The fastest way to turn an incident, crisis, or emergency into a prolonged disaster is to experience a communications breakdown. In order to minimize impacts and rapidly respond to circumstances, companies must ensure communication processes and procedures are clearly defined and understood, and associated equipment is functional.
While every effort should be made to train employees on response processes and procedures for probable emergency scenarios relevant to your operations, training employees on initial site-specific responses included in your response plan is fundamental to your emergency management program. The need to swiftly communicate accurate and pertinent information is common to all emergency scenarios, despite operational function. Information, at a minimum should include:
- Contact number to initiate report and response needs
- Location of incident
- Type of incident (medical, fire, oil spill, etc.)
- Casualties or injured parties
The initial responder, or first person on-scene, will be the first initiator of emergency communications. While this individual may have extensive training and response knowledge, most likely, the initial responder is not specifically trained for response. As a result, all employees should be trained in initial response processes, procedures, and communication expectations. Individuals who demonstrate a clear understanding of the communication plan, emergency procedures, and assigned responsibilities are better prepared to implement effective communication and initiate a streamlined response. Detailed information should be readily available to facility personnel to ensure all emergency managers, response personnel, and applicable agencies (ex. National Response Center) are quickly notified in the event of an incident.
Once initial response processes and procedures are established, ongoing communication is critical in order to assess, direct, and respond to the incident. Facilities must have standardized and exercised modes of communicating. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) describes standard communications response equipment options that may be used during an incident, emergency, or disaster. The following options range from basic to state-or the art technology:
Runners: Individuals carrying written messages from one location to another.
- Distance and time
- Requires written information for accuracy
- Requires familiarity with the area
Landline telephones: Analog and digital phones connected by physical lines. (Note: Some telephone service providers utilize modems for connecting landlines. Check with your individual service provider)LIMITATIONS
- Not mobile
- System overloads easily
- Network susceptible to physical damage
- May be affected by power failure
Cellular/Smart phones: Mobile digital phones connected by signals transmitted by cellular towers. Capable of transmitting short messaging service (SMS). In many cases text messages will go through when your call may not.LIMITATIONS
- Towers may fail due to power outage or damage
- System overloads easily
- Requires knowledge of responder phone numbers
- May be dependent on landlines
Satellite Phone: Mobile phones that use signals transmitted by satellites. If other phone systems are down, can only communicate locally with other satellite phones
- Requires visibility to sky or building with compatible antenna
- Potential diminished voice quality or latency
Two-way radios: Handheld, mobile, or base-station radios used for communicating on radio frequencies; many require licensure by the FCC. Below are a few examples of the different two-way radio types as described by FEMA:
- Family Radio Service (FRS): Have a very limited range; useful only for intra-team communications
- General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS): Have a greater range than FRS radios and signals can be improved with antennas and repeaters
- Multiple-Use Radio Service (MURS): Only 5 channels available for use
- Citizen Band (CB): Have 40 channels and affordabl
- Family Radio Service (FRS): Cannot alter radio (no antennas) = limited range
- General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS):
- Requires a license (one per family)
- Intended for family use
- Some business licenses are grandfathered
- Multiple-Use Radio Service (MURS): More expensive than FRS/GMRS radio
- Citizen Band (CB): Limited range
Computer-based communications: Information may be transmitted over the Internet or with runners via USB drivesLIMITATIONS:
- May require internet connectivity
- Requires specific hardware
- Requires power source for long use although solar power options are becoming increasingly available and affordable.
In the event Internet connectivity is terminated or inaccessible, emergency managers must have alternative means to access plans. Redundant data-centers, scheduled downloads, and ancillary security measures must be a part of any emergency management program based on an intranet or cloud.
Internet availability enables additional emergency communications through social media. From communicating facility closures in the event of bad weather or evacuation orders as a result of a hazardous spill, greater Internet accessibility allows for companies to streamline emergency communications to a wider audience with minimal administrative effort.
NOTE: The National Response Center (NRC) is the sole federal point of contact for spills of hazardous materials. NRC, which is staffed on a 24-hour basis, was given the responsibility of receiving incident reports involving hazardous materials regulated under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act for the transportation of hazardous materials (49 CFR 171), for natural gas and other gases transported by pipeline (49 CFR 191), and for liquids transported by pipeline (49 CFR 195). All facilities involved in these activities should include the National Response Center reporting number, (800) 424-8802, in the notification section of an emergency response plan.
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