Posted: September 19, 2018
The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.
GVI has expert staff on the ground in 20+ locations around the world, on five different continents, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Many of our bases are situated in villages, town, or cities in the tropical belt, which means they experience annual monsoon seasons, or similarly rough and rainy conditions.
Other bases are situated in areas prone to earth tremors and quakes, particularly those in Latin America.
These events are, of course, beyond anyone’s control. While there are reliable forecasts available, much of the time, dealing with different levels of natural disaster is reactionary.
That’s why we have emergency action plans in place to anticipate most types of natural disasters.
This is also part of the reason why we have our own staff on the ground, and work hard to maintain and grow our relationships with local community members and organizations.
The natural disaster event reviewed in this case study happened at our wildlife conservation base in the jungle village of Huay Pakoot, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
One afternoon, a typical summer storm rolled in from over the horizon: bringing with it thunder, lightning, and heavy winds. Most staff and participants were down by the river in the village of Huay Pakoot with six of the local village children, roughly ten minutes’ drive away from the GVI base.
Only four people were on base: Molly Plexico, GVI’s Regional Director of Southeast Asia, and three other field staff members.
The rain began to come down heavily. The downpour was heavy enough that it made its way into the base.
To ensure as little damage as possible, the three field staff members, Alison, Oliver, and Edmund, moved sensitive equipment from the base and into the adjoining office.
While the staff members were inside the office, the force of the storm pulled the roof off of the base building, and a part of the adjoining office. No one was hurt, but the gusting wind and rain created quite a mess.
Edmund and Oliver went to find participants who were unaccounted for: searching for them at their homestays in the village.
The two participants who weren’t with the rest of the group down by the river were found to be safe and sound in their homestays.
At the same time, Molly called Liane Fulford, the Program Manager for GVI Chiang Mai, to check that everyone was accounted for at the river.
The group of staff and participants were already on their way back to the base accompanied by the local children. They were surprised to hear about the situation at the base.
Once the storm quietened down, the staff on site began to clean up the disarray at the base. Participants were asked to keep away from the base building for the time being, since there were shattered roof tiles everywhere and it was an unsafe environment for them.
The next day, Liane and Root (a Huay Pakoot resident) drove to a nearby town to buy new roof tiles, and other equipment needed to rebuild the roof of the base. Other staff and some local community members continued to tidy up at base.
Soon after, the work to rebuild the roof commenced. By midday, the roof was finished, participants were allowed back on site, and everyone finished up the cleaning and tidying efforts.
Less than 24 hours after the incident, everything was returned to normal, with a brand new roof sitting snuggly on the base building.
Thanks to the teamwork and training of all GVI staff, the situation was assessed quickly and accurately. The safety of participants was established, and an action plan for remedying the situation was swiftly implemented.
If it weren’t for the generous involvement of local community members, it may have taken longer for GVI staff to rebuild the roof on their own.
The help given by the community demonstrated the deep relationships in place between GVI and the community of Huay Pakoot.
As a follow up to the incident, all GVI Chiang Mai staff discussed the incident in their weekly staff meeting. They hoped to learn from it and make any necessary improvements.
In their meeting they decided to implement revisions to ensure that should a similar situation ever happen again, no one is harmed in any of those situations either.
The events of the day were explained to all participants during a debrief that took place on same day as the incident.
Participants were all assured that the new roof would be in place the next day with help from the villagers. That assurance was delivered upon.
The revisions resulting from the staff meeting were as follows. First, staff ensured that everyone on base (staff, participants, community members, and visitor) knew where GVI’s emergency action plans (EAPs) are kept (these are hung up in an easily accessible place).
The following addition was made to these EAPs and risk assessments:
“In the event of a storm, go into the nearest stable or cement building. In base, this place would be downstairs under the building. Following this, make a list of everyone’s name (participants and staff) when they have been accounted for, to ascertain their safety.”
Molly sums up GVI’s commitment to high health and safety standards:
“The health and safety on all of our bases is of extreme importance to GVI. We provide a safe and secure environment for all our participants by requiring all field staff to be trained in Emergency First Response (EFR), including CPR and First Aid, and to have completed an off-site safety training course. Additionally, we hold background checks on file for every member of staff and for every participant that joins our programs.
“On each base, we have location specific risk assessments and emergency actions plans in place, of which all staff and participants are made aware. This means that GVI staff can quickly assess and respond to any level of emergency as we think ahead, evaluate risks, establish control measures, and train our staff to stay calm and focused in order to handle any situation.”