficiently meet each and every need immediately even when so large a geographical location and so many are affected?

We pose the question not as a debate about national politics but to remind folks that prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. So, whether or not you agree with the way FEMA and the American Red Cross and other organizations have administered aid post-Sandy, we would like to offer this suggestion, which stems from our motto to BE SAFE. It always pays to be prepared.

Assemble an emergency kit before disaster strikes to tide you over until help arrives. That way, you will be able to help yourself and others when a natural or manmade emergency strikes. In fact, the life you save might be your own! For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Floods, Hurricanes

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy about Medical Center Preparedness

 

 

 

 

 

Significant numbers of RJW Training System subscribers are located on the east coast. Our hearts go out to each of them. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, consider giving through a reputable charitable organization such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way, World Vision or Operation USA. In the weeks ahead, we will devote RJWestmore blog space to lessons we have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from Superstorm Sandy. This week, we will focus on the ways that hospitals, in particular, were impacted by the storm.

(We excluded my usual “firedogisms” in this post, out of respect for those who are still suffering from this storm’s devastating effects.)

Hurricane Katrina literally devastated the medical care community of New Orleans, with scores of hospital patients dying in flooded medical centers which were cut off from power. Unbelievably, the same thing has happened in hospitals across the east coast, as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

When Superstorm Sandy submerged large parts of New York City last week, according to a report by Yahoo News, 215 patients were evacuated from New York University’s Langone Medical Center after the basement flooded and cut electricity. One east coast patient, Kim Bondy, was indignant because hospital staff knew well in advance of Sandy’s projected approach, arrival and strength.

“There was no electricity and all the IV machines were going haywire. Didn’t you pay attention to what we learned from Katrina?” she asked.

According to a report by Time, emergency personnel including firefighters and medical staff hurried to transfer patients into ambulances for evacuation, often climbing several flights of stairs. CNN reported the hospital’s basement, lower levels and elevator shafts flooded with 10 to 12 feet of water.

The senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy at the NYU hospital, Dr. Andrew Brotman, explained the situation, “Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly. The flooding was just unprecedented.”

Equipment failures at east coast facilities brought to the fore what emergency experts have warned for years. Despite bitter lessons from the recent past, U.S. hospitals are far from ready to protect patients when disaster strikes their own facilities.

“I’ve been asking hospitals to look at their own survivability after a natural or manmade disaster, and I just can’t get it on their radar screens,” said one expert in emergency healthcare preparedness. “If you asked me the one city in America that has its act together, I would have said New York. So that tells you the kind of trouble we are in for in cities like Dayton, Detroit and Sacramento.”

For most hospitals, “emergency preparedness” means being ready to treat a surge of patients which emerge as a result of disasters outside their doors. Even the federal program that coordinates hospital preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services has a mindset of focusing on planning for mass fatalities and quickly reporting the number of available beds, but not for reacting to internal redundant electrical system outages.

For hospital administrators trying to keep their institutions in the black, disaster-resistant infrastructure is expensive and lacks the sex appeal of robotic surgery suites and proton-beam cancer therapy to attract patients. After all, most people don’t select a hospital based on which generator it owns. However, modern medicine depends on electricity, from the ventilators that keep seriously ill patients breathing to the monitors that detect life-threatening changes in vital signs. So generators are the lifeblood of any hospital disaster preparedness plan.

The good news with regard to Sandy is that things could have been worse. The staff used flashlights to carry out evacuees. Police officers fanned through the building and on stair landings to help staff members carry patients to safety. Some of the transplanted patients were critically ill infants. FEMA had organized ambulances days ahead of the storm.

Unfortunately, Langone was far from the only east coast hospital affected by the Superstorm. Some fared better and others, worse:

  • At nearby Bellevue, the neighborhood power grid failed as well as the hospital’s backup power. Staff members worked hard, hand-carrying fuel for hours. But, by Tuesday the situation became desperate. Eventually, Bellevue had to evacuate some 725 patients.
  • Montefiore built a 5-megawatt co-generation plant for heat and electricity in 1995, which doubled its capacity. The plants now supply 90 percent of the power at its main campus, allowing the hospital to run for days if the electrical grid fails.
  • Mount Sinai’s landlines and mobile phones failed throughout the city.
  • According to the Huffington Post, patients had to be transferred from Coney Island Hospital and four nursing homes in Brooklyn and the Rockaways. In several of these places, backup power systems were inadequate for prolonged use or nonfunctioning, and city power had not been restored. The long-term health effects on vulnerable patients like these might not be immediately calculable.

What hospitals must do to harden themselves against disaster is determined by a patchwork of federal, state and local regulations. The Joint Commission mandates a long list of preparedness steps, including running disaster drills. But, according to Dr. Dan Hanfling, who is special advisor on emergency preparedness at Inova Health Systems, “many hospitals just go through the motions. Until events of Sandy’s magnitude come along, emergency preparedness is just a box that has to be checked.”

“We are definitely making progress in preparedness, but many hospitals are still trying to figure this out,” said Hanfling. “They would fare about the same should another storm like Sandy roar ashore.”

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Floods, Hurricanes

Spring Storms: How to Prepare

April showers bring May flowers...and spring storms

With warm weather comes the fresh breath of spring. To me, spring means extra long walks! But, for millions of two-legged Americans, spring means something else entirely—storm season! This year, devastating tornadoes and storms in the South have already left thousands of families in need of food, shelter and other basic necessities. I hope they didn’t run out of bacon. Other spring storm-related disasters have included flooding, tornadoes and wildfires, all of which have resulted in numerous deaths and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage.

So, what steps can you take to make sure that this spring, you will BE SAFE? One way to prepare is to follow the Red Cross Be Ready Checklist. Find out if you’re ready by taking this brief quiz: (You are ready as long as you can answer each question with a heart “yes.” Or a “ruff” would do.)

  1. Do you know what emergencies or disasters are most likely to occur in your community?
  1. Do you have a family disaster plan and practice it?
    • FEMA provides free resources to help you create a family plan.
    • RJWestmore trainees have access to the following resources to aid in family planning:
  • Home Fire Escape Plan
  • Home Safety Basics for People with Special Needs
  • Blackouts at Home
  • Children and Disasters
  • Family Communication After a Disaster
  • Home Earthquake Plan
  • Pets & Disaster Planning
  • Planning for Those with Disabilities
  • Red Cross Ready Make a Plan
  1. Do you have an Emergency Preparedness Kit?
  • Tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities. Most individuals have both specific personal needs as well as resources to assist others.
  • For specific ideas about what to pack in a “go bag,” check out RJWestmore blog posts. You can also find great ideas for preparing an emergency bag at the Ready.gov website.
  • I suggest including pork chops and chew toys in any bag you take to go.
  1. Is at least one member of your household trained in first aid and CPR/AED?

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training meets the needs of workplace responders, school staffs, professional responders and healthcare providers, as well as the general public. The American Red Cross offers certified and non-certified training options. Check out the Red Cross website to access course descriptions and materials.

  1. Have you taken action to help your community prepare?

You might consider joining a Community Emergency Response Team. Also known as CERT, this program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and also trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

Utilizing classroom training as well as exercises, CERT members learn to assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community. And that’s always a good thing.

When a disaster of any kind strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.5 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. What’s more, the NEW RJWestmore Property Messaging System is included FREE for all RJWestmore Online Training System users. Visit www.RJWestmore.com for more information.

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, Floods, High-Rise Buildings, Version 2.5

Would you be prepared for a Spring Flood?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), floods kill more people in the United States than any other type of severe weather. Some floods develop slowly, while others, such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Whatever the cause of a flood, taking steps to prepare will not only help keep your family, tenants, employees and pets safe, but can also help minimize potential property damage and reduce the costs of recovery. Most importantly…it can help save lives!

Although this year’s weather in the U.S. has been relatively odd, with far less snow and rainfall than what is typical, the risk of flooding remains high. In fact, severe winter weather could actually increase your risk of flooding no matter where you live in the United States. My wife and I have battled a few floods in our doghouse. But most of them were caused by overflowing water bowls.

FloodSmart.gov, which is the official website of the national flood insurance program, provides information to property owners designed to help protect assets in weather-related incidents. Take a few minutes to gather the facts so you will be able to prepare for these potentially problematic conditions:

  1. Heavy Rains—several areas of the country are currently at risk for flooding due to heavy rains. Excessive rainfall can happen throughout the year, putting your property at risk. Rain is sometimes refreshing. I like to walk in it even though it gives me muddy paws.
  2. Rain Following a Fire—after a wildfire, the charred ground where vegetation has burned away cannot easily absorb rainwater. This increases the risk of flooding and mudflow for a number of years. Any property which was directly affected by fires or is located downstream of burn areas are at risk.

To assess your building’s risk for floods, survey the area immediately around the property. Has brush burned? Is your structure located in a valley or in an area where water could pool? If you determine that your property is at risk for flooding, take steps to prepare well before the first raindrop falls. One of the things I recommend is to stock up on bacon at the first sign of severe weather.

  1. Ice Jams—these occur when extended cold spells freeze the surface of rivers. When a significant rise in the water level or a thaw breaks the ice into large chunks, these floating masses can jam up man-made or natural obstructions, resulting in severe flooding.
  2. La NinaUSA Today reports that extreme weather can be attributed mostly to a strong La Nina, which is associated with cooler than normal water temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean and an atmospheric flow that causes drier than normal conditions in the Southwest and wetter than normal in the Northwest. Extreme weather often leads to flooding. And here I thought La Nina was finished with her fury…
  3. Snow Melt—while heavy rains overtly alert people to the possibility of flooding, melting snow is a subtler, but no less significant threat. Even if you don’t live in Portland or Seattle, you could encounter a flood.
  4. Spring Thaw—a midwinter or early spring thaw could produce large amounts of runoff in a short period of time. Because the ground is hard and frozen, water fails to penetrate and be reabsorbed. The water runs off the surface and flows into lakes, streams and rivers, causing excess water to spill over onto dry land. Again, overflowing water bowls can have the same affect.
  5. West Coast Rainy Season—heavy rains from late October through March mark the rainy season in the western United States, bringing the majority of annual rainfall to the region. Each year during the winter rainy season, residents on the West Coast face the risk of flooding and mudflows that can damage homes and businesses.

The National Weather Service puts floods in three categories:

  1. Minor (little or no property damage)
  2. Moderate (some inundation of structures and roads near streams and some evacuations of people to higher ground)
  3. Major (extensive inundation and significant evacuations of people to higher elevations)

Regardless of the cause or severity of a flood, there are several ways you can prepare to handle and recover:

  • Hire a professional to install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your building.
  • Store enough non-perishable food and potable water for three days. Although pork chops and bacon are perishable, I would be willing to take the risk.
  • Make sure a First-Aid kit and medications are at the ready.
  • Stay informed. Make sure your “go bag” includes a hand-crank or battery-operated radio. Use it to tune to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards.
  • Develop a personal/business evacuation and safety plan. Also, familiarize yourself with your community’s preparedness plan.
  • Keep your automobile fueled. If the flood affects gas station power, you might not be able to get gas for days. But you can always do what I do…walk!
  • If you are driving, when you approach a flooded road, turn around, don’t drown.

These are a just a few ideas to get you thinking. For a comprehensive list of everything you can do to prepare for a flood, check out the free guide produced by NOAA: Floods—the Awesome Power.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.5 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit www.RJWestmore.com  for more information.

Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Cyber Security, Disaster Preparedness, Earthquakes, Emergency Evacuations, Fire Life Safety Training, Fires, Floods, Hurricanes, Uncategorized, Version 2.5

Is Disaster Recovery for Electronic Data?

Does your emergency management plan include electronic data?

To recover from any type of disaster, the best prescription is often done on the front end—with proper planning. But when it comes to disasters such as major earthquakes or hurricanes, there is only so much you can do to prevent damage. On the other hand, when it comes to your electronic data, there are many concrete steps you can take to safeguard your data. Unfortunately, many businesses do not take these steps in order to back up their data. I run a sophisticated backup system for my dog bone supply. I bury two of them in my yard, and then at night I dig under the fence and plant four in Sparky’s backyard. If I could just remember where I put them…

Before you begin to plan, you need to establish what types of data you possess and where it is:

  • Talk to IT and other departments to sort through all of the data that you possess. For some businesses, the data can be strewn all over the place. Sales contact information might be kept on a manager’s thumb drive while product specs are simply on an engineer’s local hard drive. Work out what you have and then give each subset of data a priority number.
  • Once the data is identified, appoint some staff members to be in charge of monitoring and caring for the data. I put Whiskers and Tabby in charge of my data once. I come back for a progress report and they are both napping in the sun. Worthless felines!
  • A next step is to review your current capabilities. Do you have any type of backup system for files, intellectual property or email?

Creating a sound disaster recovery plan is the next crucial step:

  • Think about the various likely types of disaster in your area and how they relate to your technical infrastructure. If you have an on-premises data center, make sure it has backup power and other safeguards.
  • Your data recovery plan should be flexible to account for changes in your business as well as new technologies. If you merge with another company or open a new division, would your IT staff be able to quickly integrate new data? Poochie has too much leveraged debt and now he’s going down!
  • Replacement of hardware is an important part of your plan. Talk with your IT staff about the likely usable life of servers and computers and put them on a schedule for replacement in order to prevent failures.
  • Practice makes perfect!  Find ways to simulate the loss of data to properly test both your IT staff and any third-party vendors.

Over the course of business, it’s very likely you have heard about companies and services moving their disaster recovery needs “to the cloud:”

  • Cloud computing simply means that data and services are stored and powered by off-site servers, so companies don’t need on-premises equipment. It can cut down on costs and is able to provide storage on the fly.
  • Backing up your data to a cloud platform allows it to be securely accessed even if your company’s physical location is destroyed.
  • Do some research and pick a cloud provider that has its own backup data center. If they only have one, and it goes down, then your protection is limited!
  • Another option is to hire a company to pickup backup tapes on a regular basis and transport them offsite. But this method is outdated. Companies need information immediately following disasters. Unfortunately, retrieving data from backup tapes can take days.

With disaster recovery planning, it’s important to consider your data. As more and more companies become internet-based, their data and intellectual property is often many times more valuable than their physical assets. I have a detailed spreadsheet that describes 40 different kibble manufacturers, with breakdowns of protein content and a “deliciousness rating.” This is vital stuff!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.