Performance Architecture: Paradise Lost

In 2018, there were more than 23 major disasters – fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, cyclones, dust storms – worldwide (Slocum, p.1). As we write this there are 8 active fires in the state of California, down from 17 a week ago. Three have set records with increasing winds spreading the flames. At least 81 people have died and more than 200,000 acres have burned around the state. More than 870 people are unaccounted for. Fourteen thousand structures, mostly homes, have been destroyed. And these numbers will continue to rise. The lovely mountain town of Paradise in the Sierra foothills is no more.

On October 19, 1991 the authors were at a birthday celebration for our boss in a park in the hills of Oakland, California. It was a hot, dry day with lots of wind. A fire began nearby and grew to become the Oakland Firestorm of 1991 (Oakland Firestorm of 1991). Carol lived in the area and rushed home to check on the house and her cat. She packed her car, put the cat in a carrier, and watched the skies. The fire raged on for five days. Carol and her neighbors stayed up overnight in shifts so they could warn each other if they had to evacuate. It was a tense time for all the residents of the hills.

Ultimately, Carol’s neighborhood was not affected, while many others were, and everyone learned a lesson in disaster preparedness. Today’s wildfires are larger, hotter, and move much faster. We no longer have the luxury of responding in the moment but must always be prepared.

RSVP Can Guide Us

As Performance Architects investigating a problem or opportunity, we use RSVP. This model is effective in disaster planning. It requires us to:

  • Focus on Results – personal survival, saving our homes, safe-guarding critical possessions
  • Take a Systems view – the planning process is a system involving family, friends, neighbors, first responders
  • Create Value for the client/recipients – a comprehensive plan that is carefully designed increases the chances of achieving the desired results
  • Establish Partnerships to deliver the desired outcomes – partner with family members, friends, neighbors, local emergency services

Keep RSVP in mind as you consider the process of preparing for the worst.

Disaster Preparedness

No matter where we live in the world, we risk experiencing a flood, typhoon, earthquake, or other disaster. The more prepared we are to manage on our own in our homes, or as evacuees, the better the long term outcome for our families and for us.

Naturally, we strive to prevent disasters in the first place. Failing that, having a detailed plan in place is the best way to ensure our personal survival should the unthinkable happen. Disaster preparedness is a proactive process engineered to save lives. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits.

From the Front Lines: Hurricane Michael – October 11, 2018

“Hurricane Michael was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure…” (Hurricane Michael).

Our colleague, Dr. Roger Kaufman, is a long-term resident of Tallahassee, Florida. He and his wife have experienced other storms over the years. He graciously agreed to answer some questions about their experience with Hurricane Michael:

Carol & Roger: What is one piece of advice you would give to others based on your recent disaster experience?

Roger Kaufman: Don’t mess with Mother Nature. She is strong, powerful, and unforgiving. Like any other potential disaster, take it seriously, and focus on Mega: focus on survival, and then quality of life (Kaufman, Addison, Kearny).

C & R: What was the biggest surprise you experienced during the storm?

RK: How seriously damaging it was. Although the eye was 90 miles away, hitting at 2 mph below Category 5, its impact, especially on ‘our’ left side was hurricane force winds. Tallahassee lost over 1000 trees and 98% of people lost power.

C & R: What planning did you do that really paid off when the storm hit?

RK: Looked at all possible breakdowns. Had water and non-perishable food. Knowing our generator could fail (as it did once in the past) we made sure our cell phones stayed charged and had a ‘lipstick’ recharger. We had our trees inspected to remove all at-risk items.

C & R: What have you done/will you do differently in preparation for the next storm or disaster?

RK: We survived, but what we did kept us safe.

C & R: How did you alter your daily lives during the storm?

RK: We had many fewer creature comforts and did have some access to news reports and some intermittent Internet.

C & R: How did your neighbors help each other?

RK: Wonderfully. We stored frozen foods for others, had one park under our vacant carport, helped them charge their electronics, and one neighbor appeared and cut up our huge limbs that had fallen. One of our City commissioners kept people up-to-date on power restoration and spent 20 hours a day taking ice, food, and water to the elderly and infirm. People were heroes.

C & R: Clearly, past experience with storms played a role here. But even if we do not have a personal history with disaster survival, we can take away good ideas from the experiences of others and translate them into a plan to meet our own needs and circumstances.

Resources: Planning and Information

We queried colleagues in other countries about their town’s resources in a disaster. We were surprised that our contacts in many parts of the world had no knowledge of disaster planning resources in their locations.

We learned that both China and Sweden have government-managed central information portals on the Web. Unfortunately, there is no English translation for the Chinese website and the Swedish site, while extensive, does not appear to discuss how individual citizens can prepare for a disaster.

With such a limited international response, we turned to colleagues in other U.S. states to learn what information they can access. As one might expect, states with a history of significant natural disasters provide their citizens with lots of advance information as well as in-the-moment updates during an emergency.

Boca Raton, Florida, a coastal community, is one example. Their Emergency Management website provides information about developing an emergency plan and creating an emergency supply kit. It has an informative video about hurricane preparedness along with access to other information (My Boca).

Grand Traverse County, Michigan has a comprehensive website for disaster information and communication. It emphasizes the importance of citizens signing up for emergency notifications during a disaster. There are detailed instructions for creating a family response plan with lists of considerations for staying at home or evacuating, as well as suggestions for what to do if you are at work or school when disaster strikes (Grand Traverse County).

Here in northern California, there are numerous web sites and an array of publications to raise citizen awareness and provide focused information and resources for a variety of potential disasters. A recent supplement to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper presents information in three sections: Prepare, React, Recover. It covers wildfires, house fires, earthquakes, floods, and chemical spills with detailed checklists and related resources (Preparing for Disaster).

Locally, as in our Michigan example, citizens are encouraged to sign up for emergency notification text messages and phone calls from sources such as Nixle which sends alerts specific to one’s county of residence (Nixle – Contra Costa County).

In the U.S., there are a number of valuable resources for residents of every state. One we find particularly well organized and complete is the government’s Ready Campaign.

Ready Campaign

“Ready is a National public service campaign designed to educate and empower the American people to prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergencies, including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to promote preparedness through public involvement.” (Ready Campaign)

Information available on the Ready website covers what to do for a range of emergencies and disasters. Some examples:

  • Wildfires
  • Winter weather
  • Power outages
  • Hurricanes
  • Active shooter
  • Flooding
  • Emergency alerts
  • Financial preparedness
  • Make and practice your plan

Make a Plan

A disaster plan should contain a number of components. To build a family/household plan:

  • Collect information for both paper and digital storage
  • Share paper copies of the plan with all family members and ensure they always have a copy of the plan with them
  • Practice the plan

FEMA, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides a detailed list of what to include (Family Communication Plan). Some examples:

  • Household Information
    • Telephone numbers and email addresses for all household members
    • Plans in place for children’s schools, caregivers, adults’ workplaces
  • Phone numbers for emergency services, utilities, medical providers, veterinarians, insurance companies
  • Out of town/state central contact for all family members
  • Emergency meeting places
    • In the neighborhood
    • Out of the neighborhood
    • Out of town – in case of evacuation

There is guidance for practicing the plan with family members and discussing it with neighbors and friends so everyone is informed and prepared.


Emergency agencies recommend stockpiling supplies in the event of an emergency:

  • Supplies you keep in your home in case of extended power outages, shelter-in-place directives, or events that may leave you and your family on your own for 7-20 days
  • Go Bag—one for each member of your household and for your pets
  • What to keep in your car

Home Supplies – 7-10 Days Per Person

Store these items in a single location within your home or in an outdoor shed or storage area on your property:

  • Water – 2 gallons/day per person
  • Non-perishable foods – those that require no refrigeration, preparation, cooking and little or no water that you know your family will eat
  • Manual can opener, eating utensils, paper plates, glasses, napkins, paper towels, soap, sanitary supplies
  • Vitamins and other medications
  • Cash, as ATMs may not be available
  • 2 changes of clothing per person
  • Shoes
  • Flashlight
  • Multiple cell phone chargers
  • NOAA (wind-up) AM radio
  • Blankets
  • Wrench to shut off the gas at the gas meter

Go Bag

Be ready to run on short notice. Pack a Go Bag for each household member. A backpack or small suitcase works best. Include:

  • Basic electronics – phone charger, portable battery pack, LED flashlight, NOAA AM radio
  • List the toiletries you use every day and buy a travel-sized version of each
  • Extra eyeglasses
  • First aid kit
  • Baby wipes
  • Multi-purpose tool with a knife and can opener
  • 2 days of clothes you can layer, light weight rain gear, boots
  • 3 days worth of medications
  • On a thumb drive: copies of birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security and Medicare cards, power of attorney, will/trust, marriage, adoption, naturalization certificates, proof of address, insurance, etc.
  • Food and drink – bottled water, energy bars
  • Cash – enough for a few days, a roll of quarters, small bills
  • Whistle – if you are trapped in a building use it to let people know you are there
  • Dust/pollution mask
  • Pet food, medications, toys, water bowl

Store Go Bags where they are easy to grab at the last minute if you have to leave (Grab and Go).

In Your Car

Keep these items in your car in case you are on the road when disaster strikes:

  • 3 gallons of water for 3 days
  • Energy bars for 3 days, about 1000 calories/day
  • Water filter, or water purification tablets – for longer than 3 days
  • NOAA radio
  • Flashlight
  • Cell phone charger for car
  • Emergency model blanket
  • Tube tent
  • Toilet tissue
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Multi-tool knife with can opener, screwdriver
  • Poncho
  • Candle, waterproof matches
  • 50 feet of rope
  • Work gloves
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Smoke/dust mask
  • Instant hand warmers (Fagan)

Now Its Your Turn

Planning for the many aspects of a possible disaster is a critical process for all of us. Take this opportunity to begin your preparations or to revisit the plans you’ve made. Check on supplies you’ve stored and add or replenish as needed.

Do you have a disaster preparedness plan? Have you stored emergency supplies? Are the members of your household knowledgeable about what to do? Or, are you prepared but have not reviewed your plan or checked your supplies recently? Answer these questions to help identify how you can be better prepared for a disaster:

  • What particular disasters are threats where you live?
  • What are local emergency resources available to you?
  • Are you registered with local emergency agencies?
  • How complete is your preparedness plan? What adjustments are needed?
  • Have you and your household members practiced using your plan?
  • What is the state of your emergency supplies? Do they need a review and an update?
  • Do you have Go Bags for everyone?
  • What supplies are in your car?

Yes, there is much to consider, gather, and organize. But once you have done the work, it will be easy to revisit your plan and supplies and update as needed. Let us hope there is never a need to put your preparations to use.


With the unimaginable devastation from the Camp fire in northern California and the recent examples worldwide of super storms of all kinds, people everywhere are aware that they, too, could be caught up in a natural disaster. We know that being prepared saves lives during a disaster and have compiled advice from experts to guide you in making a plan for your household. There are suggested lists of what to include should you be in your home without power for several days as well as what to keep ready in a Go Bag if you have to leave in a hurry. Assuming you have room in your car, there are suggestions about emergency supplies to have with you at all times. We suggest you revisit existing plans and supplies and update them. If you have not yet considered what you would do if a disaster strikes, the information here can help you get started on a plan.




City of Boca Raton Emergency Management. Emergency management.

Fagan, K. Car survival kit for natural disasters.

Family communication plan.

Grand Traverse County emergency management & homeland security agency.

Hurricane Michael.

Kaufman, R., Addison, R., Kearny, L. (2018). Three vital questions for mega planning and two possible approaches to answering them appropriately. Performance Improvement, 57, 66-70, doi: 10.1002/pfi.21794

Nixle – Contra Costa County.

Oakland Firestorm of 1991.

Preparing for a disaster. (2018). San Francisco Chronicle.


Rossen, J. (2017). Packing your emergency preparedness kit.

Shannon, V. (2018). Safety first – how to prepare for a natural disaster.

Slocum, L. Worst natural disasters 2018.

Swedish Civil Contingency Agency:

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees' performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture.

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