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Emergency planning has never been more important than it is right now.
According to a PR News survey, in 2020 only 62% of companies had crisis plans and it is unclear if these companies regularly updated them. Even organizations that had plans in place before 2020 were ill prepared for what has occurred over the past year. As the external environment becomes more volatile with COVID-19, hurricanes along the Gulf and East Coast, fires burning in the West and a global recession, ensuring your organization has considered its emergency plans is imperative.
For some, putting effort into an emergency plan can feel like a waste of time and resources. It should be noted, however, that investing in the development of emergency plans that detail what to do in a disaster situation can be the difference between maintaining your business or losing it in the event of an emergency.
Similar to an insurance policy, emergency planning for organizations helps you prepare for the most likely disasters to impact your business. As a resident of Colorado, I watched wildfires force business evacuations across the northern part of our state this summer. While businesses were actively planning their COVID emergency response, they paid little attention to impending natural disasters on the horizon. When we actively engage in emergency planning before a crisis hits, it allows for more agility and fluidity in unpredictable circumstances.
While the steps below may seem daunting, a good internal or external facilitator can quickly guide an organization through the process.
Five Stages of Emergency Planning
1. Identify the Planning Team
This team should be a representative sampling of departments, leaders and individuals across the organization who will be called upon to come together if an emergency occurs. While this differs for every business, this is often top leadership as well as leaders of operations, facilities/maintenance, public relations, key department heads for your business and others. This team will serve as the commanders for an emergency and be responsible for leading the organization in the event of a disaster. Having these key team members in place before a crisis hits is crucial to activating quickly when an emergency strikes.
2. Conduct a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis and Risk Assessment
Available here, FEMA offers this assessment of your assets that can be affected by a threat or emergency. This systematic process and associated tools allow an organization to assess the most likely scenarios (and associated risks), which may hamper the ability to provide their products or services. This might be something like COVID-19, which disrupts customer demand, a disaster that would affect supply chains or a natural disaster that might have a more widespread impact on the entire business operations. Both short and long-term implications are assessed along four fronts of risk/vulnerability including physical, economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities.
3. Plan for and Mitigate the Scenarios That Are Most Likely to Occur
Walking through your top vulnerabilities and threats allows the team to feel comfortable with what the organization will do in the event of that emergency. This stage involves ensuring that roles are clear and needed items are prepped and ready. For example, does the organization have the proper back-up files, do they have more than one individual who knows how to do critical tasks or has access to security items? The process also ensures you have the right tools in place for identified emergency situations. We partner with an organization who had a physical cart prepared with all the necessary emergency items. For example, they decided to use walkie talkies to ensure internal communication with key players in case communications went down.
4. Implement and Practice the Plan
This will look different for every organization, but a good rule of thumb is to practice your emergency plan every six months to a year. Positioning your emergency trainings as a priority is essential for employee buy in.
5. Revise the Plan Based on Lessons Learned
A key to emergency planning is staff debriefing following an emergency. As you experience crises, talk with staff at all levels about what worked well and what didn’t. Make sure to capture this and incorporate them into your plans. Emergency plans should be flexible and updated as often as they are practiced. Organizations that spend time assessing their response and making adjustments find that employees and leaders can offer excellent contributions to process improvement and are better prepared for the next crisis.
While no business can be fully prepared for every emergency that may arise, thoughtful preparation and practice will pay off when the inevitable emergency does arise. These emergency preparedness trainings can also provide a great source of team bonding and culture development as teamwork and collaboration are essential elements in a strong emergency plan.