RICHMOND, Ky. — The thought of dealing with a hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack can be intimidating, especially where larger organizations are concerned. But these scenarios, however troubling they may be, demand careful and serious consideration, and a well-balanced, detailed disaster preparedness plan will help any institutional laundry weather such an event.
Linda Freeman, director of academic affairs for the National Assn. of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), described, in her recent audio conference Laundries and Disaster Preparedness, the steps institutional laundries should take when developing plans to deal with potential catastrophes.
She recommends looking first at established guidelines, such as the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 1600 Standard.
“The standard provides a good framework upon which you can build your own plans,” says Freeman. It gives those who are responsible for disaster and emergency planning a common set of criteria for management and business-continuity programs.
While it may be tempting to think that having a generally accepted guideline might be enough to deal with any disaster that may arise, Freeman warns that it’s crucial for institutional laundries to go further by developing plans specific to their own facilities. Each laundry facility has its own unique set of needs and circumstances, so what works for one facility won’t necessarily work for another.
First, know what kind of hazards you’re likely to encounter, whether they’re natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, or manmade events such as train wrecks or terrorist attacks.
“A laundry in upstate New York would more likely be concerned about snow and ice storms than hurricanes, while Southern California facilities would be more focused on mudslides and earthquakes rather than blizzards.”
She recommends using a team-driven method in which individuals who are familiar with your laundry’s location, operations and processes brainstorm to determine what kind of hazards are likely to affect your laundry and the possible means to deal with and recover from those situations.
Design plans that take into account the possibility of dealing with more than one event simultaneously, Freeman advises, using the example of Hurricane Katrina to explain how one disaster can easily cause a domino effect by creating other related emergencies.
“There were more emergency situations like flooding, cessation of electrical, gas and telephone services, and civil unrest. Having a plan that dealt with a hurricane situation alone wasn’t enough.”
Consider how these hazards might impact your laundry’s operations. Either a snowstorm or a pandemic could prevent some of your staff from making it to work. How would you deal with this? What if there is a power outage? If there’s a traffic accident or train wreck that closes major roads and you have deliveries to make, is there an alternate route or means of transportation?
“Make sure you look at these effects in measurable terms, not in general implications, to ensure a realistic response,” says Freeman. “Also, remember that the disaster doesn’t have to happen in your back yard to affect your facility.”
Maintain a current inventory of all internal and external resources. Know where you can go for help if necessary.
“If you’re planning for a situation in which linen supplies could run short, there may be seasonal facilities nearby, like summer camps, that might let you use any linens they’re keeping in storage,” suggests Freeman. Mutual-aid agreements like this can make a huge difference.
Most importantly, determine who’s responsible for what in your institution in any emergency situation.
“Don’t just have a calling tree,” says Freeman. “Make sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for, when they’re responsible for it and who is in charge.”
Institutional laundries that are part of a larger organization, such as a hospital or a hotel, need to know how their facility fits into their organization’s overall disaster plan.
A hospital’s primary focus in any emergency is to see to its patients’ needs, Freeman says, so laundry isn’t usually a top concern until it’s no longer available. Hotels are usually among the facilities that are called upon in emergencies to provide services beyond their typical scope, such as shelters or makeshift hospitals.
“In cases like flu pandemics, a hotel or hospital is often short on staff and they may call on laundry personnel for support,” says Freeman.
If your institution has a plan in place, ask to review it so you can assess the expectations of linen services and whether or not your laundry is able to respond as needed.
If the facility doesn’t have a plan or if it hasn’t been revised in more than a year, request that laundry services be involved with updating it.
Commercial laundries have a slightly different set of priorities to deal with, Freeman says. “Commercial laundries need to speak to their customers about how their facility fits into their customers’ own plans. You should be prepared to go beyond your normal level of service.”
Remember that while you’re doing your best to ensure the continuity of your operation following a disaster, the health and safety of your staff and the public always comes first, Freeman says.