In emergency management, response time is critical. The faster an effective response can be initiated, the less chance of an incident escalating and adversely impacting the facility, employees, the environment, and a company’s reputation. Rapid incident response requires accurate communication, training, and exercises.
An accurate plan must be in place for optimal response times. Verification of contact information for company personnel, emergency responders, and agencies should be done on a periodic basis. Any delay in communication will increase response times, delay response actions, and exacerbate the potential impacts.
In order to react quickly, companies need to prepare response plans with flexible, yet pre-identified response strategies. It is critical that the emergency management framework, response measures, and communication strategies be tested and exercised before an incident occurs.
Response plan audits ensure detailed accuracy, plan applicability, and regulatory compliance. Throughout the audit process, a variety of aspects can be tested to ensure optimal response times. Certain elements to test include, but are not limited to:
- Viability of communications systems (monthly)
- Alerts, notifications, and activation procedures (quarterly) for all response personnel
- Response equipment (monthly)
- Accessibility of response plan
- Primary and backup infrastructure systems and services
- Plans for recovering vital records, critical information systems, services, and data
- Train employees on response roles and responsibilities
- Conduct incident response orientations and briefings for the entire workforce
- Train company leadership on response team organization and applicable functions
- Train personnel on response plans and procedures
- Allow opportunities for response personnel to demonstrate familiarity with the plans and procedures
- Report documented training to applicable regulatory agencies
- Exercise physical security attributes at the site
- Test internal and external interdependencies, with respect to performance of critical response functions
- Conduct exercises that incorporate deliberate response actions and measure overall response time
- Conduct exercises using scenarios that involve evacuation, shelter in place, or virtual office accessibility
- Demonstrate coordinated communications capability
- Allow opportunity for continuity personnel to demonstrate their familiarity with the recovery and restoration procedures to transition from a continuity environment to normal activities
Coordinating planning, training, drills, and resource availability with local agencies and responders is an important aspect of an effective environmental, health and safety program. Broadening the scope of response expertise can minimize response time. Local agencies may provide additional response knowledge based on particular research, experiences, or training. Not only can response time be reduced, but also the overall duration of the incident.
Emergency managers should continually meet with potential response partners such as government agencies, community organizations, neighboring companies, and utilities companies. Communicating with external alliances throughout the entire planning cycle can drastically reduce response time. Sources of local collaborative response efforts and plan management information may include:
- Community Emergency Management office
- Mayor or Community Administrator’s office
- Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)
- Fire Department
- Police Department
- Emergency Medical Services organizations
- American Red Cross
- National Weather Service
- Public Works Department
- Telephone companies
- Electric companies
- Neighboring businesses
Companies that are required to maintain emergency response plans for regulatory purposes should consider the use of web-based response plans that integrate with real-time incident management systems in order to maximize their emergency response efforts.
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