National Preparedness Month Highlights the Move from “If” to “When” in Preparedness Planning

September is National Preparedness Month. While it’s a great time to celebrate all of the hard work business continuity, disaster response, and incident management teams do year round, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness throughout your organization about the valuable role these programs play in ensuring operational resilience, which is a big win for everyone.

What is National Preparedness Month?

National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is an annual, U.S.-based event that takes place every September to raise awareness about how important it is for all organizations and individuals to prepare for disasters, disruptions, and emergencies. While these topics are important focal points for business continuity and related professionals year-round, many others don’t think about being prepared until it’s too late.

According to the 2021 Business Continuity Management Event Impact Report, there are the top five events that led to business continuity response and recovery plan initiation in 2020:

  1. Pandemic/disease: 79%
  2. Power outages: 49%
  3. Hurricanes: 38%
  4. Fire/wildfires: 35%
  5. Cyber-attacks: 29%

What is This Year’s National Preparedness Month Theme?

The theme for 2021 National Preparedness Month is “Prepare to Protect.” The goal of this theme, according to FEMA, is to shed light on how important it is to prepare for a disaster to help protect those you love.

This year’s event also has a new focus. For 2021, the theme aligns with President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Racial Equality and has strategies that include ways to empower diverse communities that have often been underserved when it comes to disaster preparedness. For example, this year’s campaign has new public service announcements targeted for Hispanic communities, which were created to help drive more awareness about how to prepare for disasters and emergencies.

What Happens During National Preparedness Month?

Guided by the overarching “Prepare to Protect” theme, during National Preparedness Month, organizations are encouraged to take part in activities that raise awareness about disaster and emergency preparedness. Each week within the month has a specific focus, which can help guide activities within your organization.

The first week is Make a Plan, followed by Build a Kit, then Low-Cost, No-Cost Preparedness, and finally, Teach Youth About Preparedness.

Living Preparedness in Real Time

Through early July, there were eight weather or climate related disasters in the United States in 2021 resulting in losses that exceeded $1 billion including droughts, winter storms, flooding, tornadoes, hail storms, and hurricanes.

Just recently, Hurricane Ida left a path of devastation from the Louisiana coast northeastward up through the northeastern U.S., claiming lives and destroying homes and businesses. In some areas, there remains questions of if it’s even possible to rebuild and what the new future will look like.

While the total economic impact of Ida’s devastation is yet unknown, some analysts are targeting insured losses between $15-$18 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

In fact, New York representatives said they’ve experienced record-breaking rainfall amounts twice in the last several weeks. In press conferences Sept. 2 with New York and New Jersey local, state, and national representatives, several focused on the increasing frequency communities are experiencing weather-related disasters and disruptions, with some calling on a shift in focus from the old mentality of preparing disaster response of if a disaster occurs and instead approaching it from when perspective, an important connection to National Preparedness Month efforts.

Preparedness and Awareness Ideas

The theme of moving from an “if” to “when” approach for a range of disasters, emergencies and disruptions is a thread that connects all of the best components of your organization’s operational resilience strategies. Without them, you may be left stuck in response mode and never make it to the recovery stage.

So what can you do? How can you use September to focus on preparedness for these “when” scenarios?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Illustrate disruption costs: One way to help demonstrate the value of your programs is to illustrate the potential financial, brand, and other negative impacts a disaster may have on your organization. While there are a range of factors that can impact your costs, take into consideration your organization’s size, location, disruption types, and related effects. Use this information to have discussions with your employees about the impact of what could happen to your organization if you don’t plan for, test and exercise, your response plans.
  2. Understand the Human Factor: While it’s easy to focus on the operational impacts of a disaster, don’t lose focus on the impact of a disaster on your employees as well. Encourage your employees to develop, implement, and practice disaster and emergency response plans at home to help bridge a connection about the importance of preparedness in all parts of our personal and professional lives.
  3. Engage Across All Levels: While executive and key stakeholder involvement is key to your program success, don’t forget that operational resilience and disaster response is a whole-organization operation. Use National Preparedness Month to talk about what it means to be prepared and how your organization is poised to deal with disruptions. Get your team excited about their roles and responsibilities and carry this momentum through the rest of the year.
  4. Incentivize Your Team to Find Gaps: While ongoing testing and exercising is important to ensure you’re prepared for a disaster or emergency, don’t wait until your next test to see if you have issues. Encourage your team members to look at their day-to-day functions and identify gaps about how those roles, and ultimately your organization, could be affected if a disaster slowed or stopped specific tasks from happening as planned. Offer incentives for team members who make impactful suggestions.

Building a Culture of Preparedness

While National Preparedness Month is a great time to highlight what your organization does to prepare for disruptions and disasters and why, remember, this is an ongoing and continuous process. The most successful organizations that can most quickly respond to, mitigate, and adapt to these events are the ones who build preparedness and planning into their organization culture. Include preparedness information, expectations, and responsibilities into onboarding for all new employees, and keep them updated with new education and training throughout their tenure with you.

Need help? Castellan has a range of free resources to help your team with disaster response and business continuity planning. Here are a few you might find useful and they’re a great read for National Preparedness Month:

We also have a range of templates that can help you build, implement, or mature a range of resilience processes, for example our Crisis Management Plan Template and our Department Recovery Plan template. Find all of our free templates in our Resource Library.

Need help with ideas about how to incorporate National Preparedness Month into your organization’s plans this month? Contact a Castellan advisor today, and we’ll be happy to help.

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