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My first experience of a big natural disaster was the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. I had lived in New Zealand for about 3 years at that point and had been lucky enough to avoid any of ‘the big ones’ until ‘the really really big one’ hit. I was at uni, and I had no idea what to do.

The people around me were amazing, supportive, and kept myself and my friends all together while the world seemed to be falling apart. I realised afterwards that this was partly because they had had some practice the year before and it was partly just repeating the same moves again, but a bit bigger. Resilience doesn’t usually spring out of a single event. It is the result of having handled a situation similar to it before and getting through the next one. Resilience is one of the most incredible skills to build.

I also realised that there seems to be an easy way and a hard way to become resilient. The easy (or maybe just easier) way is to build it up little by little in a controlled and supported environment where you know at every step that you have the tools to solve any problems you face. I think of this like marathon training; you start small and build up incrementally towards being able to tackle something big and overcome the mental voice asking why on earth you thought this would be a good idea. During training, you’ll feel tired, maybe even sore, but the more you work the less this happens.

The hard way is to be thrown into the deep end and hope like heck that you can swim or find a life raft. This is the type of learning that works sometimes, but it also burns people out and causes huge emotional distress. You don’t want your employees to experience this type of resilience building.

Our staff being prepared and supported as much as possible will hopefully mean they are safe and well, even if a ‘big one’ of some kind comes along. Here’s how we do it –

Work from anywhere

While we can’t foresee many natural disasters we do sometimes have time to prepare for disruptions to daily life. Storms, tsunami risks from far away, gales (thanks Wellington), or the aftermath of unexpected disasters have the ability to shut down entire businesses for weeks if people can’t get to their offices. We avoid this by working entirely cloud-based and our set up means any member of our team can do at least the basics of their jobs from anywhere with an internet connection, and we encourage them to do so. (We figure that if there is no internet to Wellington then we probably have bigger problems than a pause in work…) Keeping our team out of the danger zones is absolutely our priority, and having them home with their families, friends, or flatmates is also great for their wellbeing.

Grab bags

Stored in two places in the office we have a collection fo OptimalBI grab bags stocked up and ready to be grabbed out if we need to evacuate. Our contractors are encouraged to have backpacks with them at their places of work as well. Backpacks contain the following –

  • water
  • snacks (high energy, long life stuff)
  • chocolate (for morale)
  • basic first aid kit – plasters, bandages, sterile wipes, etc
  • tough gloves
  • dust mask
  • reflective emergency blanket
  • glad wrap (mostly for burns)
  • a torch
  • tissues and toilet paper and a rubbish bag
  • hand sanitiser
  • strong cord
  • a knife
  • glow sticks
  • a notepad and pen

Emergency bags under every desk

In addition to the grab bags, we have a smaller kit under every desk for more immediate challenges. Each desk bag contains:

  • tough gloves
  • a dust mask
  • an emergency blanket
  • a whistle

(I’m thinking of adding emergency chocolate… for morale… Whittakers of course.)

Emergency food and water

Stored in two spots in the office we have a pile of food and water. We make sure that we always have enough for as many people as may be in the office for 3 days at 3 meals a day. This should be plenty, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We also keep 10 litres of water per person in the office to make sure we can keep everyone hydrated. The water gets refreshed every 6 months and the food gets turned over every year at Christmas when we donate anything within 12 months of its use by date to the Wellington City Mission.

Staff training

Every new person who comes into OptimalHQ gets a briefing on the emergency supplies we have and when to use them so we know that no matter who is in the office when something happens they should know how to look after themselves. Staff training and checking that everyone still remembers their briefing is such an important aspect of being prepared, and yet it’s often overlooked. It’s worth taking the time to send out a reminder message every now and then to make sure everyone knows whats going on.

Hopefully, we will never need to use any of our supplies, but it’s great to know that we have them. Talking about emergencies and how we’ll react when something happens is a massive step in the direction of a resilient workforce.

Do you know where your emergency food is on your floor? Has someone checked your water stocks recently? Where are the water mains for your floor or building if you need to shut them off? These are all questions worth asking because it’s better to know and never need to know than to need to know and have to learn the hard way.

~ Caitlin

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