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.”
TYPES OF EMERGENCIES
External emergencies that can impact a laundry’s processing capabilities can include natural disasters, power outages, water supply emergencies, sewer line breakage, etc.
“I’ve personally been involved with a water system failure that actually caused boil water advisories, which actually put everyone on bottled water in the hospital, as well as the community,” says Corfield. “We had to reduce washing capability because that was water needed for potable water. We had to come up with alternative sources for how we would run and operate, and we, fortunately enough, had plans for what we would do in that respect.”
Internal emergencies that can affect a laundry include equipment breakdowns, fires or chemical spills.
Mangini shares a time when a chemical spill occurred in the hospital laundry plant.
“We had to have the county response team show up, and we definitely learned some lessons from it, even though we thought we had a solid plan,” he says. “The fire command takes over, and you don’t get your building back until they say it’s good to go. We had linen sitting ready to get out the door, but we couldn’t enter the building.”
DISASTER RECOVERY PLANNING
Disaster recovery planning (DRP) starts with mitigation and prevention, Corfield says. That means limiting manmade and negligence incidents. That’s followed by preparedness.
“We really want to make sure we have a plan in place for most eventualities,” he says. “Then we know what our response is going to be. Then, what are we doing to recover, back to a normal operation. It’s full life-cycle management. DRP is a step-by-step procedure to return business to normal operation after a catastrophic event.”
Corfield says the goals of the plan are for a laundry to become operational as quickly as possible and to minimize the negative impact to the business or operations.
“We want to maintain a positive outcome through disaster response,” he says.
How do you do that? Simply put, clearly define the course of action and responsibilities for team members.
“If communications are down, do people know where they should be responding?” he says. “Even in a facility, who is the responsible person, where do people go, how do you prepare?”
Laundries need to eliminate delay due to confusion, shock, absence of key personnel, etc., Corfield says: How will the laundry respond? What is the backup plan for personnel? How does management plan to overcome initial shock and confusion?
Mangini suggests that laundries make sure they have an updated “phone tree.”
“Monthly, we go around to make sure we have the correct phone numbers in case we have to trigger a response in order to call them in,” he says.
Corfield says it’s important to strengthen relationships with key suppliers, customers and employees before events take place.
“It’s the people around you that are going to help you navigate successfully through any response,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of disasters over the past few years, and not being ready is not an option.”
A solid response plan, according to Corfield, not only includes responsibilities, but also recognition, alert, communication, activation, notification, operations and recovery.
“Those in healthcare organizations can probably see a little of what happens related to your medical response teams, how they go into effective triage mode when they are inundated with a large number of injured individuals,” he says. “They start by doing assessments. They have roles and responsibilities. They practice those; they know to deal with an actual influx of a large number of individuals.”
It’s also essential that a plan include short-term and long-term elements.
“You have to have a full understanding of your resources,” Corfield says. “Make sure your people have a full understanding. Proper equipment, fully functional, time limits, training. With every good plan, it’s important protective equipment is prepared. Where is your supply? Is it protected? Is it monitored?”
Corfield also says that during any event, a laundry needs to have a program at the end of the response plan to capture data.
“Anyone who’s ever been though a response to an emergency, there will be questions as to what went where, what was the impact, what was the cost, what came back, what did we do, how many hours did your employees and staff have, what were contractor costs,” he says.
“There’s going to be all of the financial reporting that you’ll have. It’s really important to have a plan to capture as much of that as possible so that you can try to understand the financial impact of responding and making sure in your after-action reporting you have those things as well.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on business continuation.