The Big Deal: Part 1: Making Sure Your EAP Protects Workers

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Wondering if your Emergency Action Plan is up to snuff? Consider the following scenario:

It’s around one o’clock p.m. on a hot, sultry summer day.  The weather forecast predicts more grueling heat and a very insignificant chance of storms. Your workplace is going about routine activity, unaware that a crisis will very quickly transpire. Suddenly, the sky turns ominous, dark clouds billow on the horizon and within minutes, extreme, damaging winds and torrential rain begin.

The weather alerts we all depend upon, fail to give appropriate advance warning, sounding off only moments before the storm hits. In short succession, all power is lost, a nearby tree crashes into your building and portions of the manufacturing roof are torn off due to intense straight line winds. In the panic, an employee is cut by broken glass and another worker stumbles down a stairway en route to the designated shelter and badly fractures her ankle. Immediately after the storm passes, a small fire breaks out due to electrical failure in the office, which is quickly extinguished by supervisors.

A call to 911 is made and you are told that an ambulance will be dispatched, but there might be a prolonged wait time as the damage is widespread, blocking many roads and others in the community are suffering more serious injuries. To make matters worse, you had two employees performing installation in the community that are now unaccounted for. Cell phone reception becomes overloaded and fails. You aren’t sure if these employees were trained for off-site disaster response or how to contact them.  

The above scenario is very similar to what transpired in my community this week. The famous line from my eighteen year old daughter,  just before we dove in the bathroom for shelter (as my gas grill with propane tank ballast flew across the yard), “It’s just wind and a thunderstorm. What’s the big deal?”

The “big deal” turned out to be about 100 trees down in our city limits alone, leaving more than 17K people without power (many for more than 24 hours). Numerous trees fell on vehicles and homes and at least two roofs of businesses were torn off. Live power lines danced on the streets and amidst parking lots. Cell phone coverage was nill for several hours. Virtually all downtown businesses closed due to no power or damages. Nearly every major city road was partially or totally blocked by fallen trees or limbs. The traffic lights on a major highway and throughout the town were out. Police, fire and EMS workers were overwhelmed. When the storm arrived, motorists were on the road and businesses were operating. These are factors that could have contributed to signficant injuries and fatalities, but thankfully didn’t.

If you weren’t glued to a weather channel, watching the storm develop, you wouldn’t have known that such a possibility existed.  In my opinion, those in Indiana are also rather laid back about thunderstorms, (even severe ones), which makes Hoosiers less prone to immediate emergency response prior to and during these events. Tornados generally are the “big deal” here, not thunderstorms.

Typically, Northern Indiana thunderstorms do not produce this extensive or serious of an emergency. We tend to get rather, “Ho hum” about severe thunderstorms. This is Indiana. We all take shelter during tornados. Virtually no one hides in a crawl space or bathroom (or activates an emergency action plan) during a severe thunderstorm.

Given the intensity of this past week’s incident, I suspect many in my community are re-thinking emergency response protocol for thunderstorms. The photos at the top were taken of a four block radius on the day of the storm. Similar damage was experienced throughout the community.

And remember, all severe thunderstorms should be treated as a “big deal”…

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