The All-Hazards Approach to Emergency Planning Explained
In this post, we describe what an all-hazards approach to emergency management means and how to leverage it to protect your business.
An emergency plan is one of the most important safety assets you can have for your business. It prepares you for eventual threats and lays out how you can ensure the safety of your employees and the continued operation of your business.
But not all emergencies look the same. So the best emergency management plan can fall short if you’re faced with a new or unprecedented situation.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. So many businesses were unprepared, and upwards of 20% of small businesses in the U.S. closed in the first two years of the pandemic. Even if they had an emergency plan for events like inclement weather or a workplace fire, a disease outbreak of that caliber had likely not been planned for.
Any amount of emergency planning is going to do your business good during a crisis, but the best way to approach emergency management is to use the all-hazards approach.
What Is the All-Hazards Approach?
The all-hazards approach is a comprehensive emergency preparedness framework that takes the full scope of emergencies or disasters into account when planning for response capacities and mitigation efforts. This means you are prepared for “all hazards” your business might face.
The all-hazards approach leads to a better overall emergency preparedness program than if you focus on just the most common or impactful critical events. You’ll have a more resilient business that can withstand disasters of all kinds.
Pros and Cons of the All-Hazards Approach to Emergency Management
One common misconception is that all-hazards planning means planning for everything that can go wrong with a corresponding catalog of minute details. But that’s not it. Instead, all-hazards planning focuses on developing capacities and capabilities that matter when the going gets tough. You should be making sure your business has the training, supplies, and leadership to address a broad range of emergencies, rather than trying to plan every step for every kind of specific hazard.
The benefits of an all-hazards plan
The primary benefit of the all-hazards approach is that it prepares your people and emergency resources to be flexible, so that they can work through any hazard. But there are a few other pros to this strategy:
- Makes your emergency preparedness more effective and scalable
- Turns seemingly monumental tasks into clear, executable plans
- Ensures employees have a standard protocol to follow
- Minimizes injury to people and destruction of business property
Limitations of an all-hazards plan
The main con of this approach is that not all emergencies are alike. Something like a power outage will need much less management than a natural disaster that destroys an entire building.
But remember, the goal of all-hazards planning isn’t to plan the exact response for every emergency. It’s to make sure you have a foundation of a plan for all emergencies. These plans should be flexible and scalable for all possible emergency events.
Develop Your All-Hazards Emergency Plan
Planning for every kind of emergency is not as time-consuming as you might assume. In just a few steps, you can have a comprehensive all-hazards emergency response plan for your business. You can also find more resources at Ready.gov on emergency planning for private sector businesses.
Before you begin your all-hazards planning, gather all relevant stakeholders. An effective risk analysis leads to a thorough understanding of all the different types of hazards you might face. So be sure to mobilize anyone who could be helpful creating a plan or has significant sway in business decision making. Then you can get into the planning process.
1. Identify and assess threats
The first step is to identify all potential hazards with a business threat assessment. Of course, risks will vary from location to location and company to company, but here are the most common events that can call for the activation of an emergency plan:
- IT outages
- Weather-related incidents
- Power outages
- Natural disasters
- On-site fires
- Facility management incidents
- Security-related issues
- Workplace violence
- Workplace safety incidents
- Public health emergencies
- Cybersecurity incidents
- Travel disruptions
- Public demonstrations/riots
When you scan this list, consider events that could occur at your facilities, plants, or offices. But be sure to talk through your risk assessment with all your stakeholders since they may know of risks you didn’t think about. No matter how many situations you have to cover, the all-hazards approach is scalable enough to handle any emergency occurrence.
2. Build an action plan for emergencies
Once you have your list of potential hazards, determine the specific action steps necessary before an emergency, during the crisis, and in the disaster recovery afterward.
Remember, these don’t need to be down-to-the-letter specific to every single hazard. But think about the actions that are consistent among the different categories of emergencies, and write down your action plan. Here are a few examples of what that might include.
- Name people responsible for executing the emergency plan
- Create a list of supplies, maintenance, and equipment needed to keep operations going
- Hold employee training classes about emergency plans
- Stock first aid kits and disaster supply kits
- Contact emergency responders, law enforcement, or aid at local levels as well as national providers like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)
- Identify communication procedures, and let employees know about the emergency situations
- Follow any contingency planning if the situation changes
You can build these action plans into checklists that make it easy to work through the steps in the moment.
3. Train and iterate
Training your team on the action plans is a great way not only to improve your hazard preparedness, but also to increase the likelihood that your plans will be executed quickly, efficiently, and above all else, safely.
Training strategies such as tabletop exercises are a good option to do “dry runs” where the stakes are low. This gives your employees a good idea of what might actually happen in an emergency, and it helps build muscle memory, so necessary actions still get done even when tensions are high.
Drills and practice runs
When you want to get a little more tactical, you can run drills for different specific situations, such as fire drills, shelter-in-place/active shooter drills, and other emergency drills. These will give your employees and your safety leaders a way to practice what they learned during the emergency preparedness planning.
Situational awareness training
You can also train your employees in situational awareness, so they are more generally aware of their surroundings. Better observation skills can be a huge boost to the overall safety of a business.
Iterate and adapt
It is imperative that you don’t let your plans stagnate. Your risks, and your best responses, are likely to change with your business. You also may find that your plans didn’t accurately reflect what should be done. Use after-action reports to get an idea of how you can improve and iterate your plans.
4. Optimize communication
One of the most important features of any emergency planning is to make sure the business has a water-tight communication plan. Communication is the key to safety and efficient response in every emergency situation since your risk management can’t function if you aren’t able to reach your response team or employees to inform them of the risk.
A modern mass communication system is the best way to strengthen your communication readiness for any hazardous situation. Gone are the days of walkie-talkies, phone trees, and loudspeaker announcements. Today’s workforce is geographically dispersed, with remote workers, traveling employees, and countless others working away from their desks. So you need a reliable way to reach everyone when an emergency strikes.
Technology Solutions for All Hazards
One of the best investments you can make for your all-hazards planning is in supportive technology. Planning for all hazards is important for your business’s safety and resilience, and the right technology makes it much easier, both in planning and execution.
An alert notification system can help you communicate quickly and reliably around these events, and you’ll have a secure place to store contact records and communications templates to save time and frustration during critical moments. You can also use a threat intelligence solution to get a better idea of what hazards you face. With live alerts from verified sources, as well as the ability to look through historic threats and chat with expert analysts, you’ll have the complete picture of your business’s threat landscape.
Emergencies aren’t fun to think about, but encountering one unprepared is even less fun. Planning ahead using the all-hazards approach is the most effective way to make sure you are ready to face whatever hazards are thrown your way. Hopefully, you never need to activate your emergency plan, but if you do, your business will be as ready as it can possibly be.