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Hotels: You Need a Disaster Plan

The word “disaster” often conjures up thoughts of an earthquake, hurricane or tornado and its aftermath. However, COVID-19 has had similar disastrous consequences on the hospitality industry since its debut in the United States. With this in mind, hotels should seriously consider creating a disaster plan for anything that might come their way.


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To learn more about what a disaster plan might entail and why it would be a smart move on the part of hotels, HT spoke with Patrick Hardy, a Certified Emergency Manager®, Certified Risk Manager® and a FEMA Master of Exercise Practitioner®. He’s the only person in the world who holds all three of these disaster planning certifications. He has written thousands of disaster plans and even has created an app – Disaster Hawk – that allows hotel owners to create their own free, custom disaster plan in just minutes.

What prompted you to create Disaster Hawk?
Before Disaster Hawk, families and small businesses had to spend hours and days developing a static, written plan that was going to gather dust and never be seen or used again. I wanted to use my expertise to design custom plans that require just 90 seconds to finish, and could be accessed and shared on a smart phone.

How does it work?
You can create your property's disaster plan right on the app, including evacuation, shelter-in-place, lockdown, and even COVID-19. Once you finish, you can easily share the entire plan with your employees and the public. All they have to do is use the search function to find your hotel's plan, where they can "follow" it. By following it, that means they can see your plan, and what they are expected to do. And when an immediate update has to be made that needs to be seen by staff, you can do that, and all the plans are automatically updated. We can also send push notifications to app users about updates on disasters that are rapidly evolving like COVID-19.

Which hotel executives should be working in the app to create a disaster plan? Why those execs specifically?
If these are independent properties, it should be the hotelier or general manager. For corporate organizations or management companies, safety management teams are perfect for developing these kinds of plans. It was designed with them in mind, because it lets them answer some simple questions and customize the sets of answers themselves.

Why is having a disaster plan in place so important?

Disaster plans are critical for any kind of property. They provide management and line staff with clearly delineated steps to execute an emergency response. Without a disaster plan, staff will be confused, communication will be haphazard, and management will be paralyzed while they try to figure out how respond. During the 2018 wildfire season in California, staff in a Chico California hotel with a disaster plan was able to establish a complete evacuation and incident command within 30 minutes, while others in the area without plans were trying to call managers and get guidance. Since cell phones were down, it took some of them hours to make decisions.

What are some of the steps hotels should be considering when it comes to disaster planning?
To me, the base of all disaster preparedness are three steps: Evacuation, Shelter-in-Place, and Lockdown. EVERY plan should be based upon solid execution of these steps. More advanced plans should then be written, covering crisis communication, utilities, critical records, and business continuity (recovery). Once developed, then they should build their threat-specific plans like earthquake, hurrricane, COVID-19, etc. After the plans are done, aggressive training and drills should be conducted, with appropriate after-action reports and improvement plans. And don't forget: update the plans regularly or they become worthless!

How does COVID-19 fit into all of this?
Hoteliers need to remember that COVID-19 is like any other disaster. It is no different from a hurricane, earthquake or a tornado in that there are powerful ways to respond and recover from it. How should a property respond to COVID-19? Go back to the basics. The first decision that has to be made is whether the staff should evacuate, shelter-in-place, or lockdown (quarantine). This is the difference between opening the property or not. Once that is done, a property should respond to the pandemic according to a written plan. Train your staff, and then constantly improve your plan according to best practices and public health directives. The challenge with COVID-19 is that the pace of improvement and modifications to plans can sometimes be daily and staff can't keep up. That is why an app like ours can so valuable. It lets you update the plans in real time!

Any other comments?
It is my professional mission to, for the first time in history, make cutting edge disaster preparedness available to every family, small business, non-profit, and person around the world, in their language, in their situation, in their life. To me, Disaster Hawk is the vanguard of new disaster planning in the 21st century. Every day, we are developing new plans, designing brand new ways to respond to disasters of every type, and listening to hoteliers to see how we can improve the plans we have in the app. Disaster Hawk is about empowering people and businesses to respond to any disaster with a simple mobile app, and we're just getting started. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Patrick Hardy has extensive experience working in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. His clients range from micro-businesses to Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Merck, and the Parsons Corporation. During the BP Oil Spill in 2010, Patrick ran 23 emergency sites and managed thousands of employees in three states.

Hardy has worked in EMS first response and is an American Red Cross volunteer. He worked in sheltering and the Emergency Operations Center as a Site Director at the Louisiana State Emergency Operations Center. He has been cross trained and certified in HAZMAT, Emergency Communications, Homeland Security Policy, and Terrorism.

In the summer of 2012, Hardy became the first small business owner ever to be selected as the National Private Sector Representative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He spent three months in Washington D.C. constructing FEMA’s first model small business disaster planning framework.

Hardy has also served as a visiting disaster instructor to the National EMS Academy. He wrote the chapters on disaster preparedness, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction for the new Advanced Emergency Medical Technician Textbook.

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