Watching “Superstorm Sandy” roll up the eastern seaboard last week—albeit from the comfort and safety of my west coast apartment!—got me to thinking about crisis management. Namely, what would I do if disaster struck, natural or manmade? How would I respond personally, professionally?

Of course, living in California means I should already be quite aware of the potential for Mother Nature to strike without warning in the form of an earthquake. But crises can rear their heads in other ways, too, including fires, floods, even terror attacks, outbreaks of disease, or shortages of critical supplies. Heck, I’d even consider a break-in at my home or office to be a crisis, especially if it resulted in the loss of important personal or business-related information or items!

Sandy reminded me how, for the most part, we have truly become a NON self-reliant bunch! We take for granted that our smart phones and tablets will always be there and working; we depend on the ease of going down to the local market or grocery or gas station and getting what we need for the evening or the next morning, safe and secure (or so we think) that we’ll get to do it all over again tomorrow; we rely on public transportation, utilities, health care services, bridges, roadways being there. But what happens if some or all is taken away?

I’m not here to give a primer on “Survival 101.” There are plenty of books and Web sites you can reference for that sort of advice, some better than others, naturally. What I want you to take away from my blog this week is that you need to have some sort of plan, some sort of strategy, to cope personally and professionally when disaster strikes. And relying on FEMA or the Red Cross or any other institution to give you top priority in times of crisis is really no strategy at all.

On a personal level, consider where you live and think about these bare essentials:

  • Where will you get water for drinking and cooking?
  • Where will you get food? How will you store it (perishable vs. non-perishable)?
  • What happens if the electricity goes out? What do you do for heat, lights, cooking?
  • If you cook with natural gas, do you have plenty of gas on hand?
  • Do you have gasoline for your car/generator?
  • If temperatures are cold, how will you heat your home?
  • What will you do for refrigeration?
  • How will you dispose of garbage? What about going to the bathroom? Will your plumbing work in case the power goes out? If not, what do you do?
  • Do you take daily medications? What happens if you can’t get to a local pharmacy, or the supply is interrupted somehow?
  • Do you have access to physical cash (not credit or debit cards … they don’t work so well when the power is out!)
  • Do you have access to transportation (to evacuate, to go to work, to relocate)?
  • If you have to go to work during the crisis, what happens to what (or who) you leave behind? Is your home secure or does it need monitoring? If kids are home from school, who will watch them?

No doubt, I could go on contemplating various scenarios and what-ifs, but I think you get the picture. Most important to remember is that the plan that will work best for you is a plan that is created specifically for your unique personal situation.

Now, if Sandy has taught us anything, it’s that disaster can strike businesses just as easily as peoples’ homes. If you are a business owner, do you have a plan for what you would or could do in case of a crisis? Consider the following:

  • Are you prepared for prolonged power outages, short- or even long-term interruptions to your supply chain, or even a complete loss of revenue for a period of time (remember, if your business is affected, chances are your clients will be too, and they will be tending to their own homes and businesses).
  • What would happen if a storm surge flooded your business or your home office, destroying all of your computers and digital file storage? What would happen to your business financial records, client records, even works in progress? Do you have failsafe back-up off site?
  • Do your customers rely on you for some critical product or service? If so, do you have contingencies in place should the worst occur?
  • Do you have a public relations/communications plan in place to get important information out on a timely basis to those who need it most—your clients and your employees. How will you even communicate with the outside world if phones and Internet are down?
  • Do you know how long can your business go “off the grid” before your clients get antsy, before they began to look elsewhere for the services and/or products you provide?
  • Similarly, how long can valued staff go without having to look elsewhere for employment?
  • What kind of resources do you have (or would you need) to set up an alternative place of business, either temporarily or longer-term?

I could go on, but again, you get the picture. We all need to consider these questions and probably dozens more potentialities, just in case. And I must admit, it’s tempting these days just to shrug it off, to be numb to it all given the hype we’re bombarded with from news and weather and politics, to TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Far too often, the latest “crisis du jour” simply becomes something we see on TV. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite real, as though it’s a TV show and there’s some “hero” destined to come along and make it right by the last commercial break.

Unfortunately, one week later, a lot of people in New York and New Jersey are discovering that there’s not necessarily a hero on the way to save the day, just as the folks affected by Katrina found out. Unlike video games, we can’t just “re-spawn” or start the level over when things go bad.

What kinds of preparations have you made to deal with a natural disaster or some other crisis? Have you planned for both personal and professional contingencies (whether you own a business or work for a living)?

I’d love to hear your ideas and perhaps see some of the creative ways some of us have coped (or plan to cope) when disaster strikes. Share them here.