Preparedness Measures’ Implementation in Crisis Management
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Useful ways to plan for respond to and recover from potential or actual disasters.
With the many regulations and directives currently in place, it is easy to see how emergency management can become a complicated process, driven by the need to create written plans to meet requirements. In the process of meeting requirements, it is essential the practical aspects of emergency management are not overlooked. Once the bird’s-eye view of emergency planning has been done, it is time to get into the weeds so to speak and determine how emergency planning will play out during a real event. This paper will look at some of the practical aspects to consider regarding emergency management.
Why Is Emergency Planning Needed?
The first determination that must be made is why emergency planning is being done in the first place. If meeting a requirement is the main reason, then think again. Emergency planning just to meet a requirement provides a check in the box, but it is unlikely to meet the intent of the requirement. Saving lives and property while maintaining and/or returning to business quickly are the reasons regulations exist. Employees and customers must feel safe in order to continue to provide or use goods and services during an emergency or disaster. Therefore, the safety of your staff and customers should be the first priority when planning to weather an event and remain in business afterward.
Before, during, and after a disaster, some goods and services are not likely to be needed, while others are in high demand. Patients often cancel routine medical visits, while others experience life-threatening or urgent conditions caused by the event or other medical issues need to be seen regardless of what is going on. Snow shovels seem to fly off the shelves right before a snowstorm, and sump pumps are hard to be found when there is flooding. If an organization provides basic needs, there is an opportunity to both serve and flourish during a disaster. This will require maintaining some business functions. Knowing what goods and services customers will need and when will guide businesses in determining how long they will need to stay open or reopen before, during, or after an emergency.
It does no good to survive a disaster, but to have everything lost afterward. Taking into account the potential for employee injuries and compliance issues, planning and preparedness can reduce liability and losses. OSHA requires employers provide a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm (Lockwood 2005). Safety violations contributed to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010. Two supervisors on board the oil rig were indicted of involuntary manslaughter due to gross negligence of conditions which contributed to the explosion and deaths of nine workers, while a third executive was charged with obstruction of congress and making false statements while overseeing response of the spill (EPA 2016). The British Petroleum pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter (EPA). How a company is seen caring for its employees and customers will impact its reputation and public perception (Lockwood). Company image can be improved or damaged by your actions and can make or break sales and revenue and will influence stakeholder confidence in an organization after a disaster (Lockwood).
It is more important to put more emphasis on planning rather than a plan document (Perry and Lindell 2003). The idea of planning is to reduce risk through hazard assessments, vulnerability assessments, and risk reduction; these are the actions to identify and decrease the level of danger and identification of resources necessary to get to acceptable levels, so include the experts available (Perry and Lindell 2003). Preparedness is a state of readiness to respond to threats; it is not simply the possession of a written plan (Perry and Lindell 2003). The application and steps are documented in the plan and revised as the plan is tested and updated (Perry and Lindell 2003).
Keep in mind that planning and management are different; planning is part of preparedness; and while management is performance-implementing assessment, corrective, protective, and coordinating actions are identified in the planning stage (Perry and Lindell 2003). While the same people that are a part of planning may be part of the response leadership, the ability to rapidly assess, make decisions, and work well with others are key characteristics needed. Actions should be based on accurate knowledge of threats and the likely human responses (Perry and Lindell 2003). It is more important to act on valid information rather than quick information (Perry and Lindell 2003). This may require the need to look at and address inter-organizational coordination and how each unit or division missions, structures, operational styles, capabilities, and limitations work and may need adjusting when responding to emergency events (Perry and Lindell 2003).
In planning, it is necessary to incorporate both high-tech and low-tech options for response and recovery (Bond 2007). The Internet and computers are most valuable for managing events off-site, but when technology is unavailable, basic methods must be used. Going back to sending faxes, handwriting orders, or talking face to face could be necessary. Review these methods with staff to increase confidence and to reduce errors.
Emergency Response Leadership
In selecting emergency response leadership, individuals that cannot step up and take charge are best in important support roles rather than leading, regardless of their position. This is sometimes difficult when organizational structures get in the way. Having emergency response personnel on staff can be highly beneficial as they are professionals trained to evaluate situational contingencies and act in accordance with those assessments rather than political agendas (Perry and Lindell 2003). Choosing those to lead during difficult times requires strength, capabilities, knowledge, and ability to look at the big picture; make sure leadership can perform in this manner.
For larger buildings, it will take more than one person to coordinate and implement emergency response procedures. Establish a location emergency action plan team, and include safety wardens on each floor to clear areas, direct people, keep lines moving, coordinate special needs, and conduct a headcount to ensure everyone is safe. While it is best if people volunteer, management is ultimately responsible to ensure emergency procedures are in place.
Requirements often dictate lengthy sections in the written plan on organizational vision, mission, roles, responsibilities, and other areas that document how the emergency management program shall be administered. While these are necessary components for planning and preparedness, during emergencies, it is the annexes that detail specific response actions, contact information, and maps which are most needed during response (NFPA 2016). Plans must be created in a useful format; so needed information is quickly accessible. Information must be familiar to those that have responsibilities in the plan. The use of tabbed sections can greatly improve finding important items when seconds count. Having action verbs describe actions, such as “activate alarm systems” or “announce instructions,” is much clearer than vague statements such as “the person in charge will determine what to do.” Criteria should also be included to determine “triggering” events, or what are the conditions for activating various responses. The use of checklists is also highly recommended to make it easier to remember what to do and not miss any important steps (Bond 2007). However, a checklist does little good if the reader has never seen the information before or understands how to apply it.
It is important that not only are appropriate authorities given to those identified in the plan but that they have actual authority to enact provisions they are responsible for. While a position may be named to initiate certain steps, if in real life, they need permission from someone else, then either that person needs to be named or true authority given to the individual. Another consideration is to identify where emergency plan document is physically located. Plans must be immediately available, especially if notification of an event occurs after hours. Anyone with designated responsibilities in an emergency should keep a hard copy or an electronic version of the plan with them at all times. Having direct access to the plan will improve response time. It may also reduce the chance of having to go to the office, delaying response. Plans must also be reviewed at least annually and kept up to date. People leave; phone numbers change; technology evolves; and locations may change. Make sure changes are accurately reflected in the plan, and those responsible are made aware of the changes.
Facility safety is paramount for considering evacuation plans for all employees, visitors, vendors, and contractors. Within each of these groups are those with special or functional needs that may require assistance with hearing notifications, reading instructions, speaking English, or exiting upper floors, so contingencies will be needed ahead of time to avoid confusion and delays. Determine all evacuation routes, assembly areas, and hazardous areas along with any places that can create confusion or challenges. Conduct a risk assessment of the facility using one of the many available tools. Take steps to reduce vulnerable situations such as poor lighting, shrubbery to conceal items or people, or relocating electrical devices such as computers off the floors, especially on lower levels. Identify and correct any situations that increase hazards, such as crossing a busy street to go to an assembly area or if the assembly area located next to flammable material storage.
Employee behavior at assembly areas is also something to consider ahead of time. If there are delays in returning back into the office, determine if are employees free to wander or if they must they remain in place. Another potential problem to address is smoking at the assembly area while people are waiting to go back in. While people are waiting or are nervous, they are likely to light up outside. If there are any flammable materials involved, this can turn out to be dangerous. Clear policy and communication regarding smoking during emergencies can reduce issues ahead of time. Typically employees are not on break during an evacuation unless they are given one. Further actions may be necessary, so employees should remain reasonably quiet and ready for further instructions.
Evacuations and Sheltering
While there is an expectation under the Life Safety Code to evacuate a building in 4 min, it is important to determine if policies and procedures allow this to occur. Not only must people evacuate, but also accountability for employees, visitors, and contractors must be established and reported to the emergency coordinator in case someone is left behind. Determine how you will account for employees and visitors, and perform it until it is flawless. The more employees practice, the more reality will impose and identify any wrinkles in emergency plans. Take the time to do after action reviews to identify problems, address deficiencies, and improve response.
Employee identification is becoming more commonplace nowadays. Perpetrators have pulled the fire alarm and then entered the building with the rest of the employees returning. Checking everyone for identification upon reentry should also be considered.
Identify multiple off-site shelter areas to relocate personnel from potentially damaging weather such as rain, cold, or high winds. The building next door is a great idea if it is large enough to hold employees and the building is also not impacted. If this is a larger community event, such as flooding, buildings nearby may also be impacted along with many of the streets across town; so a location out of the area should be found as well.
If severe weather like a tornado hits or there is chemical infiltration into the building, a plan and procedure is needed to protect people inside. Determine safe areas within the building people can move to. For severe winds and tornados, people should be moved to the lowest areas of the building away from doors and windows, so debris does not break through causing further injuries. Consider how to notify occupants and assist those with special needs. These plans need to be practiced to determine how long will it take to get everyone there and identify any bottlenecks that occur and if successful accountability is achieved. There must be provisions in place to quickly shut down air handling systems to avoid drawing in or spreading airborne contamination through the building. This must also include who is responsible and that proper access can be gained quickly.
Practice for these basic response steps is necessary and can point out challenge areas or conditions that need to be streamlined. While most people conduct drills on a sunny day, the reality is it may be raining, snowing, or very hot or cold. Start out simple, but be prepared for bad weather.
It is necessary to determine how to communicate with employees, customers, and vendors before, during, and after a disaster. Establish notification and communication methods to activate your location emergency action plan team and to provide information to people in the building on-site and off-site. Develop and maintain lists of employees, partners, customers, vendors, contractors, and repair services for the physical plant. Include multiple ways to contact individuals, especially during off hours. Consider programming the numbers into cell phones.
Evaluate the existing physical communication systems that can be used to reach others, intranet home page, hotline, bulletin board, password-protected Internet site, or emails, and determine if it is acceptable (Lockwood). The communication plan must clearly spell out who is authorized to create and approve these messages. Have approvals in place ahead of time for all notices. These systems must be immediately accessible, 24/7 by those who are authorized. Emergencies do not pay attention to work schedules. Considerations must include how long does it take to sign in, create your message, and send them. Regular testing will verify how quickly messages will be delivered. A message to evacuate is not very effective if it takes 3 h or more to reach the approver and get an answer. Consider a mechanism for recipients to confirm receipt of the message, so it is clear the message went out and was received. Be sure to test the system at different times of the day, from both inside and outside of the facility to ensure it works. Develop back up methods for access and delivery. The sender should include their contact information in all messages to verify when and how it was sent. All employees authorized to deliver messages need to practice regularly and frequently. Passwords fail, firewalls can block access, and multiple users during a crisis can bog down systems. Anticipate these problems and plan accordingly.
Communication messaging related to an emergency should be clear, with information on both the situation and direction for what actions people should take. People are more reluctant to comply with suggested emergency measures that are vague or incomplete (Perry and Lindell). Using multiple delivery mechanisms will ensure people receive the message and promote the urgency for compliance. Use as many methods as possible and practical for the situation.
Also, make sure communication works between team members when responding. When coordinating an evacuation or other response, consider the use of handheld radios. Test them out before purchasing if possible to ensure they work in all areas of the building or if a repeater is needed. Ensure there is enough and maybe a spare or two in case one breaks. They must be charged and periodically tested to ensure they work and staff maintains competency in using them. Radios can either be assigned to team members or kept in a designated location. There are pros and cons to both. Especially in large buildings, team members need to reach each other and the leader; situations can change and everyone needs to both give and receive critical information quickly. Ultimately communications relies on tools. Ensure people have immediate access to the tools needed.
If you do direct employees to alternate locations, they must know where they are and how to get there. Policy should address additional travel time and how expenses are reimbursed. Don’t assume employees know where the alternate locations are or how to get there. Directions should be published and given at the time of the notification to avoid confusion.
Another factor to consider is transportation issues for your staff, visitors, and customers. Consider if it is too dangerous to drive or if public transportation shuts down, how many employees will be able to still make it in. Many times during emergencies and disasters, local officials will direct the public to avoid all unnecessary travel, so consider what does this mean for your employees and your business. Determine ahead of time if there are critical functions that must continue to serve the public or your customers; the necessary staff needed to perform those functions, and ensure these employees have plans in place at home to ensure family is safe so they can work. If employees must travel, ensure they have identification on them to show they are critical staff and must report. Moving large amounts of people through an area that has travel restrictions during severe weather should not be taken lightly. Consider if existing employees can remain in place until the bad weather is over before traveling. If people do not have to travel during the worst of the weather, try to avoid it.
Another critical resource that must be managed during an emergency is money. Develop a plan to maintain financial transactions. Ensure employees can be paid and critical items can be purchased if power or Internet goes down. If banking transactions cannot occur, having cash on hand may be a necessary resource. If employees are unable to work due to a disaster, determine if they will they be paid or be required to use vacation time. If employees have to work extra hours, be sure overtime policies are clear and are reviewed. Be prepared to address expenses employees accrue for traveling or hotels.
Financial management needs to factor in multiple variables when facing disasters; the more resources and expenses needed will cost more money, leaving the questions of how is it getting paid for. The more answers are determined ahead of time will reduce additional decision-making and stress at the time of the event.
It is also essential to conduct a review of your organizations insurance policies (Shaw n.d.). Verify what types of events are and are not covered and how is damaged goods or lost revenue compensated. Deductibles and replacement coverage are important things to consider. Exclusions for acts of war seem far-fetched, but damages might not be covered from a terrorist event. Make adjustments to policies based on risks, coverage, and ultimately cost, but more importantly know where the organization stands ahead of time. Do not rely on FEMA reimbursement. It is never enough nor is it quick enough to get back in business immediately. Make sure risks are managed.
Everyone has heard it is necessary to establish commitment for the emergency management program by the top leadership (State Farm 2015). Senior management must communicate the priority and support needed for emergency management. Create measurements to track performance of departments and employees for participating in training and exercises and reward them accordingly. Employees will see quickly if leadership supports emergency preparedness by their actions as well as their words. If leadership does not support the program, it will most likely not work when you need it to.
It is necessary for everyone involved in the organization, including leadership to participate in emergency preparedness training. Employees must know their roles (Perry and Lindell). People need to know what is expected of them, what is likely to happen and what the organizations can and cannot do for them (Perry and Lindell). Ensure people understand the information and can execute actions when it is necessary. Therefore, practice should be a part of training. It is also necessary for teams to train together for operability, understanding each other’s roles and priorities in realistic scenarios, including community partners on a regular basis (Bond). Provide training, drills, and exercises to develop team competency. Throwing a team of experts together does not make an expert team (Burke et al. 2004). Trust and competencies must be developed together in order for good performance during emergencies.
Determine what professional responders can and will do for your facility in various scenarios during planning. Don’t assume the police will search your building if a bomb threat is called in. Police may not even say it is safe for people to return to the building, so work with them ahead of time to determine how this will be handled.
Conduct after action reviews after each drill, exercise, potential, or actual event. Look for what worked well and what needs to be changed. Have a process to ensure corrective steps are taken and assign accountability. While many businesses may rely on 911 to handle emergencies, during a disaster, highest priority calls are taken first, and basic response may be up to facility staff. It is best to be as self-reliant as possible.
In order for effective emergency management, it requires planning, training, exercising, acquisition of equipment and resources, and the need to include outside partners. Planning is a process of analysis, development, and maintenance of individual and team performance skills achieved through training, drills, and critiques (Perry and Lindell). While this paper has attempted to cover many practical aspects of emergency management, it is certainly not inclusive of all of them. A good philosophy to go by is if it can be planned for, it can be prepared for. Better decisions will be made when management and responders, both internal and external, can plan ahead by discussing various scenarios, response actions, and outcomes ahead of time. Response will be much better than waiting to make decisions with the pressure of an event unfolding.
Many of the lessons identified in this paper were learned through drills, while some were unfortunately learned through actual events. Take the opportunity to critically examine procedures and expected outcomes now while the sun shines, in order to make emergency management run smoother during a disaster. Practice for real-life events is what makes an emergency plan practical.
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