Emergency Notification Systems and Crisis Communication – Blog

6 Simple Guidelines for Effective Emergency Procedures

Scott Howard By Scott Howard

It’s nothing new to hear that preparation is critical to any emergency response. Like any organization, I’m sure hours, even days, have been spent crafting a plan for just about any occurrence, from a minor utility outage to a major storm or worse, an armed assailant on your grounds.

Emergency plans and the procedures in them are critical to making sure your community is safe and your response is effective.

The term “procedure” can be defined as “a particular course or mode of action.”

Procedures are what determine how your responders will take action so that your plan goes off without a hitch. When it comes to split-second decisions, a clear and precise procedure can be the difference between a smooth response and utter chaos.

With this in mind, let’s explore some of the keys to creating solid, effective emergency procedures.


1. Risk Assessment

The first step to having world-class emergency procedures is to assess what scenarios apply to your organization. It's impossible to think of every possible occurrence, but with some planning you can determine what is most likely to occur.

Different locations may have different concerns with regards to weather, security, or geological events. Urban areas may have different safety concerns from rural ones. Different campuses and buildings will have unique needs as far as evacuation processes. Different scenarios will have their own needs, such as outside resources like fire and rescue teams.

All of these factors will play into which scenarios are a likely fit for your organization.

Once you have a list of likely scenarios, you can begin to plan responses and processes for each of them.


2. Identify Stakeholders

Every scenario will have its own key "stakeholders". Stakeholders are the people who are most impacted or most responsible in a given scenario.

For example, your Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer may be the key stakeholder in a "network outage" event while the Chief Security Officer is they key stakeholder in a security threat.

Stakeholders will be key participants in designing any processes. They are your experts and their knowledge and input is critical.


3. Clarity

Emergency procedures need to be clear and easy to follow.

If you want a consistent response, make sure your procedures have clear lines of steps to take and identify stakeholders for each step.

If nobody knows who is responsible for acting, then nobody will be responsible for acting.

Think of this like a baseball outfielder calling out for a pop fly: If it's not clear who's "got it", the ball is going to hit the ground.  (Nobody likes to end up in the blooper reel. Set guidelines for who is supposed to act and when. )


4. Simplicity

It may sound obvious, but keeping your emergency procedures simple is not an easy thing to do. There’s a lot to consider:

  • Who makes the decisions on communications?
  • Who decides when to contact outside agencies and local authorities?
  • Who makes closing decisions?
  • What if key decision makers are unavailable when an event occurs?

How do you squeeze all of that into a procedure to make it simple? The fewer steps, the better. It's a tough task, but be sure that every step included in any procedure is truly necessary.

If your procedure has a lot of if-this-then-that logic decisions in it, you may want to pare it down.

Remember: An emergency plan is executed under stress when things aren't going well. Make the process easy and set your team up for success..


5. Accessibility

An emergency procedure is something most of us have stored in a binder, under that giant pile of papers, or jammed into an old file cabinet. When we need it we toss our office like the FBI looking for evidence until we find it.

Of course we'll always need a paper copy just in case the power goes out, but a paper copy shouldn't be the only copy of your plan.

It's 2016. We live in an era where technology is with us 24/7.

Use that to your advantage.

Be sure to get your procedural documents online in an easily usable format. That may be HTML, plain text, or PDF. Make sure that the format is something that works across multiple platforms on any device and is available off-site. Cloud hosted solutions are desirable as they will remain online even if your local network is knocked out.

Also, don't ignore mobile access to your plans. Mobile internet use is on the rise. (See http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/home-internet-desktop-mobile/ )

There's a good chance that your smartphone will be your primary access to the web when you're in a crisis.


6. Don't Plan Your Procedures in a Vacuum

The goal should be to develop simple, effective procedures for your organization that are readily available in a crisis. There’s no need to be original or innovative here, so there’s nothing wrong with borrowing best practices from others.

Take a look online and see what's out there. Many organizations will post their procedures online. A simple Google search for your industry and “Emergency Procedures” will usually yield plenty of examples.


Finally, don’t forget to check out what the government has to offer. Resources are available from sites like Ready.gov, FEMA, and OSHA. In fact, Ready.gov even provides a sample worksheet that can help you design your emergency response plan and the procedures in it.  You'll find a collection of resources on all aspects of emergency management, including tips for designing simple procedures, risk assessment, and more.

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