Robert Footlik: Planning for Disaster

Part 2

A checklist for the unthinkable.

STAFDA showroom and warehouse consultant Robert B. Footlik is CEO of Footlik & Associates, LLC, Evanston, Ill.

As I mentioned in Part One of this article, recessions take time to build but earthquakes, fire, tornados, hurricanes and vandalism can take only minutes to devastate a town.

As construction tool and supply distributors, you have a responsibility to your communities to evaluate your own operations as disaster relief providers because it is quite likely that when a disaster strikes, you will have the most vital tools at the point of greatest need for disaster relief.

Disaster planning falls into three broad categories:
pre-planning for emergencies, actions during the event and operation/salvage/restoration when the dust settles, the water recedes or the fire is extinguished. Each is important, but pre-planning is the most readily controlled and will dictate most subsequent actions. It is the key to helping your neighbors and friends when they are hurting.

Every company and region has different needs and resources, but by planning ahead, training everyone, acquiring emergency supplies before a disaster and
adding simple tools now, lives can be saved and recovery can be accomplished far safer and faster. Do this now, before disaster strikes. People are depending on you.

Disaster Planning for Your Business and your Community

Sounding an Alarm

  • Phone the fire and police departments
  • Notify the appropriate company officers.
  • Evacuate personnel in an orderly manner.
  • Meet at a preestablished safe area for a head count.
  • Direct emergency responders to the problem area.
  • Provide firefighters and others with special condition and hazard information.
  • Restore security and fire protection systems after crisis passes.

Dealing with a fire right now

  • Rescue anyone in danger.
  • If trained personnel are available, start putting out the fire.
  • Turn off power, gas and other utilities, but NOT SPRINKLERS and PUMPS.
  • Keep spectators and untrained personnel away from the crisis.
  • Verify the operation of sprinklers and/or other emergency equipment.
  • Coordinate all actions of the internal emergency team and external personnel.
  • Evacuate all personnel, including company emergency team if necessary.

Fire or an emergency nearby

  • Evacuate to a safe place.
  • Stay out of the way of emergency personnel and vehicles.
  • Clear the path for emergency vehicles (move parked cars, open gates, etc.).
  • Determine if any special hazards are involved and take appropriate steps.
  • Eliminate ignition sources downwind of any nearby burning facilities.

Flood precautions start before the warnings

  • Shut down operations and remove portable critical equipment (computers, hard drive back ups, etc.) to a safer location.
  • Drain or remove any flammable materials, including lubricants, solvents and paint.
  • Move as much inventory as possible to upper storage locations, leaving only expendables and easily replaced stock at floor level.
  • Anchor any large objects (desks, tables, etc.) that could become floating battering rams.
  • Place sandbags, flood shields and other temporary dikes in position.
  • Assemble flood control supplies, water, first aid, pumps, generators and other items to support any personnel who may remain in the building.
  • Establish a temporary safe storage area on high ground for clean up and salvage supplies.
  • Turn off gas, electricity and other utilities.
  • Consider counter flooding the facility with clean water.  
  • Be prepared to evacuate and establish a safe route out of the affected area.

Planning For Disaster: The Hell List

Provide a means of escape for any personnel left in the building.

Here’s a fun fact: Everyplace in the U.S. is a “seismic” area.

  • Inspect the building periodically to verify structural integrity and maintain the facility in good repair at all times.
  • Survey the interior for hazards such as loose and unstable items, unsecured bookcases and shelving.
  • Replace old style pallet racks and shelving with new seismic rated storage equipment.
  • Assemble any vital supplies in a relatively earthquake proof area.
  • Designate a “seismic safe” area or exit route.

During and after an earthquake:

  • Don’t panic.
  • Evacuate and assemble in a safe, prearranged area.
  • Do a head count.
  • Shut off utilities.
  • Fight any fires, if possible.
  • Coordinate with Civil Defense and emergency personnel.
  • Clear paths for emergency vehicles.
  • Assess the damage, but stay out of any precarious structures.
  • Be constantly aware of hazards due to downed wired, gas leaks, etc.

There will be aftershocks, take risks accordingly.

Hurricanes and high winds are predicable

  • Shut down the operations and turn off utilities.
  • Inspect all outdoor areas for loose objects, such as pallets and other storage.
  • Secure, move or dismantle signs, loose downspouts, awnings and outdoor structures.
  • Clean out sewers, drains and downspouts to reduce flooding.
  • Brace and/or shore up any structures and doors as required.
  • Close and board up all windows.
  • Remove portable equipment and records to a safer location.  
  • Separate primary and backup records at multiple locations.
  • Insure that any personnel who will remain have adequate supplies of food, water, blankets, first aid, flashlights, communications, etc.
  • Take shelter and don’t leave the shelter until after the storm passes, not just the eye of the storm.
  • Beware of downed power lines, broken gas mains and other hazards.

Tornados, when every moment counts
Open windows and doors on the lee side of the building. Turn off utilities only if this is on the way to shelter or in a sheltered area.

Before it hits

  • Grab only what can be quickly carried, especially cell phones, lap tops and portable communication devices.  
  • Evacuate to a predetermined safe interior area.
  • Stay in the shelter until an all clear is sounded.
  • Initiate rescue after the storm has passed.
  • Put out fires and deal with flooding following established procedures.
  • Beware of downed power lines, broken gas mains and other hazards.


  • Designate someone to take charge, provide them with the authority, responsibility and budget to proceed.
  • Guard the area against looting, further damage and unauthorized entry.
  • Organize internal teams for salvage, repair or other tasks.
  • Obtain outside help and services as required.
  • Reestablish communications using cell phones, wireless internet (from a neighbor, coffee shop, library) and other means.
  • Communicate with all personnel with regular updates on decisions and goals.


  • Insurance carriers.
  • Appropriate utilities
  • Employees and their families
  • News media
  • Vendors-wholesalers, manufactures reps and other suppliers
  • Customers


  • Start salvage operations and evaluate the inventory that is damaged as well as intact.
  • Decide what to salvage and how to mitigate additional damage with tarps, tents, etc.
  • Find replacement facilities, equipment, computers, pallet racks, shelving and other vital hardware.
  • Arrange for the needs of your people, including food, water, chairs, desks/tables and supplies.
  • Set up liaisons with suppliers, competitors and others as early as possible.
  • Purchase emergency equipment to deal with after effects.
  • Restore security and fire protection systems.

In the bustle of our daily lives, it is easy, even comforting, to put thoughts of potential disasters out of our heads and think “It can’t happen here.” But as business owners and suppliers of critical tools, supplies and safety equipment, there is no better investment than disaster planning to ensure the ongoing viability of our businesses and the safety of our operations, employees, families and communities.

STAFDA showroom and warehouse consultant Robert B. Footlik is CEO of Footlik & Associates, LLC, Evanston, Ill. He writes STAFDA’s Warehouse Advisory and can be reached by email at CS