Reviewing Hundreds of Emergency Plans Reveals Two Key Gaps
Contributed by Mark Nicola, Vice President of Operations & Training, Experior Group
After reviewing the emergency and crisis plans of hundreds of companies and running live drills for many of them, we have identified two key areas that are frequently overlooked and result in almost certain failure when the plans are put into action.
- Training - Properly trained personnel are, by far, your greatest asset, but they can easily become bystanders during an event if not adequately informed. They must clearly understand their position and area of responsibility as it fits into the greater plan.
- Communication - The ability for your staff to effectively communicate before, during and after any crisis situation, no matter how minor the incident.
Planning Your Emergency Training
With regular training sessions that incorporate scenario and discussion-based exercises, personnel get to know who the crisis managers are, put faces to names on a crisis management org chart, understand the roles of emergency preparedness staff, initial responders, floor wardens, counselors, and anyone assigned to key positions in the response plan.
Before you dive into training, there are two prerequisites:
- Make sure your emergency response plans are up to date and changes have been made to adapt to your current work model whether it is remote, hybrid or on-site.
- Update the key roles in your crisis plan to reflect any staff changes.
From there, here are additional considerations to address before and during your training:
- Although there are key staff serving on an emergency management team, every employee should consider themselves as part of the “emergency team.” Your employees are a force multiplier when it comes to initial response to an incident. Access control, and reporting suspicious behavior are also dependent on staff feeling empowered to enforce policy. Consider a rewards program that incentivizes staff for enforcing access controls and reporting suspicious behavior?
- Are your employees encouraged to become "helpers" rather than simply bystanders during an emergency or crisis? Incentives for employees that seek out additional training such as Stop the Bleed, CPR/1st Aid, etc. will return dividends and empower your staff members to feel better prepared themselves and also ready and willing to help their team members to survive an incident.
- Every employee has their own strengths and weaknesses which need to be evaluated and leveraged when assigning crisis team roles and responsibilities. Identify strong emergency responders, whether or not they currently serve in a leadership role.
- Consider ongoing training programs to include Run, Hide, Fight training (or a variation of it,) tabletop exercises, walk-thru drills and discussion-based exercises. Different methods of training offer various levels of effectiveness and how they are received and retained by their audience. Any training should meet the needs of your unique organizational culture. There is no boilerplate approach to crisis training.
Communications: Don't Rely on the Availability of Daily Options
Many emergency communication plans take for granted reliable options like a landline phone or 2-way radio service that they enjoy during "normal daily operations." But their comfort often shields them from the danger of not routinely testing a secondary or even tertiary form of communication that may prove to be their only lifeline when crisis strikes.
Emergency communications plans need to be reviewed and updated annually (at a minimum) or anytime critical aspects of the plan are affected by personnel changes. As more organizations are shifting from remote, to hybrid or on-site operations, they need to account for how staff in every location are best reached.
Natural disasters can significantly impact communications at a time when they are needed the most.
Multiple forms of communications need to be identified, tested and included in your emergency response plans. You can't afford a lapse in communication during an emergency. Do not take existing communications for granted. This may include landlines or even cellular service, as they may be the first to go down and may not be restored until long after the situation is under control. Texts and Apps, like In Case of Crisis, will frequently provide more reliable communication than actual phone service. Additionally, dual band, UHF/VHF, radios are often considered too expensive or redundant when, in fact, there are extremely reliable models available for reasonable prices.
Proactive emergency communications are fulfilling two important functions:
- Anticipation of possible crises and reduction in the probability of their occurrence.
- Preparation of key stakeholders to ensure the emergency will be as effectively managed as possible.
While not every emergency or crisis warrants an all-hands response, each, no matter how minor, needs to be assessed and evaluated as quickly as possible. After action reviews, also referred to as a “hot wash”, are critical for capturing key details pertaining to how well a plan worked and where the plan may have failed or, for whatever reason, not have been implemented. Post-crisis communications may also include internal investigations which may lead to press releases or legal battles.
While training and communication issues are by no means the only common failures of emergency and crisis response plans, both can be a source of disaster if not given attention. Properly trained, well equipped, and strategically assigned employees will respond with greater confidence, and according to plans, when emergency strikes.
Awarded the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Safety Act Designation in September of 2020, The Red Ball Drills® program, by the Experior Group, focuses on-process to look at site-specific scenarios. It is a comprehensive safety and security review process, utilizing proprietary methodology for true all hazards assessment, analysis, and continued improvement.
Learn how hundreds of organizations large and small are using our award-winning issue and crisis management platform, In Case of Crisis, to better prepare for and respond faster to emerging threats.