Organized emergency may seem like an oxymoron but if you are prepared, even an emergency can be orchestrated well enough to avoid chaos. One of the first things we’re told in a crisis is not to panic. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many people do. It’s not that the situation isn’t dire, but when people feel out of control and ill-prepared, anxiety rises and panic can ensue.
Planning is critical. Practice is a must. An old military adage, often referred to as “The 6 Ps of Success,” is “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” This can hold true for just about anything in life, including an emergency. The more you plan in advance, the more likely you will be able to withstand whatever comes your way.
Of course, we can’t predict, and therefore plan, for absolutely everything. Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 taught us that. But there are a few steps companies can take to put employees’ minds at ease to know a well-thought out plan is in place.
Step 1: Assess your risk.
When designing an emergency plan, you have to know what you’re dealing with when it comes to your assets and what could potentially happen to them. Your assets are your people, first and foremost. Other assets may include your facilities, parts and products, intellectual property, technology, office furniture and supplies, and automobiles and/or fleet. All of these assets are at risk when an emergency arises.
What are the emergencies that are most likely to occur? IT outages, weather-related events, power failures, and natural disasters are the most common. Each location where your company operates, including home offices, may have different variables and risks to assess. Consider the weather and geological events prone in those areas, security and IT support in those facilities, the nearest emergency response organizations and hospitals, and the number of employees who may be effected.
Step 2: Survey the work environment.
Each facility likely differs as far as how the building(s) and workspaces are designed, evacuation routes, surrounding streets and neighborhoods, and even the demographics of the staff located in each building. Some locations may have handicapped employees, elderly, or even children in an office daycare. Are there elevators or stairwells? Cubicles or remote rooms? An easy route for emergency vehicles? A staffed front reception desk or onsite warehouse? Are there any hazardous materials stored at any of the locations?
All of these factors may come into play during an emergency. It is also a good idea to understand what emergency resources are available in each location, such as overhead sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and defibrillators. In the event of an emergency, company leaders and first responders will want to know where these are located.
Step 3: Identify leaders and administrators.
In an emergency, there needs to be leadership. Designate who in each facility will be the go-to people. You may want to identify multiple people on each floor or area of the building to ensure no matter where employees are located at the time of the critical event, they have someone nearby who knows what to do.
Be sure every employee knows who these leaders and administrators are. Have a backup person named in case the designated one is absent. Equip this person with the technology they need to send and receive information.
Step 4: Choose an emergency notification system vendor.
Your chosen administrators and leaders need more than email or phone to reach every employee. An emergency notification system vendor will be able to supply you with the necessary software to ensure any important information can be distributed quickly to the masses or a specific group of people. It is important the software enables these admins to send and receive information across multiple communication channels, such as text, email, phone, social media, and app push.
Ask your emergency notification system vendor if the product enables mapping and geo-fencing to give leaders and first responders an interactive view of people with map tracking functionality. Does it allow for group segmenting so messages can be customized based on the risk? The most important feature should be real-time communication. When seconds count, you want to be sure you have the latest information and can instantly send alerts and/or instructions to everyone involved.
Step 5: Design an “all-hazards” plan.
A common pitfall of many emergency notification systems is that they are too specific. Most emergencies can fall into one of four categories: weather or natural event; power or IT outage; security event; or health and safety incident. Design an “all-hazards” plan that specifically addresses these things that are likely to come into play in any emergency:
- Evacuation routes from building and general area
- Chain of command and contact details
- Nearest onsite resources
- Contact information for first responders
You can then determine “what if” scenarios that can include more specific instructions based on the risks you previously assessed. These may include “what if the power goes down and there is no way to use phones or computers?”; “what if the elevators and stairwells are unusable?”
Step 6: Practice the plan.
Once the plan is designed, it’s time to practice. The 6 Ps mentioned above should have a seventh “P” added: “PRACTICE.” Prior planning and practice prevent piss poor performance. Every employee should be required to participate in regular emergency drills. We are all familiar with fire drills, but what do you do if there is a tornado or an IT outage? What happens when there is a workplace violence situation? Consider alternating the drills to include multiple scenarios.
Your employees may bemoan these drills, but when a critical event happens, they will be thanking you that they knew what to do. Remember, the goal is to avoid chaos and panic. The only real remedy is to have everyone fully aware of what they are to do in case of an emergency.
No matter the size of your organization, you and your employees deserve to work in a safe environment. While you may never need to trigger the emergency alarm, it’s nice to know that when it sounds, there will be order. Preparing on the front end and choosing the right emergency notification system vendor will increase the odds everyone will make it out just fine.