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Proactive Disaster Meal Planning and Coordination

Updated: May 10, 2022

Not having disaster meal planning in place has devastated small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) most as they have fewer resources. Globally, disasters are happening with more and more frequency and with higher cost to life and businesses. The supply chain in the foodservice industry in the United States is stressed. Over the years FEMA's reactions in the aftermath of natural disasters have become increasingly complex and now include emergency preparedness plans. During the Covid-19 pandemic, even more financial worries have surfaced. Even large, high-reliability organizations (HROs) such as hospitals, in the many “at-risk” areas of the U.S., have been equally affected.

This document borrows ideas from hospitals and other HROs to inspire additional thinking in SMB leaders and their teams. Planning involves all levels of government, community agencies, and volunteers from charitable organizations. It even includes small teams within the business communities wishing to upgrade their own survivability through disaster events. And most hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospices, longterm care facilities, and retirement communities all have some requirement for food service and therefore disaster meal planning. However, few SMBs have taken on a comprehensive plan to meet the real-world demands of the probable threats in their own town.

How many small businesses are involved in locally planned drills? Disaster plans and disaster meal plans are expected to include as much local support as possible. Information from practice drills or real disasters are used to identify and address challenges to improve plans. In reality, few local businesses are invited to participate, leaving the planning to government professionals to take care of it all. After all, we rationalize, isn’t that where some of our tax dollars should go?

For businesses wishing to have a higher recovery rate, how can they coordinate with state and local disaster-planning professionals? Can SMBs increase their chances of survival and be less dependent upon FEMA lines? How might they work to improve communication with their immediate community, and establish evacuation processes and routes? Can they identify community volunteer assistance and coordination of those willing and able to help?

What would a collaborative community look like that demonstrates proactive involvement and dedicated citizens showing up as a unified force?

Individual businesses are petitioning their local towns for such involvement and interaction. Meanwhile, there are steps to take on our own or with neighboring businesses to help each other.

Here is what that may look like.

  1. Work with Use their HVA (Hazards Vulnerability Analysis) tools to identify the hazards that may affect your food supply chain.

  2. Go category by category, one probability at a time. Give each potential hazard a name, priority, and description or likely affected area. E.g., “Floods, Priority 5,” and “5-mile flood plains of the Mississippi River.”

  3. Develop a team within your business that will come up with the process and procedures for having everyone remain safe. Create a communications protocol that includes how people will stay in touch and who will contact whom? What if cell service is down? Is there a backup communication plan? List the names and contact information for specific individuals for police and fire services. Include emergency supply vendors and other agencies that are designated to be of assistance in your area. In some cases, local churches, schools, and other institutional buildings may be of use.

  4. What does the first 24 hours look like? How about 72 hours? What if the emergency last longer? What are the supplies and supports needed for businesses and at the individual level depending on the expected duration?

  5. Once a plan is in place that identifies the likely issues in your area, create and run through a practice drill. Do it at least annually. Take notes on what worked and didn’t work from the drill. Make improvements and run it again.

  6. Update the plan to include new leaders and others involved so that everyone has the best chance of supporting themselves. Increase the chance of being supported for the planned duration of the emergency.

  7. Find and connect with local disaster planners and do your best to make it a collaborative effort.

Disaster Meal Planning Guidelines

Focus on Healthcare Industry Food Service

Below are some general guidelines for healthcare industry professionals to consider as they develop their disaster protocols.

As people’s lives are at stake in the healthcare system, especially in times of emergencies, its structure can assist other businesses. It can serve as a model for developing effective emergency and disaster plans. Because it is complex and critical to patient survival, the healthcare structure is useful as a thinking tool. Some aspects of this guideline will spark ideas that are helpful, and some may not be relevant. Please adapt and customize it for your personal and business situation appropriately.

  • Designate an individual who is willing to bring people together to discuss local threats, critical workers, and caloric needs. The goal is to maintain business at an appropriate level before, during, and after the probable threats in your area.

  • Choose who is going to be served and at what level. Do you include patients, doctors, nurses, sanitation staff, patient visitors, and first responders such as EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers?

  • Is your facility likely to be used as a triage center? In that case, there maybe additional community members coming for care and food support? They may even be bringing their pets!

  • Based upon historical and projected disruptive events in your area, determine the duration for which you need to prepare.

  • In many cases your day-to-day foodservice support contracts will not be reliable. This is why disaster meal planning is necessary. On-time delivery during emergencies is null and void as they fall under Force Majeure. Therefore, you must anticipate the needs of your determined population in advance. Store the right amount of shelf-stable food to sustain them at the appropriate caloric level.

  • Coordinate with the team responsible for the availability of water and power. This is to ensure additional life support resources are readily available. Work together to coordinate estimated needs and population served.

  • At minimum, residential care facilities should stock enough food products to last 72 hours. Hospitals should consider an inventory of food products to last 96 hours.

  • Have a plan in place for water emergencies at a gallon per day per person. Identify a source for or a way to manufacture potable water should there be a loss of water supply.

  • See that backup power prioritizes:

-Refrigeration and freezers

-Range hoods

-Stoves, ovens, and steamers

  • Maintain a current copy of your insurance policy with your disaster plan in printed and digital form. Determine what will be covered in a disaster so that you know what records to maintain regarding food, supplies, and equipment before they are destroyed. Keep photos of food, supplies, and equipment that could be destroyed by a disaster. They should be kept on file in a remote (cloud) location for insurance purposes.

  • Establish a recovery plan stating your part in restoring operations in terms of feeding patients, staff, and first responders.


  • If possible, make it a requirement to store water and filtration, food, and sanitation items onsite. Maintain an accurate inventory and rotate supplies using FIFO (first in–first out) system to ensure expiration dates are tracked.

  • Coordinate with security to safeguard food products as part of the facility security plan.

  • Review the maintenance schedule for food refrigeration equipment.

  • Designate only qualified staff in the refrigerated areas.

  • Have a contract in place for emergency delivery, refueling, and use of refrigerated trucks. These are critical temporary measures should facility power go down.

  • Have a contract in place for emergency food delivery to fulfill various predetermined scenarios should supply chain disruption become imminent.

  • Develop worst-case scenarios anticipating requirements for rationing food and water should plans fail. What will be the rationing priority to keep the facility running? What will need to be conserved? How many meals per day can be cut and for whom? Your disaster meal planning will help here.

  • Coordinate with a facilities manager to be assured there are ways to heat food and boil water.

  • Work with the IT department to be assured all the work you have done to create this plan is securely backed up. Make sure it's readily retrievable, and shareable during an emergency.

  • Current printed copies should be made and disseminated to the appropriate people.

  • Assure the communication protocol between key staff including contact information for staff, food vendors, and other suppliers.

  • Consider what additional disaster meal planning needs need to be developed should outside resources become unavailable.


  • Store cutlery based on the number of people and meals required for the anticipate duration.

  • If water is not available or being rationed, keep hand sanitizers readily available before and after all meals.

  • Heating and cooking pots and pans need cleaned as well. Prep supplies for this.

  • Coordinate with those responsible for waste disposal to make sure a plan is in place. The plan should handle additional burden from onsite food waste. Include prep materials, cleaning, trash, and cutlery in waste estimations.

Planning a Disaster Menu

  • Nationwide, not all healthcare facilities have a 7-day disaster plan or menu with a nutrient analysis. Request your food supplier provide a disaster menu that includes a complete nutritional analysis.

  • Once a menu is developed for probable emergencies, work with your food supplier. This is to assure that predetermined menu and quantities you have created can be and will be fulfilled. And within the required lead-time.

  • Refer to the sample 3-day disaster menu as a guide in planning the required 7-day emergency menu.

  • Priority needs to be given to perishables such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy to be consumed first. This helps decrease loss of food. That way, additional energy burden to the facility, is quickly alleviated.

  • Items of second priority would be those needing cooking or heating. If there is a loss of water or power, these food items may not be edible.

  • Take care to note special dietary needs such as food allergies. Make sure there is a plan in place to accommodate for those needs. However, it may not be feasible during an emergency to care for all dietary needs.

  • Some patients may require enteral nutrition (tube feeding) or parenteral nutrition (venous feeding). Infant formulas may also be needed.

  • Emergency situations have different effects on different people causing lower or higher caloric intake depending on activity level. This effects the need for calories and water consumption. Consider erring on the high side of your estimations.

The example below is of a 3-day menu which has average intake requirements of 2250 calories per day, 68 grams or more of protein, and 25 grams of fiber. It may be suitable for doctors, nurses, and other support staff for this duration.

For meal options see the Secure Foods Store for our 72h, 7 day, 14 day and 30 day meal kits.



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