Colorado State University predicts a 140 percent increase in hurricane activity in 2020 over 2019. Spring of 2020 has already set records for the number of tornadoes that have touched down, and it is no secret that wildfires seem to be increasing in frequency and magnitude.

While much of the country’s attention has been held captive by the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on their communities and personal lives, the severe-weather summer months are just around the corner. Despite the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic that cities worldwide are grappling with, seasonal weather changes and the risk for natural disasters will transpire as usual, and it is critical to be prepared. For municipalities that have not already set up its emergency response plan for handling a disaster in its community, below are some helpful guidelines.

#1. Document your plan

Time is of the essence during emergencies. Municipalities can shorten response time by putting their plans into a work order management system. Some simple recommendations:

  1. Use your work order employee list as a template for a living calling tree. For convenience, it can be duplicated into your cell phone. In it, note who is responsible for calling whom in case of emergency and make sure all addresses and phone numbers are up to date. For power outage backup, print this information out quarterly and distribute to each maintenance location for quick reference.
     
  2. Have a plan for each piece of equipment. Especially in hurricane-prone areas, use the work order system to track staging areas of where each vehicle should go in case of a landfall and who is responsible for moving the equipment to its location. This information can also be placed with the call tree information for quick access as needed.
     
  3. Document how you are going to track recovery tasks. Set up a “Cause” or “Reason” field for the specific event and then ensure that every work order uses this code. This is the recommended method as it allows for easy filtering of these work orders.

  4. Know what rates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allow for costs used for staff and equipment time. Have those rates ready in your work order system so that they can be used when work orders start.

  5. Determine how work order information is going to be collected. Are you going to use mobile devices in the field? Can you go into disconnected mode if the cell towers are down? Are you prepared to create hard copy printouts of work orders to have filled out in the field if needed?

  6. If you use contracted work in your clean-up operations, determine how this information will be tracked. Municipalities might want to give contractors access to enter their information directly on mobile tablets so that their work order information can be tracked in real time and quality control checks can be done on the spot as well. However, this will require that the contractor is set up in the system (or can be set up quickly) and the work order system must be easy enough to use with little or no training.

#2. Track everything

In an emergency, immediately set the “Cause” or “Reason” field with the new event and start tracking all work activity and repairs against this code. Make sure all staff members know to use the time cost code that you have decided to use for FEMA reimbursements. All work order tasks should track tasks accomplished, and it would be helpful to track this information against specific assets. If new assets are installed, like street signs or traffic signals, make sure that your asset management system is updated with these new installation dates.

#3. Know where all your assets are located

If the worst happens and portions of your community are destroyed, can you easily recreate what was there? With an asset management system and GIS mapping, you’ll have a better understanding of how to put the pieces back in place. This will take resources, but utilizing systems that automate the collection of this data will help deliver greater return on your investments.

The results

Effectively planning and preparing for an emergency will pay big dividends to help municipalities get through these emergency situations. Work crews will be not only organized but know what to do and how to track everything. Following the steps above will enable quick reporting to FEMA of exactly what was done and how much the clean up costs. Using GIS to automatically publish maps of recovery efforts, citizens can be kept updated on the clean-up process as it progresses. Following these guidelines can give municipalities some peace of mind knowing that they are prepared for the next emergency, even while in the middle of another.