Preparedness, response planning, and emergency management within regulated industries or sensitive environments often requires outside expertise. Program managers are often responsible for predicting, preparing, complying, documenting, and possibly, responding to site-specific emergency scenarios. Yet, limited staffing, constrained timeframes, or the need for specialized expertise often hinders an all-inclusive implementation of “best practices” programs and effective emergency response plans. Implementing this level of resilience often requires external expertise or the services of specialized consultants.
In the area of emergency response planning, an external expert, or consultant, should ease the day-to-day challenges associated with developing and maintaining multiple response plans and site-specific regulatory compliance. However, experienced consultants can provide these services while seamlessly integrating and interfacing with established data, company policies, and cultures.
Carelessly choosing a consultant can lead to delayed implementation, costly and conflicting approaches, and unfulfilled expectations. The following three components should be carefully evaluated when seeking assistance for developing emergency response plans.
1. Company/Employee Support: It is often the company or individuals that have difficulty accepting change. The goal of hiring consultants is to implement positive change. Best practices strategies, processes, and advanced technologies cannot deliver results without company and individual support. Those responsible for hiring consultants must accept, adopt, drive, and sustain changes to realize tangible impacts and overall benefits.
2. Communication Compatibility: The working relationship between a client and the consultant is critical. Both entities must be able to communicate effectively in order to attain identified objectives. The consultant must be upfront regarding costs, timelines, capabilities, and obstacles to ensure mutual understanding. The client should clearly identify the approved budget, implementation timeline, specific needs and objectives, and availability. A positive working relationship and unified project management approach establishes common goals which enables goals to be successfully implemented.
3. Consultant Approach: Consultant-specific methods and tools, such as gap analyses, project management frameworks, site evaluations, and specific mediation approaches are important to comprehend. For an approach method to be effective, it has to be tailored to the situation of the client and changed whenever necessary to achieve set objectives.
Consultant must be able to work closely with their clientele to develop customized plans that can improve a company's ability to prevent incidents, respond effectively, and restore operations to pre-incident levels. Plans should be regulatory compliant and site-specific, identifying unambiguous responses for emergency situations such as fires, natural disasters, terrorist activities, pandemics or other events. Consultants should:
- Have a proven track record in assisting in developing comprehensive, effective plans and processes
- Have hands-on experience in emergency response, security, safety, and disaster preparedness
- Understand budget parameters and confirm services for the agreed cost
- Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of local, state, and federal regulatory requirements applicable to a client’s industry, operations, and location
- Provide references from current clients and relevant experience of staff
- Communicate the information and time required of the company to develop compliant and effective response plans
- Be available for meetings and updates, and address questions or concerns regarding the process, approach, and/or objectives
- Clarify specific methods, techniques, and approaches used to meet objectives and be open to modifications
Consultants who develops customized emergency response plans should be experienced in:
- Maintaining multiple and complex response plans
- Addressing plan maintenance issues regarding infrastructure, personnel, and/or regulatory compliance changes
- Regulatory audits
- Training and exercises
- Gathering or verifying site-specific information
- Conducting emergency response assessments of personnel, response equipment, plans, and response contractors.
The costs associated with contracting consulting services are always in question. When hiring an external emergency management and preparedness consultant, companies should evaluate the strategic cost of an incident and the tactical cost of safety compliance versus the consultant fee. The cost benefit of hiring a specialized, reputable consultant typically outweighs the financial impacts associated with non-compliance or a catastrophic incident.