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Emergency Management Sep 01, 2021

How to Take Advantage of National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month, which is the perfect time to take a step back and look at the big picture of your organization’s emergency preparedness plans. Need some help getting started? We’ve got you covered.

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We’ve all experienced being unprepared: be it for a loved one’s birthday, an important meeting, or for an unexpectedly warm day that the meteorologists said would be chilly. And when it comes to preparing for emergency situations in your business, few experiences kindle anxiety like encountering a situation that you’re not equipped to handle in the moment. Fortunately, setting aside regular time dedicated to preparing for unplanned events has proven to save lives and improve business outcomes. That’s why AlertMedia observes National Preparedness Month.

Since 2004, September has been designated National Preparedness Month — a time when businesses, individuals, and communities are encouraged to evaluate and improve their ability to respond to emergencies and disasters.

As the past 18 months have demonstrated, various emergencies—including severe weather events, natural disasters, acts of violence, and public health crises—occur year-round and require constant vigilance to prevent and respond to. However, we know that things aren’t always so simple. When you have deadlines to worry about, meetings to attend, and your daily life to live, it can feel hard to focus on a vague concept like “preparedness.” But you’ll be even less able to focus on creating safety plans if you’re in the midst of an actual crisis. That’s why, no matter who you are or what you do, there are several ways to participate in National Preparedness Month and apply best practices to both your professional and personal life.

Don’t know where or how to start? Then you’ve come to the right place!

What is National Preparedness Month?

Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States Government has increased its focus on educating its citizens on how to stay safe during emergencies. In memory of that tragic day (and in preparation for hurricane season entering full swing this time of year), FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have dubbed September “Emergency Preparedness Month,” or NPM—a time when Americans are encouraged to review their emergency response plans, training, tools and more to ensure that folks are prepared when disaster strikes.

The U.S. Government’s hub for all preparedness info, www.Ready.gov, curates a set of themes every National Preparedness Month to help focus on specific elements of readiness. This year, those are:

  • Make a plan
    • Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the Coronavirus.
  • Build a kit
    • Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. Update your kits and supplies based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Low-cost, no-cost preparedness
    • Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards. Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date.
  • Teach youth about preparedness
    • Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

All that said, what does a business actually need to do to stay in the spirit of National Preparedness Month?

6 Steps to Prepare During Preparedness Month

In truth, every month should be preparedness month. Emergencies, from workplace violence to natural disasters, occur year-round and require constant vigilance to prevent and respond to.

However, we know that things aren’t always so simple. When you have deadlines to worry about, meetings to attend, and your daily life to live, it can feel hard to focus on a vague concept like “preparedness.” But you’ll be even less able to focus on creating safety plans if you’re in the middle of, say, a deadly hurricane or civil unrest. That’s why, no matter who you are or what you do, it’s important to respect National Preparedness Month and heed Ready.gov’s advice. Here’s an outline of how to do that.

Figure out what to prepare for

The myriad threats that you might face make the first step of emergency management possibly the most daunting: risk assessment. Risk assessment is a method through which organizations and individuals can identify dangers or potential safety issues.

Think about the things that could throw a wrench into the works of your company and threaten the people that it’s composed of:

  • What happens if you can’t come to the office anymore?
  • What if employees are sick during a coronavirus pandemic?
  • What if one of your key suppliers or customers is unable to get to you because of record-breaking wildfires?

To capture all of these concerns, it’s important to build your threat assessment team first. Engage a wide variety of employees to help cover all the bases. Key stakeholders in HR, facilities management, IT, business continuity/disaster recovery departments, and others can offer their expertise to predict threats. Executives can help champion the group’s initiatives and ensure company-wide adoption.

PRO TIP: Another way to identify threats is to use a threat intelligence system. These pieces of software are able to draw on a variety of sources, from local news and EMS to analyst-vetted reports, and can notify you of critical events as quickly as possible. You can also set them up to automatically notify you or a specific group of people should a certain event occur.

Once you’ve assembled your preparedness pros, draw on everyone to help document every single risk to your business and people that they can think of. With your list in hand, it’s time to prioritize them by impact and likelihood. For example, a company might face two potential threats: the meltdown of a nearby nuclear reactor, and icy roads that threaten their delivery trucks in the winter. Of course, a reactor meltdown would be a massive risk to everyone nearby, but those events are vanishingly rare. Severe weather, however, might be a common dilemma for this business, even if the impact is lower per event. How do you plan for these effectively? One way is by quantifying these threats across a threat matrix. By doing so, your threat assessment team can then decide how best to deal with these problems.

Once you’ve assembled your preparedness pros, draw on everyone to help document every single risk to your business and people that they can think of.
A risk matrix showing different levels of risk based on impact and likelihood, color coded so that higher risk is red and lower risk is green Source: https://www.corporatecomplianceinsights.com/alternative-risk-matrices/

Write an emergency plan

Now that you’ve mustered your safety squad and identified potential threats across your business, it’s time to document your emergency response plan. This document will be the single source of truth for everyone who might be affected. It should include the ideas you already outlined in your risk assessment and delegate roles to appropriate stakeholders so that everyone knows who has to do what in an emergency.

When you sit down to write your plan, think through what each threat could mean to your business and your people, and how best to handle it. Make sure to think about ways you can prevent these risks as well as ways you can respond to them. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent an emergency, as with inclement weather. You might not be able to stop the snow from falling and the ice from crusting the roads, but you can make sure that your employees are empowered to work remotely, and ensure that any traveling workers are aware of the dangerous conditions and find shelter if needed. On the other hand, there are things that you might be able to lessen the likelihood of, like the spread of a virus during a pandemic. In such a scenario, building your plan around communicating with employees about known viral exposures and performing contact tracing can lessen the number of people who become infected, saving you downtime from sick employees.

Whatever you describe in your plan, it should be a living document. As your business grows, as your environment changes, be sure to revisit your emergency response plan document and update it regularly. Reconvene your safety stakeholders regularly to revise and expand emergency response procedures.

Make sure to think about ways you can prevent these risks as well as ways you can respond to them.

Build a kit

To be a good emergency planner, you need to have some tools in your toolkit to aid your response during high-stress situations. These are the resources that you’ll need access to at a moment’s notice. They will include everything from communication templates (that you can save as templates in your emergency notification system) to evacuation plans for your buildings. Note that these kits will be situation specific, such as for power outages or earthquakes, and differ from the list of personal survival materials included in personal disaster kits.

To create one yourself, try to put yourself in the shoes of the designated emergency manager during your emergency of choice. What scenarios should you focus on in the first place? What would you need at a glance to fulfill your duties? These things will likely include communication templates to ensure rapid and accurate messaging, building evacuation plans so everyone can get out safe, or contact information for key emergency stakeholders. Once you have those plans developed, it’s important to revisit them regularly to update them as your business grows and changes. For seasonal emergencies like wildfires or hurricanes, once per year is a good time to update, but for perennial threats like workplace violence or power outages, it’s necessary to update your plans every few months.

Ready.gov has excellent resources for all of this, with assets that can assist you in creating your own emergency kit tailored to your unique needs. AlertMedia also has several free kits that can structure your self-evaluation and communication regarding emergencies.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the designated emergency manager during your emergency of choice.

Run drills and exercises

Now that you have your comprehensive emergency response plan and have a good idea of how everyone fits into the puzzle, it’s time to put it to the test and uncover any issues. Some of the most widely employed of these drills are fire drills, but there are other exercises that can help accomplish similar preparedness. One popular method for testing emergency plans is through tabletop exercises, or TTXs, where those plans are effectively acted out in a stress-free environment. Everyone has a chance to practice their duties, but without pressure or risk. This means that errors or oversights in the plan can be sussed out, and anyone who has questions can ask them freely. Simulating danger and the response to said danger can do wonders to improve your emergency response when a real disaster occurs. FEMA itself advocates for the utility of these exercises and even offers help on how to run them, as does AlertMedia.

Simulating danger and the response to said danger can do wonders to improve your emergency response when a real disaster occurs.

Beyond TTXs, traditional drills still play an important role in emergency preparedness, especially for the government, military, and healthcare fields, and for charities like the Red Cross. By exposing your people to a simulated version of the emergency scenario in question, you can take note of and fix any problems that arise. As JoAnn Dankert, Senior Safety Consultant at the National Safety Council, said during an episode of the Employee Safety Podcast, “the idea behind [a] drill is not just so people are ready, but to also uncover any sort of gaps or glitches that an organization might have and then that gives you the chance to put corrective actions in place… in a safe environment and at the pace you would like to.”

During an emergency, the most valuable resource is information. People need to know if they’re safe, if it’s time to evacuate, if they can come to work, etc.—and they want answers quickly. As part of National Preparedness Month activities, you should first and foremost ensure that employee contact info is continuously updated so nobody is left in the dark.

You should first and foremost ensure that employee contact info is continuously updated so nobody is left in the dark.

Secondly, you need to know what to say. Assuming you’ve identified potential threats ahead of time, you could create communication templates in calm times so that you’re not trying to compose messages with critical information on the spot during incredibly stressful days. Always build templates so that they are directly applicable to your business’s and your employees’ anticipated needs in an emergency, but AlertMedia has a few here that are good starting points.

Finally, you need a reliable communication channel you can use to reach your employees. Even if you’ve written the Gettysburg Address of emergency communications, if you’re relying on technology Abe Lincoln used, you won’t get very far. In fact, an entire industry centered on mass communication technology has flourished in the past decades. The days of phone trees are long gone, we now live in an era where users can send messages via emergency notification systems that offer advanced two-way messaging and targeting, reliable delivery, and instant reporting.

Beyond simply distributing information, robust communication practices can improve morale and help buoy employees during hard times. When information is scarce and your people feel uneasy, knowing that they can rely on their company to keep them informed goes a long way to show them that you truly care about their safety. If they’re able to count on you as a trusted source of information, they’ll be less likely to believe misinformation spread via social media and will be more likely to engage with recovery efforts.

Prepare Beyond the Workplace

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about emergency preparedness in the context of businesses and other organizations, but during National Preparedness Month, we think it’s important to take a look around and remember what’s truly most important: those closest to us. After all, isn’t that the real reason we want to keep ourselves and our people safe?

One of FEMA’s themes for this year’s National Preparedness Month is “teach youth about preparedness,” and we support that. If you can integrate employees’ families into your preparedness plans, you’ll not only support the emotional and physical wellbeing of your people, but you’ll demonstrate that preparedness doesn’t begin and end at the business’s doors.

Enable your employees to spend time developing personal emergency action plans for their families.

Point them to resources to help them assemble emergency kits and formulate evacuation plans for every member of the family. During a disaster, communication is as important for families as it is for businesses and large organizations. Assist your people in building personal communication plans so they know how to get help. Once again, FEMA provides detailed advice on how best to do so with your children, loved ones, and communities.

If you can integrate employees’ families into your preparedness plans, you’ll demonstrate that preparedness doesn’t begin and end at the business’s doors.

Alertmedia Can Help Cover Your Bases

This September, take the initiative to evaluate your level of emergency preparedness and the plans you have in place to track and respond to any and all threats. Whether you’re focused on mitigating the effects of natural disasters or managing a newly remote workforce, the right technology can make all the difference. Sign up here to see just how AlertMedia’s top-tier, two-way mass notification system can support you in all of your safety goals.

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