Strategic Thinking Activity: Disaster Preparedness

As an ominous winter storm approaches the East coast today, disaster preparedness and strategic thinking are on my mind.

Are you prepared for the worst case scenario? On a scale of 1-10, how ready are you for a natural disaster, home fire, disruption of technology, or even a car breakdown?

Preparing for a disaster requires foresight and an evaluation of assumptions that are key to strategic thinking. Often, disaster plans fall short because we’ve made poor, unchecked assumptions about exactly what the worst case scenario might entail. How do you plan for an ambiguous, hypothetical, future scenario?

As an example, one year for my birthday my father gave me a big tote box full of “survival” supplies in to keep in my car in case of emergencies. He included the kinds of things you expect like jumper cables, flares, Fix-a-Flat for the tires, matches, a flashlight, etc. But I was baffled by some of the other items he included such as Gatorade, beef jerkey, candles, kitty litter, sneakers, and a back-up battery for my phone. As I immediately started snacking on the beef jerkey, he explained that you never know how long you could be stranded if your car breaks down in a remote area. How far will you have to walk? How cold will it be? What if you have no cell phone battery? You have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. I laughed and thought “How long could you possibly get stranded?” The very next day there was a report of a family that went looking for a Christmas tree, drifted into a snow bank, and were stranded in their vehicle for 4 days. I bet they wished they had some beef jerkey and Gatorade. In 2011 a woman was stranded in her car for 7 weeks before being rescued. How many days worth of food/water do you have in your car?

How often do you think about and plan for the worst case scenario?

  • When you stay at a hotel, do you look at the emergency evacuation floor plan? Would you remember how to get to the stairwell if the hall was filled with smoke and you couldn’t see more than 2 feet in front of you as you crawl on your hands and knees?
  • If there was a fire on the main floor of your house, how would you get to safety from either the basement or upper floor?
  • If there was a financial collapse and credit/debit cards stopped working, how much cash do you have on hand right now?
  • Do you have non-perishable items that could sustain you if you were without power for over a week? And, do you have a non-electric can opener (I just realized that I don’t)?
  • How much gas do you have in your car right now? How far could that take you? What if gas stations had an outage?
  • How many days/weeks of medicine do you have on hand right now?
  • If cell phone towers were knocked out, how would you contact someone for help?
  • If the water system was tainted, how many gallons of water do you have in your home right now?

As an exercise in strategic thinking, pick out one potential disaster scenario such as an extreme weather event or technological failure, and think through what the worst case scenario would look like.

What do you need to do to prepare?

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

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