Build Support Systems
Your local and state dental association could be one of your best friends after a catastrophe. When disaster strikes, it is not the time to discover your dues are delinquent or that you have never met key people in the organization. Make yourself known. Partner with other members who may share the same vulnerabilities, or those in other cities who will provide temporary storage and other assistance in the event of an impending storm. Reach out, when you can, to help others. They will be there for you if you need assistance and support.
If you had to call on the local Red Cross, the Salvation Army or other volunteer group for help, would they know who you are? What do you know about them? Give them a call and take time to get acquainted.
Meet with local police and fire officials to discuss available services. It will be helpful if they are familiar with your building location. Make certain your address is easy to see. The numbers on your building may be damaged or blown away in a storm. If they are not painted on nearby curbing, ask if you can do it yourself.
Many local power and communications companies maintain a list of "critical service" locations. Check with your providers to see if you qualify.
One long-term element of crisis management includes after-event public relations. You may have to reach out to your client base, offering services that are not in the forefront of their personal recovery efforts. Get to know at least one local reporter you can call on to write an article that will cast a favorable light on your practice.
From the Front Lines: Dr. Eric Lowenhaupt
Dr. Eric Lowenhaupt lost his Jupiter, Florida orthodontic practice in Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. His story of recovery is both sobering and uplifting. For more than 20 years, he operated out of a leased space, east of I-95, but more than four miles from the ocean. Still, Jeanne’s Category 3 winds tore most of the roof away from the building, allowing heavy rains to soak the interior. Dr. Lowenhaupt described it as, "someone turning fire hoses on all the contents of your building."
He reacted quickly—first crawling through the ceiling of his third floor office onto what remained of the roof, in order to fasten a large, blue tarp over the gaping rafters. Then he scrambled around to find boxes to remove critical patient files. His next target was the computer, which held valuable records.
In retrospect, he says he should not have placed himself in such physical jeopardy, but he was "overcome by this run-in-the-burning-building response" when he saw the absolute devastation the storm caused. Having no better option, he stored the files and computer in his garage and "hoped it didn't all turn to mulch" before he could get it back into a sound building.
He was forced to evacuate the property for almost four months while contractors replaced drywall, wallpaper, cabinetry, flooring and electrical wiring.
He lost his furniture, X-ray equipment and other electrical items.
Dr. Lowenhaupt says he was fortunate to have had strong community ties and good relationships with his local dental community. He operated his practice out of the offices of two local associates who shared time and space with him. He can’t imagine what dental professionals would do if they found themselves in similar circumstances, but without strong support systems. His current patients were understanding and made adjustments along with him, but he estimates he lost 80 percent of potential new business.
Months after the devastation of Hurricane Jeanne, repairs were still being made on, and in, Dr. Lowenhaupt's leased building.
What would he most like to share with FDA & ADA members who fall victim to a major disaster? He admits having a written plan, being better prepared and knowing how to recover would have helped.
It looks as if Dr. Lowenhaupt has given his community much more than 20 years of beautiful smiles.
Understand that your life will be altered. You are not going to have a nice day for a long time. Your old routine—your old life—is gone. You have to cope with the personal, psychological effects. You feel overwhelmed and have a sense of not being sure what to do next. This is normal and you will move on.
– Dr. Eric Lowenhaupt