Now is the Time to Start Planning for the Next Disaster – 33 Questions

Raise your hand if you’re exhausted from this disaster. My hand is raised high. We’re in the middle of something challenging and we don’t know when it will end. How y’all holding up? If you need to stop reading to go take care of yourself or someone else please take time to do that. We need to take care of ourselves.


Image: Are You Prepared, 33 questions to ask before the next emergency through, a race lens. Water background w/ red banner text

In conversations with colleagues throughout the week, I’ve been trying to press upon others that we as nonprofits do a good job of responding to emergencies. It is our jam – we see a need and we’re the first ones to jump in to say, “We got this.” It is what we are doing with COVID19. When schools closed, nonprofit partners were on the front lines of asking “how do we get kids fed?” “how do we organize to help?”

While we are still in the middle of this current long extended crisis, I think we need to start planning for the next crisis. It might seem overwhelming to think about the next crisis and if you aren’t in a place to do that, don’t worry – stop reading and go watch Kim’s Convenience Store on Netflix. Save this post for when you’re ready.

The Next Emergency

We know there will be another crisis. An earthquake or hurricane will sweep through, wildfires will happen, a recession will happen (maybe sooner rather than later), a flu epidemic, etc. As a community, we will respond, but the question is can we respond smarter, more compassionately, and with stronger attention to racial equity. Now is the time to start shoring up our fraying systems to do better. Some of the questions directly address race, some don’t but I hope you’ll still consider the racial implications of all of them.

33 Questions to Prep for the Future, or now:

  1. Who do you trust at this moment? Why do you trust them?
  2. Who trust you right now? Why? (Think about race, class, language, disability, geography, etc.)
  3. Who do you need to build stronger more trusting relationships with for the future?
  4. Who’s basic needs are at risk of not being met because of an emergency, demographics of this group? Do they have your trust?
  5. What communication systems are in place to reach out to people who may need something from you?
  6. Have you invested in multiple forms of communication tools to be able to reach staff, clients, etc.?
  7. Where do you share information? Is it accessible to those who need to reach those most vulnerable?
  8. Does your team know how to reach each other in various forms of communication?
  9. Who has access to your social-media channels to share information? What languages do they speak?
  10. Do you know how families and clients like to receive communication (it may not be social media or technology-based).
  11. Can you reach your non-English speaking clients and staff easily?
  12. Can you communicate with your families who do not have technology access? Do you know who they are without them showing up at your school, center(s), or organization’s physical location?
  13. Should a family/client become displaced because of a natural disaster or economic circumstances, can you still find them and communicate with them during a recovery phase? Is there trust between you and the family where they would reach out to ask for help?
  14. Have you invested in translation services and captioning services?
  15. Who has access to technology? What are the demographics of this group?
  16. Who is paying for their tech access out of pocket versus company/organization sponsored?
  17. When have you last invested in technology update and upgrades? Is it evenly distributed across the organization?
  18. Who is working in public facing jobs? What is the plan for them when work stoppages during the next emergency – can they continue to be compensated? What are the demographics of this group?
  19. Where is sensitive client and staff information stored? Can you access it without physically going to the office?
  20. Who has access to sensitive client information? What barriers can be reduced to make sure people can reach those who need them in an emergency?
  21. Have you asked your funders how they plan on helping in emergencies? What are their plans?
  22. How can funders, including government contracts, be reworked to respond to emergencies?
  23. If you are a funder, what are you doing to invest in planning and response for future emergencies? How are community of color organizations included in this planning and funding response? Community of color organizations are often the first to respond to their own communities, and often the most underfunded to begin with.
  24. How are you practicing transparency before and during an emergency and recovery phase?
  25. If you are distributing resources, how are you being transparent with the process? Is it a community of color (including from recipients) informed process?
  26. Have you looked at your race and ethnicity client and staff data in choosing how to respond to COVID19 and other emergencies? It is easy to respond, it is harder to slow down and think through how to respond with race and ethnicity data but your response will be better.
  27. Stress test your processes, a.k.a. practice. Take a day to practice working remotely before an emergency (h/t James L. for this one). If you identify needs during the stress test, spend organizational resources (i.e. money) to remediate the problems, don’t put the burden on employees or clients.
  28. Do tabletop exercises asking what would happen if an emergency happens, what is the chain of communication to reach people. What are the lines of succession if one person can’t be reached?
  29. Multiple people within an organization should have relationships with communities of color, are those relationship in place?
  30. Invite partners, especially partners who work with communities of color, into these planning conversations.
  31. When was the last time your office practiced a fire, earthquake, storm drill? Do you know how to communicate with guest and clients who may be in the building but don’t speak English or may have a disability that makes it harder to understand instructions or physically navigate the office?
  32. How will you take care of the most vulnerable – kids, elders, disabled? What conversations are you having with them so their needs are known and to help them retain autonomy and self-determination during an emergency?
  33. How will you take care of yourself so you can take care of others?
  34. BONUS – Does your office have an ongoing adequate supply of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and snacks? Always have good snacks, and remember you need to rotate the snacks so feed people during those prep meetings.

This is a starter list, I could go on, but I will stop here. If you have questions to add, please email so I can track them and possibly add them to a future list.

Be safe and stay home.

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