What is an Emergency Response Plan?
News reports have been devoted to far too many instances of emergency response requirements in recent months. Stories abound related to more types of emergencies than we would care to think about:
- Natural disasters including earthquakes, flooding, and wildfires
- Violent protests that result in significant damage to individuals and property
- Workplace violence that includes tragic loss of life
- Industrial accidents resulting in environmental concerns
- Bomb threats or the presence of suspicious packages
Each of these conditions presents the need for an effective plan for prompt action by individuals, businesses, and authorities to avoid and prevent as much human harm and physical damage as possible.
Do You Really Need an Emergency Response Plan?
With the huge scope of potential emergency scenarios, it has become more relevant than ever for employers, individuals, and community agencies such as police and fire departments to have formalized emergency response plans.
Families should be prepared for even minor emergencies, such as power outages, with such items as backup lighting with flashlights and battery-powered radios (remember fresh batteries), cell phones, a supply of non-perishable food items, and extra blankets for outages in cold weather.
Employers are responsible for many aspects of potential emergencies:
- Personal safety and well-being of employees
- Impact to the environment from accidents such as hazardous waste handling or discharges
- Physical damage to facilities and contents
No business is immune to these responsibilities, from the largest manufacturer or petroleum facility, the local hospital, and even the car dealership or neighborhood grocery. When emergencies happen, the actions taken in the first minutes are crucial to minimizing impact. It’s extremely important that those involved are prepared with the right information and procedures for each type of incident in order to:
- Promptly communicate to employees the need to take shelter or evacuate. This will depend on the nature of the emergency and how imminent the threat may be. Early notification of adverse weather conditions may provide time for employees to evacuate the entire vicinity, where an instance such as an approaching tornado may require moving all personnel to sheltered areas away from windows and glass walls.
- Summon authorities or emergency services of the need for assistance, with accurate information of the particular circumstances.
- Administer first aid as needed, with personnel trained in such skills as CPR and other potentially life-saving procedures.
- Take action to minimize environmental impacts, such as safely shutting down equipment that is creating hazardous conditions.
These procedures should be documented and communicated to every employee on a regular basis. Evacuation plans and shelter points should be posted in readily-accessible locations and updated as the need arises. Implement preparatory activities, such as tornado and fire drills, to ensure all employees know the plans and can respond to such conditions quickly and calmly.
Putting Emergency Response Plans into Practice
Planning for each potential type of emergency is critical for quick reaction to such conditions. Communicating emergency response plans and continuously evaluating their effectiveness ensures that all impacted persons are prepared and able to handle each situation with minimal delays and also reduces panic situations.
Be certain that there are responsible individuals assigned to keeping emergency response plans up to date and accurate, and that the plans are communicated to every employee. Facility management should have contact information for authorities readily available, including medical emergency resources, fire and police agencies, and environmental agencies if appropriate.
Part of any emergency response plan is recovery, after the initial emergency has passed and human lives are no longer at risk. This includes full assessment of any possible structural damage or exposure from the release of hazardous chemicals that makes the immediate vicinity unsafe for occupancy.
Businesses of every size and industry and their employees will be more confident in their environment when appropriate emergency response plans are in place and communicated to every individual.