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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Should be a Wake-Up Call for Disaster Preparedness

It is always after a catastrophic event that one begins to think about disaster preparedness and what should be done to mitigate costs and losses when and if it should ever happen. Last week’s earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power plant explosions and radiation leaks certainly woke up the citizens of Japan, and it too, should be a reminder to all of us that we need to have a disaster preparedness plan for our businesses as well as for our personal lives.

It’s hard to imagine what the true cost of this disaster will equate to in dollars, lives and the environment. Insurers and reinsurers estimate losses somewhere between $12 billion to $25 billion; some other experts think the costs will be in the neighborhood of several trillion dollars. Most of these estimated losses come from damages to property and human lives but what are the costs associated to other things like businesses that were totally wiped off the face of the earth, radiation contamination to the environment, and jobs and future incomes of the disabled and injured? What about tourism and food exports? The list of lost revenues is endless.

Natural disasters are difficult and almost always impossible to prevent. But one thing we can all be assured of; disasters seem to strike at the most inopportune times. In the case of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, science might have been able to give the people in the impact area (Sendai) better warning and strategies to evacuate in a timely and orderly manner. However, from what I have read, tsunami waves began to hit the coast of northern Japan in as little as 30 minutes after the first earthquake. Not much time for anyone to evacuate from the area. Estimates are as high as 15,000 dead or missing.

So what can we learn from this disaster? Communities, individuals, businesses need to be prepared for the unexpected. Whether it is a fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, tornado, monsoon, or nuclear explosion we all need to have contingencies for responding to the unexpected.

Communities need to prepare their citizens with up to date evacuation routes, secure shelters with access to fresh water, toilets and rations for up to 72 hours.

Individuals need to be prepared by keeping an emergency kit up to date. Have non-perishable food, water, warm clothes and bedding to last three days or longer? Supplies need to be in a place where you can get at them easily?

Businesses need to have their businesses prepared to operate virtually. This means the records, data and information that are required to continue the business needs to be backed-up, secured and available within 72 hours. Businesses who fail to prepare for data and record recovery will most probably cease to exist.

Also, with disaster come opportunities. Yes, I said opportunities. As reprographers we have an opportunity to help your clients, as trusted advisors, develop prudent disaster preparedness strategies for their firm’s continued operations. Start a conversation with your clients about strategies for helping them develop a disaster preparedness plan; offer to convert paper records to digital records, store documents off-site at secure (redundant) data centers that are backed up with UPS and diesel generators—these are are just a few example where you can start.

So in closing, don’t wait until you experience your own disaster to start developing a strategy for disaster preparedness; take some action today, while it is still fresh in your mind, make a plan for you, your family, your business and your customer to be prepared for the unexpected. You will be glad you did!

Also please join me in saying a prayer for all those who perished or lost love ones in the disaster in Japan.


Shaun Meany

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