To help ensure the safety and well-being of your employees, take the time to develop a comprehensive emergency response plan. A detailed and well-executed emergency action plan (EAP) can save lives.
The actions taken during the first few moments of an emergency are critical. A prompt, well-orchestrated warning can communicate to your employees whether they should evacuate, seek shelter, shelter-in-place, or commence lockdown. Clear warnings coupled with a keen understanding of your EAP can empower your employees to streamline evacuations or lockdowns, offer bystander assistance, and can even help emergency services respond to events more efficiently.
Step 1: Assemble Your Team
The strength of your EAP depends on the commitment of your team. Seek out the participation of your employees, both management and employees early in the process so that everyone has a say.
Step 2: Conduct a Risk Assessment
Conduct a risk assessment to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities within your organization. People should always be your first consideration in a risk assessment, but risks to physical assets (buildings, computer systems, machinery, finished products) and the environment should also be included in your assessment.
As you conduct the risk assessment, look for vulnerabilities—weaknesses—that would make an asset more susceptible to damage from a hazard. Vulnerabilities include deficiencies in building construction, process systems, security, protection systems, and loss prevention programs. They contribute to the severity of damage when an incident occurs. For example, a building without a fire sprinkler system could burn to the ground while a building with a properly designed, installed, and maintained fire sprinkler system would suffer limited fire damage.
Step 3: Establish Performance Objectives
Keep yourself on track and accountable. Performance objectives are quantifiable and tangible milestones that you’ll achieve as you develop your emergency preparedness program. Be sure to create objectives for all aspects of your program.
- Reach out to public emergency services and regulators.
- Conduct a business impact analysis (in addition to your risk assessment) to identify the operational and financial impacts from an interruption or disruption of your business.
- Identify opportunities for hazard prevention and risk mitigation.
- Protect the safety of your employees by developing evacuation, sheltering and lockdown plans.
- Conduct employee training and drills.
- Install an emergency generator to power the data center during a power outage.
- Install a fire sprinkler system.
- Stop the use of highly toxic or flammable chemicals.
- Build a culture of preparedness in the workplace and encourage employees to have a plan at home.
Step 4: Create a Written Policy
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a lot of information about developing an Emergency Action Plan. While the size and scope of your plan will vary based on the size of your company and your industry, OSHA’s minimum requirements suggest that your plan should include the following elements:
- Means of reporting fires and other emergencies.
- Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments.
- Procedures for employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate.
- Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed.
- Rescue and medical duties for employees performing them.
- Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted in case of an emergency.
FEMA also offers a detailed Emergency Response Plan template to help businesses identify goals and objectives and define exactly what it is an emergency response team needs to do during an emergency.
Step 5: Develop an On-Site Emergency Response Team
Designate cool-headed and well-respected emergency response leaders within your organization to lead evacuation (as necessary), coordinate communication, conduct a head count, and to communicate detailed information to emergency responders. These team members should also be responsible for making sure that minors, disabled employees, or at-risk residents are safely sheltered or evacuated.
Step 6: Offer Training
Once you have identified your emergency response team, it’s up to you to make sure they have the proper training they need to perform their duties effectively. For an Emergency Action Plan to be effective and to ensure the safety of your employees, you’ll need individuals who can be trusted on to respond calmly in an emergency.
Build confidence by offering first aid, Stop the Bleed, CPR, and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training to your entire team. All emergency response team leaders should be required to complete their certifications.
Step 7: Practice and Review Your Emergency Action Plan
Educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements. Be sure all employees understand the function and elements of your emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures. Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.
Emergency response plans can help prevent injury and can dramatically minimize damage. However, it’s important to remember that your Emergency Action Plan is only as good as the people who are carrying it out. Every six months, conduct emergency drills and schedule a one-on-one with your in-house ERT members to make sure they’re still up for the job.