DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Planning for the Unthinkable

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Disaster Preparedness: Planning for the Unthinkable

We all remember where we were fifteen years ago yesterday when the unthinkable happened in New York City, Washington DC, and in a field in Pennsylvania. I was working at the Luxor Hotel and headed to work shortly after the planes struck the towers. On the drive to work, I remember thinking to myself, "My God, Las Vegas could be a target too...and even maybe the pyramid." When I arrived at work, I realized that I wasn't alone in my thinking-my colleagues were all playing the same 'what if' scenarios through their minds as well. By late-morning, we began to understand the impact that the events of September 11th would have on our business, both in the short term and for years to come.

Planning for the unthinkable isn't an easy task and it's never possible to consider every single scenario. However, we can plan for the more likely scenarios and have a plan for how our teams will respond. For example, at Jungle Island in Miami, we had a Hurricane Plan in place which included specific actions for how to prepare for the physical storm, what to do with the animals, and how to move forward and reopen once it was safe. Both at Universal Orlando and at Luxor, we had a detailed contingency plan for how we would operate if our ticketing system failed (i.e. loss of power or network connectivity for an extended period of time). The plan included pre-printed ticket stock that could be used in the event of system failure.

The key to any effective response is to have a plan. The more likely the scenario, the more detailed the plan should be. According to SmallBusiness.Chron.com[1], there are four steps to creating an effective disaster response plan:

1.Determine Risks. Understanding what the risks are and their likelihood will help you to prioritize in both the time and resources that you will need to dedicate toward the creation of your plan. For example, having an Earthquake Preparedness Plan in place would make more sense in California than it would in Florida.
2.Plan for Safety Concerns. In any organization, safety should always be first--the safety of your team, your guests, and, if you are a zoo or aquarium, your animals as well. Any effective response plan includes planned evacuation routes and muster locations for your teams and your guests.
3.Plan for Business Concerns. This includes everything from how your team will continue to lead during the emergency to how your business operations will function before, during, and after the event. For example, I believe that every ticketing operation should have a formal backup plan for any extended ticketing system failure that includes an entirely manual process.
4.Train Your Teams. This is crucial! Once you've got your plan in place, your teams must be trained to carry them out. It makes no sense to create an elaborate plan that no one knows about or is comfortable implementing. In addition to having a written plan, teams should have the opportunity to practice their role in the response. This includes everything from conducting regular fire drills to staging a mock-response to natural disaster. Practice is essential.

Being adequately prepared for the unthinkable can pay off in many ways, saving lives, property, and profits--but only if you invest the time and energy required to plan and train your team.

[1] Pritchard, Grifith. "An Emergency Disaster Plan for a Hospitality Facility." Small Business. Chron, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

"Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise."

Robert Baden-Powell