Moore, Oklahoma was devastated by an EF5 (210mph) tornado in May 2013. Twenty-four lost their lives, including fourteen children, with 377 others injured. This loud and dangerous tornado stayed on the ground for at least 39 minutes over 17 miles. Its path was heavily populated with established neighborhoods and schools, just like many of yours. Witnesses described it as a black storm wall, which at one point, was 1.3 miles wide!
There were only a handful of sticks (trees) and houses left standing. One afternoon the following summer, I stood at the Plaza Towers Elementary School site. Where children should have been playing, laughing and scurrying about, it was deafeningly silent, the neighborhood void of anything except concrete pads. There was a sole house across the street still partially standing, defying gravity. There was no neighborhood garage sale, no kids playing in yards, no trees. It was breathtaking to see with my own eyes. Imagine your own neighborhood leveled in just a few minutes.
An estimated 1150 homes were destroyed. Hundreds more were destroyed to the point of requiring demolition. Two schools were rebuilt. Countless businesses destroyed or damaged, including dental colleagues and practices.
I had the privilege of volunteering a few days the summer of 2013 with my 16 year old goddaughter at ServeMoore, a para-church organization that mobilized the night of the tornado by a simple text. They had never operated a crisis center, and yet, FEMA was amazed at their organization in such a short period of time. They processed donations, monetary plus thousands of major & minor tools. Their focus was cleanup and repair, even three months after the tornadoes, until all the needs were met. It was started by people who believed they needed to help, with volunteers from every continent and every state. They had over 3000 volunteers the first week.
We spoke with so many affected by the tornadoes, both physically and emotionally. Their stories were filled with courage, determination, strength and heartache. Two of the women we met were recent widows, trying to figure out how to fix their houses alone. One fell off the roof and broke her kneecap. Both were taken care of by ServeMoore volunteers.
At another home, we finished demolishing a backyard deck, initially destroyed by the tornado. The family was unable to live in their own home but they were so overwhelmingly grateful for the cleanup help. They were still in a sense of shock, having lost many friends and neighbors.
Never once did I hear whining, or complaining. I’m sure there was some but I was amazed at the fortitude of those who survived. “Oklahoma Strong” is their mantra for a reason!
In my research after coming home, I read articles about how FEMA uses the “Waffle House” index as a means to measure how the community is bouncing back. Waffle House, Home Depot and Walmart all have strong risk management plans in place, FEMA explains in their 2011 FEMA blog.
“The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run,” states Dan Stoneking, Director of FEMA’s Private Sector. Why is a business’ risk management plan so important? Dan answers, “Up to 40 percent of businesses affected by a natural or man-made disaster never reopen, according to the Insurance Information Institute.”
Located a half mile from the tornado’s path, the Moore, OK, the Waffle House was closed only until management could get the generators going that next afternoon. They also provided emergency supplies to the victims.
The time to prepare is not during a natural disaster, but long before. So how can you create your risk management plan? FEMA has a website full of information about developing a preparedness program, with step by step instructions. A few notable areas needing your attention:
Insurance. Do you have enough insurance coverage for all potential natural disasters to rebuild and equip your business and home? If you have recently remodeled or bought new equipment, it is possible your coverage is not adequate. Call your insurance company to review your coverage.
Documents. Buildings “explode” during a tornado, scattering documents for miles. Are all your important business and personal documents safe? A bank lock box is secure and will typically withstand natural disasters.
Contact information. If a tornado of Moore’s magnitude wiped out both home and office, would you know how to contact your employees to ensure their well-being?
Technology backups. Do you know what is being backed up and when? All computer data should be backed up off site. I use Mozy.com and Carbonite.com and the peace of mind during a crisis is overwhelmingly reassuring. They backup data however often you designate. Mine is backed up hourly.
Financial buffer. An open line of credit or a business savings account is necessary for any crisis. You will need immediate available cash.
How will your business survive during a natural disaster? It is springtime, when many of our communities are affected by devastating storms. Prepare now. And pray you never have to know if you would survive.