Why have an Emergency Response Plan?
Properly implemented safe work practices, hazard identification and mitigation, and preplanning exercises can drastically reduce the number of incidents in the workplace. Unfortunately, no plan is perfect, and no amount of human preparation can stop catastrophic and seasonal events like tornadoes, hurricanes, or natural wildfires.
In these circumstances, the most important document your organization owns regardless of its industry, size, or profitability is an Emergency Response Plan that guides and enables the people of that organization to protect themselves, and the business—even during events outside their control. An understanding of reactionary steps for emergency incidents should be embedded in your organization and specific training provided at every level. We’d like to describe a few of the basics of what a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan should include to help your workforce respond to emergency situations.
The first step of any emergency response is initiating a line of communication to quickly spread information and involve a higher level of expertise. Whether it is reporting the problem to an incident specialist, activating an alarm system, or contacting first responders, the greatest chances of survival and successful outcomes in a hazardous situation are made possible through early notification. The sooner people know about an emergency, the sooner they can react to protect themselves and others by mitigating the dangers at hand. So, it is essential that everyone is aware of who they need to contact, by what means, and what information is important to share.
Shelter in Place
Climatic emergencies affecting wide areas like storms, earthquakes, flooding, or temperature extremes can make travel hazardous and cause compounding issues like utility outages. In these situations, the safest course of action is often to shelter in place by using the protection and resources at a given location to wait until the incident is over, or until means of rescue and evacuation become available.
Based on recommendations from FEMA, each place of business should have enough of the following supplies to provide for everyone onsite for at least three days:
- Food, water, and can openers as needed
- Radio, flashlight, and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Wrench or pliers for utilities
- Dust or filter masks
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal out contaminated air
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Beyond just listing supplies, a good Emergency Response Plan should ensure that there are individuals designated to help maintain organization of the sheltered group and oversee essential tasks like resource management, communication, medical care, and maintaining physical integrity of the shelter.
In other cases, there may be enough forenotice to leave an endangered area, or a sudden event such as a chemical release, explosion, or structural failure that would force an immediate evacuation of a facility. Both circumstances require employees to have an instinctive knowledge of where to go and what to do so that they can make the best possible decisions in the middle of unfamiliar and stressful circumstances. An Emergency Response Plan must clearly designate primary and secondary egress routes leading to a point of safety where they are removed from the hazard and able to easily account for every individual that has evacuated.
Consideration should be given to the exterior environment when possible to ensure that people are not moving from one danger to another, and responsible parties should be assigned to retrieve items that can help make an evacuation area more habitable in adverse conditions (such as blankets in a cold climate, water bottles in a hot area, or extra lifejackets in a marine setting). Essential information should also be brought to the evacuation point, such as employee shift rosters or a visitor logbook to ensure everyone is accounted for and as safe as possible and during the evacuation. Lastly, the plans should describe or reference fundamental steps that an individual can follow to safely isolate any energy or fuel sources and power down hazardous equipment as circumstances allow.
Other emergency situations may occur that are driven by human actions: an item containing sensitive information may have gone missing, there may be an attempted hacking or burglary, threatening messages, or an intruder who is intending to harm others. In any of these situations, it is paramount to maintain security and be able to control or predict the movement of innocent persons as much as possible. Emergency Response Plan lockdown strategies should detail appropriate actions for individuals to avoid danger, protect information, enforce proper identification and clearance barriers, and respond to instructions communicated through the company or law enforcement entities.
Most people live and work in areas that are well serviced by emergency medical responders and hospitals that can be reached to treat injuries in a matter of minutes. However, some injuries only take minutes before they are fatal. In circumstances where business locations are more remote, or an EMS response is delayed for any reason, it is vital to have a course of action prepared that will help stabilize the victim of a medical emergency.
Injuries such as heavy bleeding, heart complications, choking, or allergic reactions all have the potential to quickly become life-threatening, but early recognition of each condition combined with basic training and readily-available medical supplies can delay or even stop the affects of these injuries. Emergency Response Plans should help enable responders by explaining the best means to reach professional care, and highlighting the locations and materials available to help treat medical emergencies, including First Aid and Trauma kits, AEDs, decontamination stations, litters, and burn blankets.
Additionally, it is important to understand that even the best medical equipment available can be ineffective or even dangerous when it is used by someone without training. Businesses should invest in basic levels of medical education in advance of an incident and document who designated responders are onsite. Organizations such as the American Red Cross offer classes that can be conducted at specific facilities, or even online, and add lifesaving capability to a team.
Although structural fires are becoming less common each year thanks to increased regulations and public education, fires that do occur are exponentially more dangerous. A UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute study showed that modern fires can grow at a rate more than 8 times faster than fires from the previous century. This is because most modern goods include petroleum-based plastics that fuel the heat and speed of fires, while newer buildings are developed from lighter construction materials and designed with more open spaces that increase air flow and limit opportunities to contain or avoid a fire.
The bottom line is that Emergency Response Plans for fire emergencies are more important than ever as people are hampered by less forgiving circumstances and far less time to react. It is essential to have an awareness of the location and use of fire extinguishing systems that might be in place, and have a comprehensive ability to communicate details about the situation, protect property, evacuate, and give basic medical care where needed to survive fires. Even simple actions like closing office doors or turning off an energy source can buy minutes of safety to deter a fire that increases by seconds, radically changing the potential outcome of the situation.
Improving Your Plan
If your business already has an Emergency Response Plan in place, it should cover each of these topics at a minimum. At best, organizations should account for factors and that are specific to their environment, climatic seasonal dangers, and industry or site-specific hazards, such as chemicals and equipment. Emergency Response Plans should also be regularly reviewed and practiced to validate their effectiveness, and updated when any major changes occur affecting the business environment or available resources.
To help build and improve your plan, there is excellent information available from groups like FEMA, OSHA, the NFPA, ready.gov, and many others to guide your thinking. At Shea Writing and Training Solutions, we are also happy to help consult and gather emergency information with your team, or build a plan tailored to your business, personnel, and situation. For more information on other Crisis Management and Business Continuity documentation, check out our services here.