Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for an Emergency Part I or What Would You Do If Zombies Came?

July 2, 2014

Guest Blog by Gayle Carney, Owner, Center for Community Technology Services and Member of Maryland Nonprofits

A couple of months ago our building lost power. Without air conditioning in our sever room, the equipment had to be shut down before it melted down. Staff couldn’t access files and internet connectivity was interrupted. Remote staff had to be notified.  And of course, a major proposal was due that day.  All ended well. Nonprofit staff are great at managing a crisis and this day was no exception; however little time is left for planning and preparation. With this incident fresh in our minds, we’ve started the process of planning for the worst – and we’re inviting you to join us in creating your own Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP).


It seems someone at the CDC had the clever idea that a Zombie invasion was about as bad as things could get—and if you are ready for that, you’d be ready for just about anything. They built an entire public awareness campaign around the concept. So queue up “Night of the Living Dead” on Netflix and come along with us. We’ll share what we’re learning, resources and templates, chunk down our process and list some action steps at the end of each article.

We began by looking for a good model to “borrow” and found our friends at The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG) had done extensive work in this area stewarded by Elisabeth Hyleck, Manager of Special Projects. Their research and meetings with experts in the field of disaster recovery resulted in the “Emergency Plan Template for Foundations” a planning handbook for their members and grantees. We are finding it to be an excellent guide to the issues we should address in our own planning. With their permission and an aversion to reinventing the wheel, we are modifying and using it as the basis for our plan. We will share excerpts and our final version with you as it unfolds.

Here’s how we’re starting our EAP and COOP planning. We pulled together a small team and assigned some tasks and deadlines for drafting our plan. This team will do the heavy lifting and engage other staff as needed.

Task 1 – We identified what is important enough to us to plan for (should Zombies invade.) Our list includes:
• Communication and coordination strategies in an emergency situation
• Continuing mission-critical operations and service delivery: facilities and equipment, staffing, access to critical information and important documents
• Ensuring our employees are personally prepared for emergencies
• Ensuring our constituents (you) are well- prepared for emergencies

Task 2  – This discussion is leading to a formal disaster mission statement that will articulate our role in a disaster.. In this presentation California Volunteers suggest:
“Your Disaster Mission considers how you will prioritize your agency’s outreach to your staff, clients and community after a (major) disaster and with limited resources.”

Task 3 – We realized we couldn’t make plans to protect what we’re not sure we’ve got – or at least where it is. We set about documenting everything –  staff contact information, processes and systems, equipment, software (desktop and subscriptions,) passwords, credit card information, bank accounts and critical documents. We will make sure it is all stored securely offsite.

What? Just don’t relate to Zombies? No worries. The entertainment industry has provided us with endless analogies for how horribly wrong things can go—and in an effort inject some levity throughout a series of articles on this “not-the-most-interesting-topic,” we’ll keep trying to see if one speaks to you.

Next Time:  We’ll share some of the easy-to-implement resources we found that will help your staff in and out of the office.

Gayle Carney is a “Nonprofit Technology Whisperer” and principal consultant/owner of CCTS. By the way, she hates zombie movies.