NFPA 1600: What It Is and Why You Need It

By January 29, 2019 Emergency Management
NFPA 1600

Now is a great time to take a fresh look at your organization’s emergency management program. You should be identifying opportunities for improvement and developing strategies to address them in 2019. But that’s easier said than done, right? After all, building a comprehensive emergency management plan that can be applied uniformly to prepare for and respond to the wide range of hazardous and potentially disruptive events organizations today face—from IT outages and severe weather to natural disasters and terrorism—is no small task.

Fortunately, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has you covered. They just released their 2019 edition of NFPA 1600—a standard they’ve been publishing since 1995—to help organizations of all sizes design and implement effective emergency management programs.

In this post, we unpack NFPA 1600: what it is and how organizations like yours benefit from it. You’ll gain insights into why (and how) NFPA 1600 can help you build a better emergency management program. You’ll also learn how to evaluate your existing program to identify gaps and make improvements.

What is NFPA 1600?

Anybody working in emergency management or business continuity should become very familiar with NFPA 1600—also known as the Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management. Since it was first published, NFPA 1600 has become the gold standard in emergency management. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has adopted it as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness.

If you’re unfamiliar with NFPA 1600, don’t let the name or its association with NFPA throw you off. It isn’t a fire-based standard. Rather, it’s a universal standard emergency management and business continuity professionals can use to prepare and protect their people, property, and businesses. FEMA, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), and the National Emergency Managers Association (NEMA) all endorse NFPA 1600. In fact, these organizations work with the NFPA to develop the standard.

Widely used by organizations of all sizes and from all industries—both in the U.S. and around the world—the standard covers the key elements required for effective emergency management and business continuity. It addresses topics such as program planning, implementation, execution, and training. The 2019 edition also places greater emphasis on crisis management than years’ past. The latest version highlights the importance of maintaining crisis communication capabilities including the adoption of a reliable emergency communication system. Companies need to be able to disseminate information to both employees and external audiences when disaster strikes.

What does NFPA 1600 mean for my organization?

When faced with an emergency, chaos can easily take over without a robust, well-designed, and well-executed emergency plan. It’s why emergency management standards are critical. As Don Schmidt, past chair of the technical committee that writes the NFPA 1600 notes, “The subject matter that we define as emergency management and business continuity/continuity of operations is very broad and deep. Standards bring together the collective expertise of numerous subject-matter experts and become valuable tools as they are used, refined with the input from users, and over time become widely accepted criteria.”

Adhering to NFPA 1600 can help organizations improve employee safety, protect their property, meet their duty of care obligations, and ensure business continuity when faced with any number of hazards. It can improve customer satisfaction by reducing the risk of supply chain disruptions. It can also make your company more attractive to investors and insurance underwriters alike. Finally, it’s simply more efficient and effective to follow NFPA 1600 when constructing an emergency management program.  Leveraging NFPA 1600 allows you to avoid starting from scratch, maximizing your efforts while covering all important elements.

How are other organizations using NFPA 1600?

Using NFPA 1600 to steer emergency management program development and implementation can benefit any organization. Leaders can easily adapt the standard to fit the unique needs of organizations in any industry, of any size, and in any location.

Colleges and universities, for example, are using NFPA 1600 to ensure campus safety and build progressive emergency management programs that can prepare them for the threat of campus violence in a post-Virginia Tech world. And in the years since the catastrophic 1994 Northridge earthquake that impacted access to critical patient care, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has applied the lessons learned to strengthen their emergency management program. Specifically, they have used NFPA 1600 to address the three key essentials needed to ensure health care is available during emergencies: safeguarding human resources, ensuring business continuity, and protecting physical resources.

Organizations are not legally obligated to follow NFPA 1600, but its flexible nature has led to its rapid adoption. NFPA wrote the standard with all organizations in mind—large and small, public and private—making it easily adaptable by any organization. Since the standard is not prescriptive—it addresses what needs to be in an emergency management program, rather than how to achieve it—the resources required to adhere to NFPA 1600 are unique to each organization’s capabilities, characteristics, and objectives. This means NFPA is suitable for any organization—including those with constrained resources. Even for organizations where a single person performs the duties of disaster preparedness, NFPA 1600 is not out of reach. Businesses can (and should) still use it as the model by which to develop an emergency management program.

Revamping Your Emergency Management Plan

Every company, regardless of size, will face critical events that impact their employees and their operations. The difference between companies that can weather these events and those that cannot comes down to preparation. Efforts put into developing an effective, modern emergency management program can make all the difference.

By adhering to the expert guidelines set forth in NFPA 1600, organizations can develop a robust emergency management plan. This will help them keep employees safe, ensure business continuity, and minimize customer impact in times of crisis.

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