In order to effectively respond to emergencies, emergency management teams must establish the ability to receive and transmit information, maintain situational awareness, and communicate within a coordinated emergency response framework. Streamlined communication components are essential to ensure effective emergency management. Communicating timely and accurate information to facility managers, critical decision makers, emergency response teams, stakeholders, contractors, and the public is an important aspect of nearly every emergency management function.
The execution of a solid communication plan should begin in the planning phase, not on the verge of, during, or in the aftermath of a disaster. Through planning, a communication plan can be fully integrated into the overall disaster or emergency response plan. Companies must:
- Develop processes to assess incoming/outgoing information to/from multiple sources
- Organize information systematically
- Display and relay applicable information
- Communicate essential information to appropriate parties
- Document response data in the event it is necessary for further communications
Communications planning may include verification of emergency contacts, training, exercises, activation procedures, response notifications, public relations, and other site-specific needs. These company efforts must be accurate and conclusive to bolster the overall strategic and tactical preparedness objectives.
Management, employees, and responders should be familiar with emergency communication processes, especially notification and activation procedures. Do not assume that responders identify with current company policies or the context of emergencies communications. Exercises play a crucial role in preparedness, providing opportunities for employees, emergency responders and officials to practice, assess and refine their collective communications capabilities and response expectations. These exercises encourage awareness of alarms, muster requirements, implications of various situations, and response expectations.
The notification process begins upon discovery of an emergency situation and notification of appropriate personnel. The initial notifications should be communicated by a company approved method (telephone, alarm, radio, etc.), and all known information should be provided at that time, including, but not limited to:
- Type of event (fire, explosion, etc.)
- Casualties or injured parties
- Hazardous material involved, if applicable
Companies must establish a strategic framework with checklists and response criteria that will guide the communications decision-making process to allow for an effective response. All pertinent facts and necessary information should be maintained to ensure all emergency management, response personnel, and agencies are quickly notified.
Effective communications is the bridge to stabilizing an emergency situation. Stabilization includes such communication actions as initiating proper notifications, alarms and PA announcements, personnel evacuation, shutdown of systems, obtaining medical assistance, and conferring with appropriate personnel to develop and implement a course of action.
Stabilization also may include media/public relations. In this 24/7 information age, a communications plan should include informational jurisdiction decisions about what to release, by whom, and when. Information MUST be accurate and timely in order to defuse rumors.
Recovery begins once the affected area is stabilized, personnel are evacuated and/or accounted for, and the situation is under control or stable. Recovery communications includes damage assessment reporting, interactions with response personnel, removal and disposal of an explosive device or hazardous material, and verifying the safety of an area prior to reentry. The lines of communications need to remain open to return to a “business as usual” level.
MITIGATION AND PREVENTION:
After a declared emergency has been terminated, an oral and written critique of the response should be conducted among the key responders involved.
A post-incident summary of any problems and corrective actions planned or taken to resolve the problem should be included in incident reports. Lines of communication should remain open and action items should be documented and tracked to ensure that corrective actions are completed.
As technology and communication methods evolve, companies must make an effort to incorporate accepted systematic formats, mainstream methodology, and digital response tactics into EHS programs. Implementing best practice communications methods that relate to satellite radios, social media, smartphones, and/or cloud-based technologies will enable companies to carry out a solid communication plan.