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Dixon: Emergency management defines your business

March 27, 2018  By Paul Dixon

I woke up on January 23 to news of a major earthquake overnight near Alaska, which set off tsunami warnings from the Aleutians to Baja and sent residents of coastal towns scurrying for high ground.

The earthquake was real enough and while there was a tsunami, it thankfully wasn’t of a magnitude large enough to do any damage. Over the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the power outages across southwestern B.C. and Vancouver Island.

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago that I approached Drew McCarthy, then the editor of this magazine, with my pitch for an article on the role helicopters could play in a post-disaster response and recovery.

I had just “retired” from almost 30 years in public safety and emergency management, but wasn’t quite ready to head out to the pasture. Drew liked my idea, and a decade later I’m still here, watching other people work and writing about it.

One thing I’ve come to realize about the helicopter industry is that the successful operators I’ve met are generally already operating with an emergency management mentality. They may not realize it as such, but, to borrow from baseball, they’re pitching from the stretch all the time. When things go sideways, they’re already leaning into it.


Ten years ago I included this survey in my article as a self-test to help people evaluate their degree of readiness and give them some direction in planning for the future. Now would be a good time to take a quick refresher and answer the questions for yourself:

  • Are you concerned that your normal business operations might be interrupted by a natural or human-caused disaster?
  • Have you determined what parts of your business need to be operational as soon as possible after a disaster, and planned how to resume those operations?
  • Do you and your employees have a disaster response plan to help assure your safety and to take care of yourselves until help can arrive?
  • Could you communicate with your employees if a disaster happened outside their normal working hours?
  • Can your facilities withstand the impact of a natural disaster, and are your contents and property sufficiently protected?
  • Are your vital records protected from the harm that could be caused by a disaster?
  • Are you prepared to stay open for business if your suppliers cannot deliver, your markets are inaccessible, or basic needs (e.g. water, sewer, electricity, transportation) are unavailable?
  • Do you have plans to continue to operate even if senior management cannot reach your place of business?
  • Have you worked with public officials and other businesses in your community to promote disaster preparedness and plan for recovery?
  • Have you consulted with an insurance professional to determine whether your coverage is adequate to help you get back in business after a disaster?

Count your “yes” answers. This will indicate how well-prepared you are for the disruption caused by a natural or human-caused disaster.

7 – 10 “yes”: You are well on your way.

4 – 6 “yes”: You have lots of work to do.

1 – 3 “yes”: You should get started immediately.

There is nothing foreign or exotic in these 10 points. These are questions you are likely already confronting on a regular basis. Now, it’s time to take each of these questions to the breaking point. You want to figure out where your normal processes will most likely fail and by doing it now you can take steps to address those potential shortcomings. Understand what you can control and what you can’t control. Address the issues that are within your control and, when dealing with suppliers, try to identify the potential points of failure in the supply chain and work with them in building resilience.  

Now is the time to clarify with your clients what their expectations of you are in the case of a disaster. You may find yourself in a position where the need far exceeds your ability to meet it. You may be legally required to provide service to certain sectors to the detriment of other long-time customers. Now is the time to clarify what you will be expected to do and be prepared to do it.

Your emergency plan is simply an extension of the way you operate your business every day; an added layer of resiliency that you add across your entire operation. There’s a saying in emergency management: fail to plan and you are planning to fail. It may sound trite, but it’s not a cliche. It’s your choice.

Paul Dixon is a freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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