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8 Expert Tips: Improve Your Preparedness and Response Planning Program

Posted on Mon, Apr 07, 2014

Improving the effectiveness of emergency response programs should be an ongoing event. From technological advancements to best practices implementation, continually evolving planning programs can reduce unexpected impacts on individuals, infrastructures, and the environment.

Below are eight tips to consider in the continual effort to improve a response-planning program:

1. Data Accuracy: Establishing readily available up-to-date information has been proven to limit the duration of the emergency.  The faster responders can locate, assess, access and implement accurate response actions to mitigate the emergency, the sooner an incident can be contained, and operations can be restored to “business as usual”.

The specific information regarding company operations, on-site equipment, and employees are continuously changing.  Accurate details of these modifications, expansions, and adjustments must be incorporated into the emergency response-planning program.  If the information contained within the plan is missing or out-of-date, the response will be hindered.  Additionally, necessary compliance data relevant to ever-changing regulatory requirements must be accurately applied in order to eliminate the potential for fines.

2. Training: Training programs that include properly trained personnel, guidance, documentation, and oversight help ensure compliance with agency regulations. These regulatory requirements are designed to prevent harm and ensure adequate responses to protect the public. However, companies should not rely on regulatory training requirements and agency inspections to ensure training programs are sufficient.

Companies need to perform cyclical internal training program audits to create corporate assurance, add EHS program value, improve operational safety, and ideally prevent harmful incidents from occurring. Objective internal auditing emphasizes corporate responsibility to employees, the environment, and the surrounding communities and can often reveal inadequacies and mitigation opportunities. Training audits can bring a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management, control, and corporate governance processes.

3. Exercises: Real world exercise scenarios can often highlight potential deficiencies in the response plan and procedures, comprehension of individual roles and responsibilities, and partnership coordination. However, it is through identified deficiencies that mitigation opportunities are revealed and valuable response knowledge and experiences can be attained.

Exercises provide a setting for operational response procedures to be tested. In preparation for these exercises, companies should develop exercise-planning documents, including participant and controller’s packages that contain exercise objectives, scenarios, ground rules, and simulation scripts. These guidelines, at a minimum, should be provided to all participants prior to the exercise to allow for a thorough examination of exercise expectations.

4. Accessibility: Web-based response plans offer the greatest secured accessibility option for stakeholders, auditors, and inspectors while bolstering an entire emergency management program. With web-based technology and an Internet connection, response planning program information embedded with database driven software can be immediately and securely available without the “version confusion” typically found in other formats. Both paper-based plans and those housed on a company intranet are often out of date with multiple versions in various locations, potentially misinforming the response team.

5. Collaboration: Response planning program effectiveness can be optimized through effective interoperability: the ability for diverse organizations to work together for a greater good. Broadening the scope of response expertise can greatly benefit a facility by limiting the timeline of potentially escalating emergencies. Coordinating planning, training, drills, and resource availability with local agencies and responders is an important aspect of an effective environmental, health and safety program.

Local agencies may provide additional response knowledge based on particular research, experiences, or occupational training in a particular area of study. Emergency managers should continually meet with government agencies, community organizations, and utility companies throughout the entire planning cycle to discuss likely emergencies and the available resources to minimize the effects on the community.

6. Auditing: Audits, whether conducted by in-house professionals or experienced consultants, can often reveal the same inadequacies and mitigation opportunities as regulatory agencies.  Regrettably, most companies address response plan gaps only after an incident or agency inspection occurs. With an objective eye, a gap analysis generated by an audit can bolster a response-planning program and minimize the chance of impeding incidents or budget-crippling regulatory fines.

7. Mitigation: Adverse conditions, unsafe activities, or ineffective responses pose risks to occupants, facilities, the environment, and/or communities. By eliminating or mitigating risks, companies can reduce the potential for emergency situations. The risk assessment process can be used to identify situations that may lead to incidents or prolong a response.

While all risks cannot be averted, a facility can become better prepared for disasters if the procedural risk mitigation measures are implemented. Mitigation measures may include a variety of tactics including, but not limited to training for employees, updating safety processes and procedures, or purchasing updated equipment.

8. Best Practices Implementation: Applying best practices to an response planning program enables emergency managers to leverage past experiences as a means to improve planning efforts for future emergency response scenarios. By analyzing past incidents and responses, executing enhancements, and reinforcing lessons learned, companies and municipalities will be better prepared than their historical counterparts.

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Tags: Emergency Response, Emergency Preparedness, Response Plans, Training and Exercises, Emergency Response Planning, Communication Plan