It’s midnight and your cell phone startles you awake. As you check your messages, you smell smoke and hear sirens. The first message is Nixle announcing mandatory evacuations for several areas in your county, including yours. The second message is the Emergency Operations Command Center requesting all department heads and emergency operations personnel report to the center immediately. You turn on the news and discover your county and its surrounding counties are experiencing a rapidly expanding firestorm; roads are closing all over the county and thousands are being evacuated. As you look out your window you see an orange glow from flames less than a mile from your home. Your brain starts racing with what to grab from your home, who can take your child and animals, how to get to the command center safely, your family, friends, employees, and community.
At the command center, the CEO announces that calls have started to county employees dispatching them to the evacuation centers, road closures, and other areas. Department heads are to keep all county agencies open to the public but leave it up to the departments to determine how to do it. For now, county buildings are safe but on evacuation watch. You have no idea which employees are evacuated, who has been dispatched, and who cannot get past the closed roads. Your Business Continuity Plan is activated.
Have you planned well enough for this scenario or other disasters that could hit your community? Since 2012, several LCSAs have experienced disasters that impacted their buildings, their county agencies, and their communities. These disasters have included the Tehama County fire that destroyed their building, the Napa County 6.0 earthquake that severely damaged most county buildings including child support, the Lake County fire that destroyed many homes, and the recent firestorms and mudslides that impacted several counties.
A well-developed Business Continuity Plan must cover a wide range of potential disasters with different levels of impact from your LCSA being completely destroyed or unusable for a length of time to your community being under siege for weeks from fires. Your plan must address as many controllable variables as possible but also be flexible enough to handle the unpredictability of the situation as it unfolds.Last month, several county directors who have been through the recent disasters met with DCSS to discuss the lessons learned that could be shared with other LCSAs and DCSS. Several important areas identified included: communication, staffing, challenges in relocating staff, technology issues, security of buildings and confidential documents, possible union issues, and coordinating with partners such as the court and vendors. These directors and DCSS presented the information at the last DCSS Statewide Directors Meeting in March. A copy of the Disaster PowerPoint, a Business Continuity Checklist, and Tips for Surviving a Disaster are available on the CSDA website.
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