A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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Helping CBOs Understand Potential Risks

October 2020

The first step in preparing is understanding what hazards your community-based organization (CBO) might face. Whether you’re a nonprofit, faith-based group, or small business, knowing your risks is key. Often this depends on where you’re located: those affected by hurricanes, for example, may have to shore up their buildings to withstand strong winds and plan for evacuations. Those affected by severe winter weather must be ready to figure out how to help their clients if a blizzard closes down streets and cuts power. A variety of different hazards come with different needs to prepare.

Being prepared was highlighted recently for employees at Vintage, a CBO which serves senior citizens in five mountainous Colorado counties. That area often faces blizzards, wildfires, and floods. In August, flames tore through tens of thousands of acres due to several wildfires in the area.

The varied severe weather threats “impact different aspects of our services to our older adults, including meal delivery and lunch in senior centers, as well as transportation. We always have a plan B to ensure continuity of critical services,” says Erin Fisher, director of Vintage.

Toward that end, Fisher took part in a pilot of FEMA’s new OPEN training in June. The “Organizations Preparing for Emergency Needs”, or OPEN helps prepare CBOs with 10 actions they should consider to better prepare for emergencies. The training shed light on a new hazard Vintage hadn’t yet considered—its office is located directly across from a dam. Now, dam failure is another risk Vintage is factoring into its plans.

After taking the training, Vintage “contracted with an expert to provide us with an IT assessment and [we are] starting to implement some of the recommendations, like changing the location of our physical server and moving documentation to a secure cloud format,” said Fisher.

While facing disasters can be daunting, understanding your risks can help you take the first step to prepare. FEMA’s OPEN training asks CBOs to consider the following:

  • Identify your most common or likely hazards and incidents.
  • Identify possible incidents with the most severe impact.
  • Consider recent and/or historical impacts.
  • Identify locations in your community which are most at-risk for hazards.
  • Consider what to expect should your services be affected and how long it might take to restore them.

Think about how overlapping disasters, like a hurricane and a pandemic, might affect how you operate.

Take the web-based version of the OPEN training at ready.gov/open-training. It can help you better prepare to meet risks and keep your organization and the people you serve safe.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles examining preparedness actions community-based organizations (CBOs) can take to ensure they can serve their clients and protect themselves in case of emergency, from severe weather to the pandemic. FEMA’s new Organizations Preparing for Emergency Needs (OPEN) training includes 10 steps to take to be prepared. These include understanding risks, determining vital activities, and studying supply chain issues.

Disclaimer: The reader recognizes that the federal government provides links and informational data on various disaster preparedness resources and events and does not endorse any non-federal events, entities, organizations, services, or products. Please let us know about other events and services for individual and community preparedness that could be included in future newsletters by contacting FEMA-prepare@fema.dhs.gov.

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.