Fostering Preparedness Ambassadors
After a disaster strikes, enterprises likely are champing at the bit to get back up and running, but operations often hinge on one major factor: employees. If an employee’s home is flooded, he/she has to choose whether to stay home and repair the house or go to work. If an employee’s children are at school or daycare and cannot be reached, he/she faces the dilemma of how to get them and also get to work. Wal-Mart’s emergency management team is working to improve employee preparedness at work and at home so when disaster strikes, they and their families are as ready as possible, which helps employees recover and get back to work faster and with a stronger state of mind.
According to Brooke Brager, Senior Manager of Emergency Preparedness and Planning for Wal-Mart’s Emergency Management Department: “Our Annual Shareholders’ Event included an emergency preparedness activity. Over 5,000 associates were invited from across the globe, and we packed preparedness kits that will be distributed to families in need following disasters.
“We also had information booths set up with public sector organizations as well as our own team to educate our associates on how to build a kit, make a plan and be informed,” she adds. “This is the first time we’ve truly been able to have all of our associates from across the globe come together and get this training, which I think will be a huge win because if we can create awareness with them and make them ambassadors, they can go back and educate their own co-workers on these things.”
Brager, who came to her current position after spending time working on government and military projects with emergency management contractor IEM and the Red Cross, says that spending time in both the public and private sector helps an emergency preparedness leader learn the language that enables her to communicate across multiple agencies.
“Obviously, the private sector does work differently than the public sector,” she says. “But during a disaster both the public and the private sector’s number one priority is to support the communities. It takes all of us coming together during a disaster to make things happen. Since leaving Red Cross I have seen an increasing trend in non-profits, public agencies and the private sector collaborating with one another before during and after disasters.”
In terms of how public sector experience has helped bolster disaster response at Wal-Mart, Brager says: “Everybody has their own ‘speak’ – a lot of organizations speak in acronyms, and many people outside of the organization don’t understand those acronyms. Having worked in both the public and private sector, I’ve been able to learn both sets of the language and now I am able to interpret these acronyms for our internal stakeholders. “It’s also necessary to understand the priorities that both the private and the public sectors have during disasters. That has been a huge win for us in bridging the gap between the sectors,” Brager adds.
For example, she says, Wal-Mart has been advocating for more active participation in emergency operations centers (EOCs) around the country. After a tornado in central Illinois, the Wal-Mart EOC partnered with the State of Illinois Business EOC to gather on-the-ground intelligence about resources and problems. “We were able to allow one of our trucks to safely enter the area to deliver important products to the store and ensure our customers were able to get the products they needed as soon as possible,” Brager says.
“It’s imperative for a company to have partnerships with states and local governments,” she says. “However, it’s impossible to know every organization out there. So we connect to state and federal agencies at the corporate level, and out in the field, we connect local to local.”
So, for example, while the Wal-Mart headquarters might be the main point of contact for the State of New York, a small city’s government or a local recovery group might contact a regional manager, who can then connect them up to the corporate level if necessary. This streamlines communication throughout the business, as regional leadership knows the needs and the culture of the local area, and can often find solutions that fit more easily.
“Understanding how the public sector and the private sector work together during a disaster is important,” says Brager. “Knowing who to contact prior to a disaster is key to success.”
Additionally, it’s important to focus on all hazards. “It’s easy to become pigeonholed in one specific hazard, but it’s crucial to be forward thinking in how to respond to all types of business disruptions. Not all responses are the same and not all of the contacts will be the same so planning for all hazards is imperative.”