Planning for Natural Disasters: Is it Possible?

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In the past few days, most of us have viewed images and watched videos about the devastation that was brought to the town of Moore, Oklahoma when it was torn apart by a ferocious tornado on 20 May 2013.  Categorized as an EF5 tornado using the Enhanced Fujita Scale, this is about as bad as it gets: total destruction and devastation.  The irreversible damage to peoples’ lives is unimaginable, and we wish the people of Moore – and its surrounding areas – well with their attempts to rebuild their lives. 

For service businesses and the federal employees who respond to such emergencies, the magnitude of work that is involved in making the environment safe, clearing the destruction, restoring public services, and rebuilding the infrastructure, buildings, and dwellings is unthinkable.  So where do you start?

For many years the Field Service Management software industry has touted the need for accurate demand forecasting and capacity planning with an assortment of alternative scenarios based on the initial baseline plans.  This approach provides a service business with possible outcomes for the future: how busy they could be – and when – alongside the types of work that may need to be completed, and in what volumes giving an indication of how many contractors and crews may need to be mobilized.

But it’s not a precise calculation: who knows exactly when and where disasters of this nature will strike?  In the past seven months, the United States of America was also hit with Superstorm Sandy, which tore up parts of the East Coast – having previously ripped through the Caribbean – leading to widespread destruction in Staten Island and the cancellation of the prestigious New York Marathon.  Who saw that one coming in the years and months before?  Probably no one, so what’s the point of forecasting and planning?

The point is, while vast unpredictability of the Sandy nature cannot necessarily be forecast there is evidence that utilizing these techniques is, in some cases, still somewhat feasible.  Let’s take Moore, Oklahoma as an example: while the events of May 2013 are tragic, this is not the first time that this town has been unfortunate enough to have experienced such ferocious weather and the aftermath that it leaves behind.  In fact, it was the third major tornado to pass through the area since 1999: two EF5s and one EF4.

That area is part of the notorious Tornado Alley and there is always an underlying danger that the next tornado could be “The Big One”.  While the scale and exact timing of the next big tornado cannot be precisely predicted, the response can, and that’s exactly where intelligent Field Service Management and Optimization software can help with responding in the future to accelerate a town’s recovery.

Clearly any service business cannot staff its business to the scale that’s needed in such circumstances – this would be too costly and unwise – however it helps the business to understand the need to build relationships and a network of partners who can be contracted to respond at a moment’s notice.

The image from KFOR TV shows the touchdown and path of the last three major tornados to pass through Moore.  And while the future is uncertain, one thing that can be considered with some degree of certainty is that this unfortunate situation WILL happen again: it’s just a question of time, where planning ahead can make the difference between life and death.

But how many service businesses will adapt and adjust their contingency planning based on what has been learned over the past week?  The aim of this blog is not to challenge or criticize the response to the latest disaster – far from it, huge applause is instead necessary – but just to highlight the role that technology can now play in planning ahead in responding as an even better response helps to save lives.

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