RICHMOND, Ky. — Last year was one for the books when it comes to natural disasters.
Fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other events disrupted lives. They also disrupted laundry and linen services.
Add to these external events internal issues, like equipment breakdowns, injuries and labor disputes, and it hasn’t been an easy year for some laundries to keep processing and providing linens.
That’s why it’s key for businesses to have an emergency response plan to not only help recover from disaster, but also to help others recover.
“Your emergency response plan should be developed in the context of your organization,” says Bob Corfield, CEO, Laundry Design Group LLC. “Look at external and internal emergencies. Things that happen to the area and internally within the laundry should have a response plan. Look at potential threats and best practices. Then replacement vs. continuation planning.”
Corfield and James Mangini, senior director, sterile processing and linen services, Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine, discussed disaster planning during the Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar Plan Like a Prepper: Emergency Management for Textile Care Services Professionals.
“The old way to respond to overall disaster planning was to try to develop a plan for every eventuality,” Corfield says. “The new paradigm shift a few years ago was to have a core program of response management so you understand what risks you really want to plan for; you look at an all-hazards approach and a multidisciplinary collaboration within the context of your organization.”
He says a company has to look at what is going to work with its core strengths and capabilities to make a plan. Then, it’s time to run drills to see if it’s a good plan, identifying any holes. Finally, keep looking at the plan to adapt and improve it.
“You don’t show up at game day without having practiced all week long, without having a game plan on how you’re going to execute,” Corfield says. “You need to know what the plan is. Everyone needs to know what their role is.”
“You want to go through exercises,” Mangini adds. “When you have an event, you don’t want to hope you’ll get it right; you want to know you’ll get it right.”
After the responding to the event, how does a laundry manage business continuation?
Corfield says that there has to be a production plan. Will the laundry move production to another facility or find limited ways to produce?
Mangini recommends stockpiling linens for emergency response.
“We have a stockpile because our director of emergency preparedness and safety, when that role came on board, he focused just on operations but soon realized the importance of laundry and linens that get supplied in the hospital setting,” he says. “We had a malfunction of our tunnel, which kind put us on a crisis mode. We were shipping our linen off to our backup supplier.”
Because of that event, Mangini says the hospital worked on getting space in a warehouse adjacent to the plant. That way if there was ever a fire in the plant, the hospital always had a backup source of linen available.
“We took the core components for the average daily need of the hospital, and we try to plan for about a 72-hour turn,” he says. “We worked very closely to set it up and work on rotating the stock through so it’s room-ready, if you will, for the patients’ needs.”
According to Mangini, the laundry at Maine Medical Center has a three-phase approach to linen conservation. One phase involves the plant being down for maybe six hours. Another phase is for being down six to 12 hours, and the third phase is for being down 12-plus hours.
“We have agreements with other facilities to help process if need be,” Mangini says. “We have two official written agreements and a couple word-of-mouth. We’ve put these agreements into effect both for us and have helped other laundries in my career here. We visit this annually to see if we’re still good with these agreements to continue.
“We’re all in the business together. Even though we may compete against others, no one wants to have a disaster and not have a helping hand, at least in our region.”
Corfield agrees that it’s essential to have agreements with local and out-of-town laundries, to know where the linen is going, and to review the relationships on an ongoing basis to be sure the backups can meet requirements.
In order to continue production internally, however, labor needs must be addressed during events.
“Your first resource, outside of the products you produce, are additional labor needs,” says Corfield.
Mangini relates a time when a snowstorm heading for the Northeast was predicted to dump 16 inches of snow.
“We had never shut down, but we were going to,” he says. “Some things we had to look at were after the snowstorm, how were we going to get our staff to where they need to be? Some plans included renting four-wheel-drive SUVs and having the security team drive to pick people up, in case they needed a ride. There was also a list developed of other departments that had staff available to come out and hand-fold linen if needed.”
Corfield says a laundry also has to plan for getting product to customers during emergency situations.
“You need a service plan, a temporary office and warehouse for loading and unloading and storage,” he says. “On top of a plan, have an administrative core that people can report to. Critical service vehicle replacement. Inventory replacement requirements and ongoing communication.”
On the administrative side, Corfield says a laundry’s IT department needs to have a plan for system replacement and recovery. And there needs to be a plan to retain key personnel, especially if the plant won’t be operational for some time.
Finally, Corfield says he can’t stress enough that communication with customers, stakeholders and staff is essential during an event.
“There are many different hazards nationwide. It’s not effective to plan for every different disaster you can think of,” Corfield says. “All-hazards planning encompasses general principals and applies them to the slight differences for each incident type. Gone are the days of 50 different plans for each type of incident that all look very similar. We now have one plan, with incident-specific annexes or appendices that address the differences.”
Miss Part 1 on types of emergencies and planning? Click here to read it.