Disaster Planning 101

Between the pandemic, murder hornets, wildfires, destructive hurricanes, and more, the past year has proven to be a hectic one, to say the least. If there is anything we can take away from all of this it’s that we need to make sure we are prepared for everything. Although disaster planning is a major endeavor and there are many hazards and risks to take into consideration, this blog should give you a good starting point for doing so. Here are some ways you can prepare to handle any crisis that threatens your nutrition program:

Audit Your Potential Situations

Take the time to build a list of any situation that could pose a threat to your area and impact your operations. This includes events that may not have happened yet, but could. Once you’ve identified these scenarios, rank them by the potential level of impact in your schools or department. It helps to categorize them by the type of scenario and the probability of it actually happening. Is your potential situation an act of nature or an intentional or unintentional act caused by someone? Is the safety and wellbeing of staff and students at risk? Consider some of the following threats to your program:

  • Weather: Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, winter storms, earthquakes, etc.
  • Industry: Hazardous materials spill, nuclear plant emergency, dam/levee breach, contamination, etc.
  • Health: Pandemics, disease outbreak, and food recalls
  • Policy: Anything that could impact your funding or the ability to serve meals to students
  • Acts of violence: Terrorism, intruders (distraught parent, staff, or student), protests, and political unrest

When you’re done, begin to think about how you will respond to each situation. 

Create Key Messages

Be prepared to communicate during any crisis, whether it be with students and their families, your team, or with the public. Key messages should address the situation and your response. When building your messages, the following general questions should be answered:

  • What is the crisis?
  • Was anyone harmed?
  • Have damages been assessed?
  • Who is affected?
  • How is the crisis being resolved?
  • Why did the crisis occur?
  • Where did the crisis occur?
  • Where can more information be accessed?
  • How can this crisis be prevented in the future?

Identify Key Contacts

Once you’ve created your key messages, you need to identify contacts to relay these messages and make decisions when needed. Contacts should also include people with the skills needed to resolve a problem. This should include some of the following:

  • State agency
  • Superintendent
  • USDA
  • School principal
  • Food Service/Nutrition Director
  • Fire & Police Department
  • Local Media Outlets
  • Any related committees

Assemble Supplies & Resources

Gather any supplies you might need for various disaster types and have these emergency response kits prepared before disaster strikes. Determine what needs to be in the kit based on your emergency scenario assessments. Your resources should be accessible digitally and physically in the event you find yourself working in a different location than normal. Save any important documents to an easy-to-access cloud, and print them to keep in a binder! Supplies and resources can include, but are not limited to:


  • Office supplies
  • Batteries
  • First Aid Kit
  • Necessary Electronics (Phones and phone chargers, Computers, Printers, Flashlights, Portable Generators)
  • Important document (Rosters, Medical Release Forms, Household Contact Information)


It’s important to remember that no matter how much you plan, life can throw curveballs at us that we don’t expect. The best we can do is plan for any situation and be as prepared as possible. Talk to your team, establish your plan, and revisit it as needed. You got this!