Plan for Emergencies

A recent article in the HR Daily Advisor says you may not be able to predict emergencies, but you have to be prepared for them.

Recent tragic disasters have certainly made it clear that no company, no matter how large or small and no matter the location, is safe from unexpected disaster. Terrorism, fire, tsunami, hurricane, or flood-the list seems endless, and no one is invulnerable.

Some disasters are predictable. For example, if you have a facility in a flood-prone area, you should be prepared for a flood. Some disasters are not so predictable-for example, a terrorist attack or an unprecedented weather emergency.

Even in these unforeseeable situations, however, general planning can help organizations deal with the challenge. For example, if your disaster plan includes alternate communications methods and an alternate worksite, you’ll be prepared on those fronts for many types of disasters.

Develop a plan

First, you have to identify potential problems and develop courses of action that you could take. There are, of course, many types of emergencies. However, there are a few common categories that cover most situations.

  • Medical emergency. This can be a severe accident, or a heart attack, or an exposure to a hazardous material, for example.
  • Severe weather. This could be anything that relates to a take-shelter type of incident where you don’t want to send employees outside.
  • Fire/evacuation. In this scenario, you need to get people to leave the building.

It’s a Partnership

Get a relationship established with your fire marshal, the fire department, and the EMS. These are the folks who are going to have to respond if you have an incident, so it’s good for them to know about the layout of your property and who your emergency manager is. They should also be briefed on specific hazards at your facilities, such as the presence of explosives, hazardous materials, and so on.

Also, get to know the local emergency manager. He or she is responsible for responding to a community-wide type of disaster or incident. Typically, part of that person’s responsibility is to help the local businesses in the area prepare for disasters and other emergencies.

Updating Is Critical

Once there is a plan, the biggest challenge is keeping it updated. For example, the plan needs to be updated to reflect:

  • Changes in emergency contact personnel and phone numbers, both inside the facility and outside the facility
  • New chemicals, substances, or processes
  • New equipment
  • Changes in exit routes, locations of fire-fighting materials, first-aid equipment, etc.

Daily Inspections Are the Final Check

To make sure things are current, have employees do pre-shift inspections of their work areas. For example, they can make sure that there is, in fact, a fire extinguisher hanging on the hook with the locator sign, and that it’s not only there, but that it’s charged, it’s in the green, it’s been inspected, and it hasn’t been used and moved somewhere else.

Employees can also check for blocked exits, locked doors, and whatever else they depend on in their particular worksite.

Training Is a Must

Train your employees about your emergency plan. You should be able to document that you have done the training, and that employees know what to do and where to go. Agency inspectors like to see that there has been some form of a drill.

Where to Go for Help

You can also check with the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It offers instruction on how to do emergency planning and how to do a plan. There are a lot of resources available on the EMI website, fema.gov. They can provide you with basic outlines of plans, information on how to start the planning process, and how to conduct a risk analysis.

You may want to read FEMA’s Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry. It is a free book and is downloadable from the FEMA website. It shouldn’t overwhelm you, but give you some direction and some things that you can do regardless of your type of facility.

Consider reaching out to the local emergency manager in your area. That person could provide you with additional guidance, which is particularly helpful because where FEMA information is national, a local emergency manager can provide you with information on the requirements within your jurisdiction to make sure you’re in compliance locally, as well as nationally.

And, don’t forget your insurance carrier. It is another good source of help, and your carrier is going to be as interested in employee protection as in your equipment, products, and materials. The carrier usually has some templates or other aids available to help you design your own materials.