Is your organisation prepared for an unexpected event?

As the weather heats up, it’s time to review your organisation’s disaster resilience.

With bushfires raging along the East Coast and torrential storms tearing through parts of New South Wales, this Summer season began with devastating force.

As a community services industry organisation, you may already be responding to clients in distress. Or even part of the broader community recovery activities. In times of crisis, being able to respond effectively to your community is important, which is where continuity planning can provide the framework to get through these times of stress.

“Community-based organisations (CBOs) are well placed to provide essential community recovery services as they are part of disaster-affected communities, have established relationships, have built reservoirs of trust and understand the community’s needs. Conversely, by virtue of being part of the community, CBOs are also vulnerable to the same impacts of the disaster that has affected the broader community. In short, just when CBOs are most needed, they are also most likely to have their service delivery capabilities disrupted”.

Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith University

Now is the time to ensure your continuity plan is in place. And CSIA is here to guide you with information, resources and ideas to develop an effective plan.

Do your staff know what to do in an unexpected event?

Disasters encompass many different scenarios and come in many different forms. Their commonality is the capacity to severely disrupt your organisation’s operations, and the communities you support.

Even if you are prepared, you can never predict the exact circumstances of any disaster event you may face. Whether it’s a storm, cyber-attack, terrorism, bushfire, flooding or a cyclone, a business continuity plan helps your staff know what to do and feel confident in the rollout of recovery service delivery.

A good continuity plan will help you balance the needs of your clients with the needs of your organisation, and your staff teams across locations. It will help your staff adjust operations, connect with local networks and maintain their focus on safety and wellbeing.

Do you have a Go Bag?

One thing you can do today to prepare your organisation is set up a Go Bag.

A Go Bag is an emergency kit containing everything you need to continue operations. In the event of a disaster, you may need to evacuate your premises quickly. There are a range of key things you can organise now to ensure you are ready.

Along with packing emergency equipment in your Go Bag, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you documented all the critical contact numbers for your organisation?
  • Have you identified the critical functions your organisation needs to perform during a disaster and in recovery?
  • What are the functions that, if you stopped doing them for a short to medium period of time, would have a major negative impact on your organisation?
  • Have you identified the critical equipment you need to perform the above-mentioned functions?
  • Have you identified a secondary office location?
  • Have you written this information down in a plan and put a copy of that plan in your Go Bag?

Depending on the nature of your organisation, you may need to include other key items.

Make sure your Go Bag is always up to date by scheduling in a monthly calendar reminder to review the contents. This should include checking emergency items and testing their functionality – don’t forget batteries need re-charging.

You can find more details of what to include in your Go Bag in our planning checklist.

How to build a continuity plan for your organisation

It’s important to involve your whole team in developing and testing your continuity plan. Typically, one or two people are responsible for taking the lead in building your plan. However, the best results occur when a range of staff from operational teams to Board Directors are involved. Shared responsibility, agreement and knowledge about the way your organisation will operate during a crisis will strengthen your response and recovery.

There are some responsibilities that should be monitored by your Board of Directors. For example, maintaining currency and authorisation such as MOUs with other providers. Your plan should also acknowledge that the best people to maintain local connections with Local Area Disaster Management teams are those that are on the ground in affected communities.

CSIA has developed a user driven toolkit to help you develop a plan for your organisation. This toolkit was developed by and for community service organisations in consultation with the industry and will help you run an internal planning process with your team to proactively achieve business continuity. It also includes a template to help shape your plan as a guide. Email CSIA if you would like to be sent hard copies of the toolkit to use with your teams.

Testing is an important element of the plan. Schedule times with your team to simulate disaster conditions to enact and test your plan. Take time afterwards to debrief as a team about what worked well and how you can improve your plan together.

Making local connections to maintain service delivery

Sharing your knowledge and plans with your colleagues across the community services sector is vital for success. Why not consider hosting a network meeting where agencies can share the plans they are making and discuss any interdependencies that exist in your community?

Further Resources

There are a range of resources you may find helpful in planning for resilience.

Connecting with your Local Council’s Disaster Area Management team is important. They need to understand your plans to know when you and your clients require assistance.

The Commonwealth Government, Queensland Government and Get Ready initiatives all provide useful advice in preparations and post-event recovery.

The Australian Red Cross recently launched a best practice guide to support community planning and recovery before, during and after collective trauma events. While not every disaster is a collective trauma event, our society is experiencing a greater level of sensitivity in dealing with large scale public grief, events of community violence, or cohort response to judicial or public inquiries. We often overlook the collective impact of these events in forging wellbeing and community resilience and recovery. Being aware of how to respond to collective trauma events is important for your continuity planning.

Remember, business continuity plans are not static. They are dynamic and are revisited regularly to ensure currency and relevance. They grow and develop based on continuous learning, business growth, and development. After you have developed your continuity plan, schedule time to review it regularly.