Emergency Planning: Is Your Facility Prepared?

I am sure it is easy to remember the April 2011 storms that produced more than 300 tornadoes over a three-day period. The southern, midwestern, and northeastern United States had been battered violently and was still reeling when, the following month, the Mississippi River began to flood. When would it end? What was next?

What we learned during this time of rapidly unfolding events was that there are no perfect emergency plans. To start things off, as we learned in the spring of 2011, it is impossible to predict and prepare for every emergency that may occur. However, with a well-developed emergency plan in place, an organized and quicker response can reduce injuries, minimize property losses, and ultimately save lives. Because an emergency can occur without warning, it is critical that you have a well-thought-out and competent plan. If you assume you have satisfied this because you have a plan written out on a few sheets of notebook paper, you are wrong.

Any emergency plan is going to include the following: preparation, response, recovery, mitigation, and restoration. When emergency planning is in the preliminary stages or you are modifying an existing plan, start by asking some simple questions:

  • Who is at risk?
  • What are our potential exposures?
  • What is the response time for emergency responders to our facility?
  • What must we be prepared to handle if the emergency responders are unable to respond?

It may help to ask these questions while you imagine scenarios. For instance, consider that a major storm has resulted in hundreds of injuries in your community. You’re closed off by poor weather conditions and road closures, and your facility cannot depend on immediate outside support. You must operate under the assumption that if something can go wrong, it will. Think through what you will need to do in each phase for this and other types of emergencies.

Maintaining Your Communications
The most important aspect of emergency planning is your ability to communicate. Although our communications systems are among the world’s most dependable and extensive, unusual conditions may place a strain on them. Without communication, your ability to collaborate, organize, mobilize, delegate duties, and seeking help become nearly impossible. Mobile phones have taken a more enhanced role in emergency planning, but as we learned on Sept. 11, 2001, and after Hurricane Katrina, it is wise not to overly rely on them.

Portable radios remain an integral tool for coordinating internal functions. In addition, battery back-up systems for radio control rooms and relay centers are important in times of emergency. Power-assisted megaphones can also play a vital role in moving large crowds of people and transmitting vital safety instructions when public address systems are not available or not functioning properly. Ultimately, you cannot manage an emergency without the ability to communicate internally and externally.

What if a major event occurred at your location? The bottom line is that you should already know what and where the resources are to handle any need that may arise. These resources can include personnel, equipment, and other services. Equipment resources can include portable lighting, flashlights, batteries, special utility wrenches, reflective vests, megaphones, personal protective equipment, rope, pry bars, hammers, portable generator, and a site map identifying hazardous material storage areas and personnel locations, including gas and other utility main shut-off devices.

A spreadsheet should be maintained that includes names and phone numbers of interpreters, helicopter rescue operators, special-equipment operators, crane and high-reach equipment companies, and other emergency responders as based on the potential need.

Facilities that provide services for the public have a duty to plan for "what if" scenarios. They must create, implement, and practice their emergency plans. The unimaginable can happen at your facility. Is your facility prepared?

Posted by Nelson Bauer on Feb 01, 2012

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