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How to Incorporate Emergency Preparedness in the Private Sector

Posted on Mon, Sep 26, 2011

Private sector emergency preparedness should establish assurance in the ability to respond to potential incidents, instill a culture of preparedness at the workplace, and provide a means of business continuity. Through the emergency preparedness process, businesses have a better chance to maintain financial security in the event of an emergency, for both the company and its employees. Businesses, both large and small, are the backbone of America’s economy and, as a result, need to prioritize emergency preparedness for the sake of our nation’s security.

For a company to be successful in emergency response planning, the support of upper management is essential. The executive leadership team needs to set the tone by authorizing and directing senior management to institute emergency preparedness measures and financially support those efforts.

Budgetary restraints and the dedicated man-hours required are the main reasons emergency preparedness may be a lower priority in an organization. It is understandable that businesses are trying to operate efficiently and profitably. Unfortunately, it may take a regulatory compliance issue or incident to move emergency preparedness to the forefront.

FEMA suggests and gives examples of presenting management with value-added rationale for implementing a cohesive emergency preparedness program. Examples include:

  • Allows companies fulfill their moral responsibility to protect employees, the community and the environment.
  • Facilitates compliance with Federal, State and local regulations.
  • Establishes processes and procedures to enhance a company’s ability to recover from financial losses, limit or eliminate regulatory fines, loss of market share and corporate reputation, damages to equipment or products, and business interruption.
  • Reduces exposure to civil or criminal liability and lawsuits in the event of an incident.
  • Enhances a company’s image and credibility, and fulfills moral responsibilities to protect employees, customers, the community, and the environment.
  • May reduce your insurance premiums.

Emergency management is a dynamic process. Planning, though critical, is not the only component in an emergency preparedness program. Training, conducting drills, testing equipment, and coordinating interoperability with the community are instrumental for any emergency preparedness program.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Incident Management, Training and Exercises, Regulatory Compliance, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, School Emergency Planning

Documentation in Disaster Management - Where do we start?

Posted on Mon, Sep 19, 2011

Disaster or emergency management documentation can take place in many forms. Some companies use hand held devices to record emergency observations from on-site field locations, while others depend on a central emergency operations center. Regardless of the communication method, or centralized or decentralized location, vital detailed information that incite emergency procedures must be documented as soon as practical during or immediately after an emergency incident. 

Ideally, documentation should begin immediately upon notification of an emergency and continue until post incident reviews have been completed. This includes compiling notes and applicable documentation from all employees and members of the response team. The following are recommended documentation guidelines:

  • Record only facts, not speculation. If participant does not know a particular fact, do not allow speculation or elaboration.
  • Do not criticize other people's efforts and/or methods.
  • Do not speculate on the cause of the emergency.
  • Do not relate unqualified opinions.

Documentation must be specific to the incident, however, the follow topics can provide guidance as to necessary documented information:

  • When/where did incident take place
  • Was an evacuation called for, and if so, how much time was required to evacuate all personnel?
  • Did the designated alarms function properly?
  • Were assembly areas acceptable?
  • Were communication methods effective?
  • Were all employees accounted for?
  • Did on-site equipment satisfy equipment needs? If not, what additional equipment was brought to the site?
  • Were procedures implemented as described in the Emergency Plan?
  • Were there any areas for improvement identified during the incident? List specifics.
  • Did local jurisdictions assist in the emergency response? If so, did they offer suggestions for improvement?
  • Do changes need to be made to the Emergency Plan

Documentation of an emergency incident is a critical part of an emergency plan. Visual, audio, and written recordings should be made, detailing each step of the emergency response in order to provide a clear understanding of the events that occurred. Information and lessons learned from previous incidents can be used to prepare a more functional emergency plan for the future.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Training and Exercises, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Disaster Recovery, Disaster Response, School Emergency Planning

Back to School Planning: Emergency Operations Communication Updates

Posted on Mon, Aug 22, 2011

With the increased number of natural disasters and school-related incidents during the past year, school administrators need to be certain that their emergency operations plans are effective and functional in the event the unthinkable happens.

According to the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center, developing protocols to prepare for all-hazards should be done with the input, support and direction of community partners, including officials from law enforcement, fire safety, public safety, public and mental health and the emergency management fields. This includes establishing a communications plan that can quickly relay information among school districts, staff, students, and outside support agencies.

Advancements in technology has significantly improved the potential for effective communications during a natural disaster. Below is a list of lessons learned from San Diego County Office of Education in response to wildfires that rapidly spread through the area threatening schools and its occupants.


Lesson’s learned from San Diego’s County Office of Education to ensure collaborative communication include:

  1. Establish a district conference call phone line. This enables all area superintendents to communicate collectively during a crisis.
  2. Acquire a mass notification system to communicate with staff and parents. During a crisis, regularly update staff and parents through this system and the Internet.
  3. Conduct semiannual mass notification tests to staff and students to ensure accurate contact information.
  4. Develop contact lists. Ensure that the list includes contact information for key individuals in each district or school, with multiple points of contacts, including work phone, cell phone, home phone, and e-mail.
  5. Designate key district and/or school staff as the holders of contact lists containing contact information for superintendents, principals, alternates, and other key district staff. Update the list quarterly and provide copies to the local law enforcement and local emergency management agencies. Have the holders of contact lists keep copies at work, home, and in their personal vehicle. This ensures that at the onset of a crisis they have the means to contact each other immediately.
  6. Develop decision trees. School districts may be required to make quick decisions. Decision trees need to be kept current so that everyone who is part of the decision-making process can be in communication with one another as soon as a crisis begins. Further, decision trees are critical because the movement of such wildfires is highly unpredictable. The fact that a wildfire is in one part of the county does not mean a school in another part does not have to be on alert.
  7. Always have an amateur radio units in your Emergency Operations Center. Amateur radios may be outdated, but they are also the last type of communication to fail.
After an incident, remember to debrief, identify lessons learned and weaknesses in the emergency management plan, and revise the plan accordingly. Just because the crisis is over does not mean the emergency management process has ended.


For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Emergency Management Program, School Emergency Planning

6 Points to Developing Emergency Operations Plans

Posted on Thu, Aug 11, 2011

According to FEMA’s Comprehensive Planning Guide, there are six key steps in developing an Emergency Operations Plan. At each step in the planning process, emergency planners should consider the impact on required training, exercises, and equipment costs and availability.

Step 1: Form a Collaborative Team

  • Identify a Core Planning Team: Typically this includes an emergency manager or security manager, a hazard mitigation expert, local jurisdictions, and any additional available planning experts.
  • Engage essential personnel in planning process to identify capabilities and resources.

Step 2: Understand the Situation

  • Identify Threat and Hazards: Assess local jurisdiction’s planning framework to highlight geographical threats.  Facility hazards and risks can be broken down into three areas:
    1. Natural Hazards
    2. Technological and chemical Hazards
    3. Human Hazards
  • Assess Risk: Assign probability values to threats and hazards for the purposes of determining priorities, developing processes and procedures, and allowing for informed decision-making. Understanding the consequences of a potential incident can help prioritize resources and response efforts.

Step 3: Determine Goals and Objectives

  • Identify Operational Priorities: Specify desired operational outcome(s) for emergency responders, employees, and facility, and define a success for each operation.
  • Set Goals and Objectives: Clearly indicate the desired result or end-state the response is intended to achieve.

Step 4: Plan Development

  • Develop and Analyze Course of Action: Planners should consider requirements, goals, and objectives to develop at least two options for response. The planning team should work through a process by using tools that allow participants to visualize typical operational flow to determine best suitable procedural options.
  • Identify Resources: Match available resources, both internal and external, to requirements, response obligations, and assignments. This can identify internal response shortfalls that require outside capabilities and additional response assistance.
  • Identify Information and Intelligence Needs: Planners should identify the information and intelligence necessary to drive decision-making and trigger critical response actions.

Step 5: Plan Preparation, Review & Approval

  • Write the Plan: The results from the priorities, goals and objective in Step 4 should provide an outline for a rough draft. As the planning team works through successive drafts, participants should add necessary supporting information, graphics, and/or photos taking note to comply with local, state and federal regulations.
  • Review the Plan: Planning is a continuous process that does not stop when the plan is published. Plans should evolve as lessons are learned, new information and insights are obtained, and priorities are updated. Utilizing a web-based plan allows for simple edits and access from multiple locations, allowing for a comprehensive review, despite location of participating parties.
  • Approve and Disseminate the Plan: Senior management and associated regulatory agencies typically grant emergency plan approvals.  The planner should then arrange to distribute the plan to associated parties and maintain a record of the individuals/ organizations that received a copy (or copies) of the plan.

Step 6: Plan Implementation & Maintenance

  • Exercise the plan: Evaluating the effectiveness of plans involves a combination of training events, exercises, and real-world incidents to determine whether the goals, objectives, decisions, actions, and timing outlined in the plan can lead to a successful and effective response.
  • Review, Revise, and Maintain the Plan: Planning teams should establish a process for reviewing and revising the plan. Reviews should be an ongoing and recurring activity.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Tips for Effective Exercises.

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Training and Exercises, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, School Emergency Planning

School Safety Plans Must Include Terrorism Response Procedures

Posted on Thu, Jul 28, 2011

The process of developing a campus emergency plan to adddress terrorism can be overwhelming for school administrations. However, the potential for terrorist attacks makes it imperative that emergency plans include strategies to protect campuses, students, and staff. All schools should build on existing plans, work closely with local emergency agencies, and rehearse their plans accordingly.

Two key factors that must be considered in planning include the nature of terrorist threats and the available warning time allotted. According to FEMA, the weapons most likely to be used by terrorists fall into the following categories:

Conventional weapons include bombs and other explosive devices. The goal is to place inhabitants in a protected space and/or increase the distance from the potential explosive area. The following actions should be considered:

  • Use basement areas
  • Move to interior hallways away from windows
  • Practice ‘duck and cover’ drill
  • Shut off gas utilities
  • Evacuate students and staff
  • Release students to parents/guardians

Chemical weapons may be poisonous gases, liquids, or solids. The following actions should be considered:

  • Secure doors/windows
  • Turn off all ventilation, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents, and fans
  • Seek shelter in an internal room
  • Make decisions based on reliable information from public safety officials on the location of the chemical release and wind speed and direction
  • Develop reunification procedures that minimize the penetration of airborne substances
  • Communicate with medical personnel (intervene as appropriate or instructed)


Biological agents are organisms or toxins that have the potential to incapacitate people, livestock, and crops. They can be dispersed as aerosols, airborne particles or by contaminating food and water. These agents may not cause symptoms for days or weeks following an exposure. The following actions should be considered:

  • Mitigate exposure (includes getting everyone into buildings)
  • Secure avenues of penetration to include closing doors/windows and shutting down the heating ventilation, and air conditioning systems
  • Develop reunification procedures that mitigate risks
  • Develop a recovery plan in light of the highly contagious nature of these weapons
  • Communicate with medical personnel

Nuclear weapons have special considerations, given the potential exposure to radiation. The overarching concern is to get individuals to a protected space or to increase the distance from the blast area. FEMA recommends taking shelter immediately as the three protective factors include distance, shielding, and time. Issues for consideration include, but are not limited to:

  • Potential magnitude
  • Emotional implications
  • Contamination
  • Casualties
  • Unavailability of emergency resources
  • Need for long-term sheltering
  • Hazard analysis (proximity to nuclear power plant, military installation, chemical plants)
  • Identification of at-risk persons or populations
  • Safe evacuation procedures and routes
  • Short-term and long-term recovery

It is essential that the roles and responsibilities of educators, law enforcement, fire officials, and other first responders are clearly described, reviewed, and updated. Communication procedures should detail methods of information distribution, including social media tools, between those on and off the site, parents, emergency responders, the community, and the media. 

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Terrorism Threat Management, School Emergency Planning

Real-Time Incident Management Results in Timely Response

Posted on Mon, Jun 27, 2011

One of the greatest challenges in incident management comes with the unpredictability of an ongoing situation and the communication shortfalls of the systems and processes in place. Regardless of the incident, the ability to establish a quick and effective response, and internal transparency for every step in the incident management process improves safety, reduces response costs, and provides more timely business continuity.

Having a “real-time” incident management system in place may alleviate some of the shortfalls that occur with an incident management response. The real-time transmissions of incident details, including location, severity, impact, and status allows decisions and coordinated efforts to be tailored to the event as it evolves.


Although instantateous feedback through a web-based system is ideal, incident management plans should include a means to provide the following:

  • Initial Response - Employees should be able to instinctively obtain essential information in real time.  This allows responders to provide swift and appropriate resolutions quickly. Having the ability to establish an intuitive, customizable system is a key component of incident management.
  • Reporting - To improve response in an ongoing process, you first need the ability to measure it. In incident management, this means the process of providing and receiving current information: Information that may need to be reported may include:
    • Response time Initial Response Actions
    • Initial Response Actions and Resolutions
    • Incident command and position specific roles and responsibilities
    • Incident Planning /Follow up Assignments/ Status (Assigned, Delayed, Overdue, Complete)
    • Sustained Response Actions
    • Demobilization and review: Examine overall performances and processes. This may highlight areas for improvement in your incident management process.
  • Feedback - After an incident has been resolved, solicit feedback from responders, regulators, and  employees.  Post-incident feedback surveys help to identify areas for improvement and improve documentation of response actions and events.


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Tags: Crisis Mapping, Business Continuity, Emergency Preparedness, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Disaster Recovery, School Emergency Planning, Notification Systems

The Basic Guidelines for Developing a Business Continuity Plan

Posted on Thu, Jun 23, 2011

Through the development of a corporate business continuity plans (BCP), companies can limit the financial and non-financial impacts of incidents associated with emergency situations that limit their ability to access key offices or other facilities.  A BCP should include a collection of the minimum required procedures and information that allow a company to maintain operations in the event of an emergency or disaster.

An assessment of the impact of a disaster on an organization can quickly highlight planning needs. The process of developing a new business continuity plan should begin with a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify critical business processes.

Business Impact Analysis: A management-level analysis identifying exposures of the sudden loss of critical and supporting business functions and resources.

A BIA should evaluate the following components for each critical business process:

  • Likelihood Level: Indicate how likely each specific threat could occur considering current/ existing capabilities, mitigation measures, and history.
  • Impact Level: Indicate how severely the process would be impacted considering current/existing mitigation measures.
  • Staffing minimums: Identify staffing level needs (including contractors or suppliers) to meet recovery time objectives.
  • IT requirements: If electronic data must be available to recover specific process to a minimum service level, identify the necessary data source(s) or software applications.
  • Recovery Time: Identify how long it would take to recover specific critical processes under existing capabilities.
  • Data Backup History: If a data source(s) is identified, indicate how old the data can be to satisfy recovery.
  • Alternate Location Options: Identify needs and review options for off-site locations to recover critical business processes.


While the business continuity planning process may be executed with in-house staff, some companies prefer to use seasoned consultants for impartial evaluations and experienced guidance. Consultants should have hands-on experience in business continuity and disaster preparedness. They must be able to comprehend core business needs and clearly communicate recommendations to the client to successfully develop a customized, site specific, and functional BCP.

Business functions to consider when conducting a BIA include, but are not limited to:

  • Finance and Treasury
  • Contracts
  • Supply and Trading
  • Financial Accounting
  • Emergency Response/Crisis Management Team
  • Payroll
  • Benefits
  • Accounts Payable
  • Environmental Health and Safety

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Business Continuity key points, Business Continuity, Emergency Preparedness, Emergency Management Program, School Emergency Planning

Identifying Emergency Classfication Levels Aids In Planning

Posted on Thu, Jun 02, 2011

Situations with the potential for significant impact to facility safety may require a response by trained emergency personnel from outside the immediate affected area. In most cases, the emergency response may target:

  • Health and Safety - Events or conditions that represent, cause, or have the potential to cause serious health and safety impacts to workers or the public.
  • Technological / Infrastructure - Fire, explosion, spill/release, radiation emergencies, building collapse; failure of telecommunications, information systems, or affiliated technologies; utility service interruption (gas, water, electricity, sewer, heat). These events may or may not involve hazardous materials.
  • Acts of Nature - Conditions that represent a threat to workers and/or facilities due to severe weather (i.e. tornadoes, lightning storm, etc.) or other natural phenomena.

For planning purposes, potential emergencies can be classified into various emergency levels (ex. Level 1, Level 2). Emergency classification levels define the potential hazard to facility personnel, the facility, and the public, and classify the resource levels necessary to manage the emergency. Each higher level results in increased required resources, or response complexity to deal with the emergency.

A Level-1 emergency can be categorized as:

  • Minor or very limited potential threat to life, safety, property, or the environment and DOES NOT extend outside the immediate area or off site.
  • Unit or facility personnel have the training, capability, PPE, and equipment to manage and control the incident, and the need for outside assistance is not required.
  • Facility alarms are not required to warn others outside of the immediate area
  • The hazard does not require evacuation of the immediate area.
  • No potential for loss of control or escalation.
  • Incident Management Team is not activated.

A Level-2 emergency can be categorized as:

  • Potential threat to life, safety, property or the environment is Serious and may extend outside of immediate area, but DOES NOT extend off site.
  • Outside emergency response assistance is necessary, or is required on a standby basis depending on the potential for limited escalation.
  • Outside assistance is necessary for fire, rescue, hazardous materials, or mass-casualty or fatality, yet without the potential for off site impact.
  • Area facility personnel do not have the capabilities or resources to manage the incident.
  • Requires evacuations and/or plant alarms to warn others outside the immediate area.
  • Security breech or situation with ongoing potential threat to life/safety.
  • Incident Management Team is activated.

A Level-3 emergency can be categorized as:

  • Potential threat to life, safety, property or the environment is significant with POTENTIAL to extend off site.
  • Protective actions required for nearby units/areas, and/or off site communities/environments.
  • Potential for significant impact to company reputation, operability, or revenues.
  • Any incident involving significant loss of safe operating control with potential for escalation.
  • A hazard to the public exists.
    Emergency notification call system is activated, or may become necessary.
    Incident Management Team is activated.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Emergency Management Program, School Emergency Planning

Emergency Planning for Natural Disasters

Posted on Mon, May 16, 2011

An estimated 300 million people were affected by natural disasters in 2010. The devastation has continued in 2011 with Japan’s March’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the tornadoes ravaging the southeastern U.S., and massive flooding in America’s heartland. Companies must be aware of the risks posed by potential natural disasters that may impact their locations, and take sensible precautions to protect their employees, the environment, and their assets.

According to Brookings Institute’s London School of Economics, “A Year of Living Dangerously”, natural hazards by themselves are not disasters. The study states “it is their consequences and the ability of the local community to respond to them that determine whether the event is characterized as a disaster.”

While there is little we can do to prevent the occurrence of natural disasters, companies can develop emergency response plans to reduce the impact to personnel safety and property damage. Natural hazards tend to occur repeatedly in the same geographical locations because they are related to weather patterns or physical characteristics of an area. Depending on your specific risks, FEMA lists the following hazards that may be included in your emergency response plan:

  • Floods
  • Tornadoes
  • Thunderstorms and Lightning
  • Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
  • Extreme Heat
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanoes
  • Landslide and Debris Flow (Mudslide)
  • Tsunamis
  • Fires
  • Wildfire
  • Hurricanes/Typhoons

For predictable naturally occurring events, such as a hurricane or potential flooding, planning can be accomplished before the incident occurs. Such planning should include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Conduct awareness training, including facility evacuation routes and procedures
  • Coordinate activities with local and state response agencies
  • Communicate recommended Community Evacuation routes
  • Procure emergency supplies
  • Monitor radio and/or television reports
  • Secure facility
  • Secure and backup critical electronic files

Unfortunately, some natural disasters provide little or no warning. In these instances, prior planning and training is of the utmost importance. Procedures may include, at a minimum:

  • Monitor weather services
  • Activate  alarm(s) if impact is imminent
  • Take shelter
  • Direct  personnel to report to designated areas after threat has passed
  • Account for all personnel Provide status report to Management
  • Perform other Initial Response Actions, as appropriate
  • Maintain hazard awareness
  • Conduct post-emergency evaluation and report

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Corporate Hurricane Preparedness, Earthquake Preparedness, Business Continuity, Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Facility Management, Hurricane Preparedness, School Emergency Planning

The Essential Planning Process of Crisis Management - The Six P's

Posted on Fri, Feb 25, 2011

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Poor crisis management performance can be prevented. Emergencies and disasters occur as a result of an unexpected event or series of events. However, many incidents can be prevented if organizations remain vigilant with ongoing site inspections and emergency preparedness mitigation. Organizations that prioritize equipment evaluation, safety training, and emergency planning can save millions of dollars in “down-time”, possible regulatory fines, and damage to reputation.

OSHA recently sited a Massachusetts manufacturing plant with $43,800 in proposed fines for 13 alleged serious violations of workplace health and safety standards.  The citations were issued for a lack of an emergency action plan, an inadequate employee training program, failure to evaluate respiratory hazards, unmarked exit routes, unlabeled chemical containers, severely corroded electrical equipment, an extension cord used in place of permanent wiring, inadequately guarded floor holes, missing stair rails, and an improperly located and uninspected emergency eyewash/shower.


Crisis Mitigation

Risk mitigation measures should include preparation, procedures, and equipment that can minimize the impact, likelihood, or severity of the threat.

Prior Proper Planning should include:

Preparation: Training programs, response exercises, and planning prepares employees to identify, and respond to emergencies. Companies should identify applicable regulatory requirements and promote understanding of those requirements to their employees.

Procedures: Documented and mandated processes for periodic review and update of  emergency response plans, audits, and routine safety and equipment inspections.

Equipment:  Despite the need to reduce expenses, lack of proper equipment (such as fire protection equipment), can result in additional financial burden. Company leadership must place an emphasis on emergency planning and training to ensure employees work in a safe environment.

By providing training, assessing facilities and emergency programs, and identifying gaps and deficiencies, organizations can reduce the potential for emergencies or disastrous situations.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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