Five Things Overlooked in Emergency Feeding (and Planning)
Planning & Management
Written by Keith Brown   

Providing hot, wholesome meals during times of need is one of the most rewarding experiences of working in the food service industry. Yet the reality is that disasters of any kind, be it hurricanes, tornadoes or even floods, present their own distinct challenges.

For starters, there are logistical concerns: the population density, communication issues, local and governmental relations, and product supply. Then there are safety concerns: Are the roads passable? What are the conditions like? Will there be electricity? Since you can’t always predict when and where a disaster will occur, success lies in preparation.

Here’s a list of the biggest challenges one might often face:

1. Communication

Stay connected. Text messaging generally serves as the best form of communication, especially when power lines are down. In many cases, text messages will get through when calls may not because texting uses smaller pulses of data. In any event, two-way communication is a must at all times, and you might even consider satellite phones as a necessary alternative.

Think about your internal plan. It’s a good idea to establish an emergency website for employees to access pertinent information like updates on affected storm areas, unit closings, contact information and feeding locations. Another way to keep connected is to establish a toll-free line where employees can receive updates and leave current status.

2. Access Challenges

How will your employees get through to the feeding site? Traffic, road closures, badges and curfews – these all need to be taken into consideration. Coordinating ahead of time with state and local authorities is highly recommended, as they will be in charge of issuing access badges. Ideally, you will also need these contacts for daily information regarding road closures and the safest entry routes.

How will you coordinate restocking supplies? If you are going to serve food for more than a day or two at a time, be aware of any curfews. It’s critical that your suppliers are able to get through. Pay attention to exit/entry times (if they apply) and ensure that your vendors are also informed. As circumstances change, so should your emergency plan. Because local supplies will be in high demand, make sure your contact list includes national distributors too.

3. Local Relationships

An integral part of developing local relationships is understanding who gives the orders. Who is in charge? Who will approve your orders? These key authorities should be identified well in advance, and conversations should begin within 24 to 48 hours of an impending storm. Once a storm hits, communication may be limited. The time to gather your local and state contact info is now.

4. Housing + Transportation

Location, location, location. Once a hurricane is predicted to hit the U.S. coast, hotels will book up fast. Reserving rooms immediately is imperative, and it might be necessary to search for hotels miles away, depending on the size of the storm. For tornadoes and floods, it’s much harder to plan. Bringing RVs in from outside the affected area is another possible solution if housing is needed.

What about fuel? If the power lines are down, local resources may not be available. For large capacity feedings up to 100,000, the ability to refuel is a must. Team leaders should generate a list of fuel suppliers. You never know how long it might take for power to be restored.

5. Team Leaders

Your emergency feedings will need one key person designated to make decisions. In the event that you have multiple shelters serving simultaneously across several areas, you really need someone thinking about tomorrow and beyond. Do you have enough product and supplies? Is there enough staff coverage? Who will keep in touch with local authorities? As for personnel, consider staffing your emergency feeding with individuals who live outside the affected area. The fewer personal distractions, the better.

Practice. Update. Prepare.

Once you have created an Emergency Feeding Plan, it’s important to review it two to three times a year. In many cases, it’s possible that you may be the only food option available. People will be counting on you. Having updated contacts is the most important aspect of being ready at a moment’s notice.

Continue to refine your list. Check for unexpected problems. And look for new technologies to help improve areas of communication. Even in post-disaster conditions and under very difficult circumstances, you will find that many of these challenges can be overcome with careful, proactive planning.

Finally, hurricane season begins every June. So the time to prepare is now.


About The Author:

Keith Brown is the Vice President of Piccadilly Food Service and has more than 28 years of experience in the food service industry in both full-service restaurants and cafeterias. His expertise ranges from every level in the field to corporate office settings, including Operations, Training, Food Service and Emergency Service divisions. He can be reached at or (225) 296-8335. For more information, visit