Plan Before Disaster Strikes

Steve Bassine

Companies should be assessing their risks and developing an emergency response plan to mitigate consequences of disasters.

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As 2020 has shown, emergencies and disasters can strike when we least expect. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has designated September as National Preparedness Month with the motto: “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.” That's wise advice for businesses as well as individuals.

This year, we saw the devastating effects of a global pandemic that has infected millions across the country and social unrest that has brought the world to a standstill. On top of that, we have seen record-breaking wildfires in California, severe thunderstorms in the southeastern U.S., and an active hurricane season in the Atlantic. Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that in the past three years alone, natural disasters have accounted for nearly $500 billion in damage and losses.

Now more than ever, companies must be aware of the risks posed by potential natural or man-made disasters that may impact their locations, and take sensible precautions to protect their employees, the environment and their assets.

All Hazards Risk Assessment

While there is little we can do to prevent the occurrence of disasters, companies can assess their risk and develop emergency response plans to reduce the impact to personnel safety and property damage.

The first step in being prepared for natural and manmade disasters is to determine where your business risk lies. Determine which disasters you are most prone to depending on your geographic location and the preparedness measures you have already taken. Some major threats that businesses face include:

  • Natural disasters: These include, but are not limited to, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions that have immediate impacts on communities and local companies.
  • Environmental disasters: These include technological or industrial accidents, usually involving hazardous materials, and occur where these materials are produced, used or transported. Large forest fires are generally included in this definition because they tend to be caused by humans.
  • Political Unrest: This involves an authoritarian collapse and/or attacks on an installation. Complex emergencies include conflict situations, terrorism, and/or war.
  • Pandemics: These involve a sudden onset of a contagious disease that affects public health and can escalate to disrupt services and business operations. Effects may include economic and social costs.

Establish Effective Emergency Response After a Disaster

The following four key areas are necessary for establishing an effective emergency response:

Personnel — Properly trained personnel are the first line of defense against escalating emergency situations. Companies should evaluate the following to enhance their on-site emergency preparedness program:

  • Fire department
  • Hazardous materials response team
  • Emergency medical services
  • Security
  • On-site public information guidelines

Equipment — All emergency equipment should be in working order and replaced as necessary. Assigned personnel should demonstrate knowledge of proper operating procedures before utilizing equipment in an emergency. Such on-site equipment may include, but is not limited to:

  • Fire protection and suppression equipment
  • Communications equipment
  • First aid supplies
  • Emergency supplies
  • Warning systems
  • Emergency power equipment
  • Decontamination equipment

Facilities — Emergencies may require specific on-site designated areas to conduct or resolve emergency management operations. Such areas may include:

  • Media briefing area
  • Shelter areas
  • First Aid stations
  • Sanitation facilities

Organizational capabilities — Company management support is critical in developing an effective emergency preparedness program. Through support and prioritization, a functional emergency plan can be developed and implemented to its fullest potential, thereby reducing the impact of an emergency.

Moving Forward

By analyzing the past, monitoring the present and evaluating the potentials of what's to come, companies can reinforce their commitment to emergency management while establishing a culture of preparedness. Executing plan enhancements and reinforcing preparedness across an enterprise strengthens a company’s resolve, ultimately creating a more resilient organization.

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