On Record: Prepare in advance

While using the phrase “prepare in advance” would drive my former English teacher Miss MacAllister nuts, there were so many examples of preparing in reverse this past year in the disaster-response arena that I’m going to let it stand.

We’re still tallying the lessons learned during 2005. In March, United Rentals published a white paper examining the role of the rental – and by extrapolation, the construction industry – in responding to disasters. Two things came to the forefront for me as I read the paper.

If you’re ready, you’re ready. If you have the systems, communication avenues and inventory in place to handle three-days-without-electricity events, you’ve exponentially increased the likelihood you can take on a Katrina/Rita. Thinking through what you will do if this happens gives you a game plan and critical clear thinking when the water’s rising.

While your plan won’t be near what United Rentals has in place – a 24/7 service center with a bilingual staff coordinating the resources of branches, warehouses, suppliers and customers – if it’s specific to your situation and has the safety of your people uppermost, you’ll be ahead of the vast majority of businesses in your area.

Make first things first. United Rentals designed its disaster response around a five-level hierarchy of needs. First, protect the workers, especially first responders. If they’re protected, then they won’t add to the rescue stress. Mission critical: hard hats, gloves, respirators and dust masks, protective eyewear and boots.

Second, concentrate on traffic control and transport since many roads are impassable and rerouting is necessary. Workers, supplies and equipment have to be transported in while evacuees continue to stream out. Traffic control signs and barriers fall into this area.

Third, relief and rescue support, which will involve ladders, ropes, hand tools, dumpsters, fuel, chain saws, pumps, generators, lighting and portable heaters, just for a start. And sometimes the most important thing is a piece of paper. A blanket letter secured from authorities would enable company vehicles to operate in emergency zones with greater effectiveness and freedom, United Rentals says.

Fourth, bring on the equipment, including dozers, dump trucks, loaders and rough-terrain forklifts. Small tools, including chain saws and circular saws, should also be available.

Fifth is information. Katrina rescuers even found themselves using blogs to give them the best data as to where people were and what they needed. Translated to the rental industry, there’s the need to know what inventory is available, what’s needed and how quickly the two can be matched.

And translated to you, plans like this will help your equipment suppliers get you personally and professionally on the comeback trail.