It’s a myth that your little corner of the world is immune to disasters—natural or manmade. California is not the only state that suffers natural disasters as this past year’s weather has proven. Manmade disasters can affect everyone everywhere. In addition, Americans travel far and wide so it is especially important to be prepared for emergencies anywhere and everywhere.
As part of creating emergency preparedness and response plans, it is important to assess just what types of emergencies and disasters your community or business may be faced with in the future. Following that assessment, the next step to consider is what protective measures should be taken before, during and after an emergency or disaster. Knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency is the major part of preparedness. Having these plans in place could make all the difference. In most emergencies and disasters, seconds count.
Emergencies and disasters can occur without warning. These can involve weather-related emergencies including: hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, blizzards, ice storms, and earthquakes. Floods, avalanches, mudslides, forest fires, and other crises may arise as a result of weather-related disasters.
Other emergencies can be industry related like gas leaks, fires, explosions, and release of hazardous materials into the air, water, or soil.
Health-related emergencies include epidemics and pandemics including influenza, measles, and Ebola.
Technological disasters or emergencies include: nuclear power plant failures, power outages, chemical spills and hazardous materials incidents. Usually, little or no warning precedes these disasters. So, it is important that a smooth running emergency response plan is in place and can be executed immediately.
More recently, emergency preparedness has added considered terrorist disasters like: biological threats, cyber attacks, chemical threats, and explosions, nuclear blasts and radiological dispersion devices (RDD).
The more a community, business or industry sector can anticipate disasters and have plans in place for them, the less likely a community is going to panic at the onset of an emergency situation. Unfortunately, the staff required to put an emergency preparedness and response plan in place, and the resources required to carry it out are costly. Consequently, small businesses and small communities seldom have comprehensive emergency preparedness and response plans in place.
In order for companies, organizations and communities to formulate an emergency preparedness and response plan, they need to take stock. They should start by asking basic questions like:
- How well prepared is our business now?
- What procedures do we have in place in case of an emergency situation?
- What potential emergency situations could we face?
Devising Preparedness and Response Plans
Actions outlined in the preparedness and response plans should include before, during and after an event. These plans will have some features that are similar and others that are unique to each hazard. That is why it is important to identify the hazards that can realistically occur in your area and plan for the specific actions for each.
Having assessed what is presently in place, and what emergencies the business or community is not presently prepared for, it is time to prepare an emergency response plan for the small business, organization or community.
Basic guidelines are available from such sources as Occupational Health and Safety Regulation sections 4.13 through 4.18. Businesses and organizations are advised to follow these basic guidelines to develop an effective emergency response plan. Businesses must determine the conditions under which an evacuation of the workplace would be necessary.
Thanks to modern technology, people can receive emergency alerts wherever they are via smart phones, tablets, computers, TV, radio, and air sirens. The all-important first step is to decide how emergency disaster alerts will be transmitted in order to make this information widely known to the community. It is vital that disruption of communication media be considered when selecting emergency alerts and devices which will transmit this information.
The alert needs to be coordinated through public safety officials. The alert medium must give consideration to the most timely and reliable systems. The community at large needs to have a high level of recognition of what the emergency alert means, as well as what their action in case of an emergency alert notification should be.
The next step is to create primary and secondary evacuation routes and emergency exits. These need to be clearly marked and well illuminated. Clear, easy-to-identify signs need to be placed in obvious locations. Emergency lighting needs to be installed in case of a power outage during the emergency evacuation.
Evacuation routes and emergency exits must be wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating employees. These routes must be kept clear and unobstructed at all times in case of emergencies. Routes must be planned, so that exposing the evacuating workforce to hazardous materials and situations is minimized. Designated “evacuation wardens” will be responsible for assisting others during an evacuation and accounting for individual employees’ whereabouts.
Emergency response planners must coordinate the company’s emergency response plan with the community’s emergency management office. If one does not exist, the business will need to work with local fire, police and emergency organizations.
Part of the emergency response plan is to identify specific evacuation procedures. These should include:
- A system for accounting for all employees in the building or on the worksite
- Emergency drills, at least annually, to ensure everyone knows the plan, the procedures, and the evacuation route
- Transportation requirements
- Posting of evacuation procedures where they are visible to every employee
- Procedures for accommodating special needs employees (i.e., mobility challenged, visually challenged, those with auditory challenges, language challenged, etc.)
- Methods of accessing emergency information for each employee (i.e., phone numbers, next of kin contacts, etc.)
- Designated areas to assemble for roll call after evacuation
- Head count system and designated personnel to take attendance
- A plan for employee training to ensure that everyone is clear on his individual role in an emergency
- Staff in-service training to ensure everyone understands the basic emergency response plan
- Staff in-service training on the nature of emergencies, threat and protective actions
- Staff in-service training on location and operation of emergency equipment
After the Emergency: Recovery Plans
Emergency response plans must also include after-emergency actions. Recovering from a disaster is most often a gradual process, where safety is the primary concern. In the aftermath of loss, separation and survival, mental and physical well-being are major issues. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon as a result of emergency or disaster situations. Preparedness plans must include how PTSD will be treated, whether through counselling and treatment, or alternative measures. The plan should include assistance and knowing how to access that help. The goal is to return the business or community to normal as quickly and efficiently as possible.