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Emergency Management Jul 06, 2021

6 Steps to Creating an Effective Emergency Response Plan

Follow the six steps included in this article to create an emergency response plan that keeps your people, business, and assets safe during any critical event that may arise.

Think about how different things were in your personal and professional life at the beginning of 2020—before COVID-19 became a household name. Face masks were worn mainly by medical practitioners. You might have heard the phrase “social distancing” and assumed it was the name of an obscure punk band. Restaurants, nightclubs, and sports stadiums were packed with patrons enjoying all kinds of entertainment. And, of course, you were likely commuting to an office the majority of the time. All of which serves as a reminder that “there is nothing permanent except change.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic brought into focus that many organizations were unprepared for the magnitude of such a life-altering, disruptive event—a troubling fact given the significant health and safety implications for virtually all employees. Studies have shown that before 2020, most businesses lacked an emergency response plan that documented how their organization would respond to a rapidly spreading disease, forcing many to create a plan as the pandemic developed.

While we can’t necessarily predict when critical events will happen, emergencies are a reality for which every business needs to be ready. In this blog post, we’ll explore what an emergency response plan is and highlight six steps every organization should take to ensure they’re prepared for any emergency or business interruption that may arise.

What Is an Emergency Response Plan?

An emergency response plan is a documented series of steps an organization will take during a critical event to ensure employees’ safety and minimize the impact on critical operations.

As every emergency management professional will tell you, the best time to prepare for an emergency is well before it occurs. Taking a proactive approach to emergency response planning helps you ensure the best possible outcomes for your people and business and allows you to think holistically about the situation and account for a multitude of variables.

Emergency response plans are meant to help organizations address various emergency situations that could affect their organization, such as hurricanes, wildfires, winter weather, chemical spills, disease outbreaks, and other hazards. The goal is to reduce or prevent human injury and property damage during any critical event by documenting the steps that should be taken to ensure a timely response tailored to each scenario.

It also specifies which staff members should be part of the response team and which first responders should be contacted. Ideally, the outcome of emergency planning is to protect a company’s finances, operations, and employees from harm.

The best emergency response plans include who to contact (and their contact information), evacuation routes, how to act during an emergency, how to mitigate risk to your people and facilities, and detailed communication procedures to follow during and after a specific emergency occurs. That said, plans can vary widely depending on the setting and circumstances surrounding the crisis. With that in mind, it’s important to create a plan that accounts for building evacuations in case of events like fires, shelter-in-place orders during severe weather like tornadoes, and complete lockdown in case of an active shooter situation.

Now that you’re up to speed on why your organization needs a plan and what it should cover, let’s examine how to create an effective emergency response plan for your business.

How to Create an Emergency Response Plan

Below, we’ll cover six critical steps every organization should follow to create an effective emergency response plan. Each organization is unique, so you may find that additional measures are warranted for your specific business. However, by completing these steps, you will be well on your way to ensuring your emergency management team knows what is expected of them when immediate action is necessary.

Step #1: Perform a risk assessment

The first step to creating an emergency response plan is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify the types of events that may affect your organization. Leadership should inform employees of potential emergencies that may occur near where employees live or work or other events that risk interrupting or halting business operations—as well as any actions employees should take.

While specific threats vary by location, sector, and company, emergency events may be natural or man-made, and your mitigation strategies may vary depending on the scenario. Specific event categories for which you may need to plan include:

  • Natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, etc.)
  • Severe weather (winter storms, high winds, extreme heatwaves, floods, etc.)
  • Pandemics and infectious diseases (COVID-19, influenza, etc.)
  • Facility emergencies (structure fires, hazardous leaks or spills, etc.)
  • Acts of workplace violence (active shooters, bomb threats, , terrorist attacks, etc.)
  • Civil disturbances (protests, demonstrations, riots, strikes, etc.)

In addition to these traditional emergencies, there are several more common events your business will encounter where accurate, timely communication is just as important. From IT to Operations to Corporate Communications, events that are non-threatening but critical to the success of the business may include:

  • IT events – Unplanned outages, planned downtime or maintenance, system testing, cyberattacks or security breaches, help desk escalations, etc.
  • Operational events – Logistics coordination, power outages, equipment malfunctions, office closures, travel advisories, safety alerts, shift and overtime scheduling, etc.
  • Corporate/Crisis Communication events – Product recalls, negative publicity, layoffs, major company news, etc.

Step #2: Document contact information

In the event of an emergency that could cause physical harm to your employees, the first call you should make is to your local emergency responders. Aside from 9-1-1, you should have the numbers for emergency medical services (EMS), the fire department, and local law enforcement/police department readily available.

Additionally, make sure you have emergency contact information documented for every employee should one go unaccounted for or become injured during the emergency.

Step #3: Assign roles and responsibilities

When an emergency occurs, employees will look to their leaders for reassurance and guidance. These same leaders should be in charge of activating your emergency response plan, answering important questions, and ordering an evacuation if needed. While assigning roles, there are many important considerations to acknowledge. You want to make sure your response team is reliable, present, and able to react quickly in the face of an emergency.

Here are the main roles you should consider creating as part of your emergency response plan:

Incident commander

This employee has overall responsibility for an emergency, including planning and preparation. The incident commander is in charge of emergency response plan activation and is who all critical decisions should go through.

Assistant incident commander

This person should use the mass alert system to alert employees, call emergency services, and gather reports. If your company is using an emergency communication system, make sure this person is a system admin.

Scene supervisor

This person controls access to the emergency scene and keeps people away from unsafe areas.

Building utilities manager(s)

These team members should be familiar with the locations and functions of controls for building utility and life safety and protection systems. These systems include ventilation, electrical shutoffs, water and sanitary systems, emergency power supplies, and alarm systems.

Route guide(s)

In the event of an evacuation, route guides play an important role in ensuring that routes are clear and evacuation is orderly and calm.

Step #4: Take stock of current resources within your organization

Have you inspected those dusty office fire extinguishers, alarm systems, or first aid kits lately? These are critical components to any emergency response plan and should be examined regularly.

Fire extinguishers

The National Fire Protection Association recommends refilling reusable fire extinguishers every 10 years and replacing disposable ones every 12 years. Also, make sure you periodically remind your employees about where the fire extinguishers are located in the workplace.

Alarm systems

At the very least, fire alarm systems should be inspected annually. OSHA recommends that non-supervised employee alarm systems are tested every two months. This inspection covers a host of details depending on the type of alarm system, like inspection of control panel(s), tests of all associated devices like smoke detectors and heat detectors, warning systems operations, and batteries and power.

First aid kit

OSHA requires that “employers provide medical and first aid supplies commensurate with the hazards of the workplace.” Since many items in a first aid kit have expiration dates—typically three to five years after manufacture—or can become damaged by frequent use, moisture, and exposure to the air, it is important to regularly review your first aid kit and replace any medical supplies as needed. In addition, consider restocking items after use and inspecting first aid supplies every three months.

Step #5: Create an evacuation plan

In many cases, evacuating the building or premises is required during an emergency. A good evacuation plan for your business will include primary and secondary escape routes. Clear signs should mark all the exit routes and fire escapes. These exit routes should be kept clear of furniture or other objects that could impede a direct means of egress for your employees. For large offices, make multiple maps of floor plans and diagrams and post them so employees know the evacuation routes. Best practice also calls for developing a separate evacuation plan for individuals with disabilities who may need additional assistance.

Once your people are out of the building, where do they go? Designate an assembly point for employees to gather. Your response team should be at the assembly point, collecting a headcount and providing updates. Ensure the escape routes and the assembly area can accommodate the expected number of employees who will be evacuating.

Step #6: Decide how communication will occur between employees and the business.

Perhaps the most important part of any emergency response plan is how you will communicate. When developing your plan, it is essential to consider how to notify employees of a critical event, how the information will be delivered and received, and how effective communication channels will be at reaching every employee in harm’s way.

During critical events, phone calls and emails are no longer enough. Manual phone trees are prone to misinformation and long delays, and there are many reasons why an email alert system just doesn’t cut it for emergency communication.

Research suggests that only 65 percent of employees ever open internal emails. For workers constantly inundated with messages, internal emails just don’t create the sense of urgency needed when communicating time-sensitive information. Hourly and frontline employees—such as retail associates and distribution center workers—often do not have a company email address at all or, if they do, do not have access to it from their personal phone outside of business hours. And if phone lines are down or email is inaccessible—as can often be the case in emergency situations—your employees may never receive the message. If an organization is hit with an IT virus, for example, relying on email as the only communication channel would be useless and perhaps even counterproductive.

Leveraging Technology to Improve Emergency Preparedness

Today’s workforce is more distributed than ever before, especially with a drastic shift to remote and hybrid working environments. This makes emergency communication increasingly important—but also more challenging.

A modern emergency notification system enables the fast, reliable delivery of mass notifications to any size audience, on any device, over any communication channel. And every organization—regardless of size, industry, or location—will face unexpected events that can be managed more effectively with the help of emergency communication software.

When evaluating mass notification solutions, it may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking a standalone text messaging tool is sufficient. But a simple mass texting system simply doesn’t have the functionality needed to communicate with your people during critical events reliably. When the health and safety of your people are at stake, only an enterprise-grade emergency communication system can offer the speed, reliability, and user experience you need.

A mass notification system with multichannel delivery, two-way messaging, communication templates, and global threat intelligence can help protect your people and business. With a modern emergency communication system, you can rapidly send and receive messages across multiple channels and ensure everyone gets the messages they need when they need them. By automatically syncing with your HRIS or Active Directory, you’ll also never have to worry about inaccurate employee contact information—critical to safeguarding message deliverability.

Designing a Modern Emergency Response Plan

Every business needs a solid plan in place for how they will communicate with employees during emergencies and other business-critical events. During critical events, minutes can mean the difference between a minor incident and a major disaster. The heat of a crisis is not the time to figure out what you need to do to effectively communicate with and ensure the safety of impacted employees. Timely, effective communication is the foundation of any emergency response or business continuity plan.

AlertMedia’s mass notification system has many practical applications, helping facilitate communication during any event in which employees need information fast. With AlertMedia, organizations can rapidly and easily interact with their people to improve employee safety and well-being—while also ensuring business continuity and protecting the bottom line.

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