Your leadership responsibility to your workforce and for your organization’s long-term survival requires being prepared.
Pick your choice, fire, flood, virus, power outage, or other situation; emergencies, unfortunately, are in the news often enough that the subject of preparedness is no longer limited safety professionals. If Senior Leadership asks what technology or training the company should invest in to help ensure that it is prepared for an emergency, that question’s answer should crisis preparedness training.
A discussion like that today is a good reason to involve Senior Leadership in developing an emergency response plan. Of course, the biggest reason to pay attention to an emergency response plan is to be prepared before a crisis happens.
There are some common elements in all good crisis preparedness plans that need to discussed when the plan is drafted. During my 26 years in the military, I participated in developing comprehensive preparedness plans that were easy to understand and easy to follow for everyone involved. When they were needed, they were rolled out and executed to the best of our abilities. Here are four steps that Leaders can use to help develop crisis planning.
1. Identifying and Understand your risks
Your organization needs a method of listing potential crises and emergencies and ranking them in regards to the importance and likelihood to happen. It is essential to know what to do and what resources to invest at a moment’s notice. There is no need to invest money in planning for a typhoon if you are not located near a coastline. Nor should you spend a lot of time on avalanche planning if your facility is not near any snow-covered mountainous area. That doesn’t mean that you totally ignore these risks, just that you don’t dwell on detailed response tasks.
There should be a comprehensive risk assessment that considers all crises that occurred and those that could occur. Building a risk matrix can help identify the areas where investment is most needed. Your Leadership team should use this type of matrix to categorize each risk or crisis based on the impact it would have if it occurred and on the likelihood of the crisis happening in your organization. As examples, a critical emergency may be a typhoon in Japan or a tornado in the United States of America, and both would have a high impact on the area and a high likelihood of occurring. On the other end of the list, a power outage at your organization for more than 24 hours is not likely, but still needs to be discussed and corrective actions identified, so it does not cripple your company for a long term.
Building a risk matrix to examine all the possible emergencies your organization may face will help to be prepared when meeting with Senior Leadership to discuss crisis preparedness planning.
Rate the score for RISK and PROBABILITY for each types of crisis and the put the numbers into the matrix. Multiply the numbers for each type of crisis to get your individual total score for the type of crisis.
2. Build a team
Many crisis preparedness plans are created without getting the correct people’s input. The people who will physically execute the plan need to be involved when building the plan. In today’s environment, every employee from the Director to the shop floor worker and secretary have electronic connectivity and may be the first person to respond to the event. They need to know how to notify the correct people to execute the response as quickly as possible. Crisis Preparedness Plans should be the product of a team effort instead of a single individual or small group.
A team made from different departments and Senior Leadership should help in determining the overall depth of the plan, including the three phases of crisis management:
- Preparedness: Identified efforts to prepare for the event and minimizing the effects if an event occurs.
- Response: Plans for efforts to respond safely to the event.
- Recovery: Actions needed to return the organization to full production again.
Managers from safety, security, human resources, public relations or communications, facilities, operations, and Senior Leadership should be involved from the start of the planning phase. If you already have these plans, this team should do a full review to ensure that all areas are covered.
When you have a large number of employees and they are geographically separated from the Leadership team or the headquarters, and could be affected by a type of crisis, and the response plan, there should be a representative of that group to provide input into the process. The people who ultimately are affected by a “stay at home order” or a “shelter in place at work order” can advise you as to how they should be notified and what they expect in advance when those orders are communicated. For example, during the current crisis now in the Spring of 2020, an order to use social distancing, and to stay at home unless absolutely needed to go out, has affected millions of people and most were not prepared for this. If there were a plan already in place, on how the workers could get truthful information at any time of day from your Leadership team, it could help to reduce their stress and anxiety about their future with the company, and it’s planning for recovery. If there was a god communications plan already in place, they might even have good ideas from their experience during this crisis that they can share and help other workers. The people affected by your preparedness and response plan will remember what happened for a long time. It is best to have a good plan that they understand.
The best time to make a Preparedness Plan is before the crisis occurs…
the second best time is too late!
3. Actions need to be understandable and easy to implement
If an organization already has a Crisis Preparedness Plan, often it is a long document with many sections and complicated procedures to go through. Copies sit in the Director’s office and the Safety office, and if we are lucky in the Security office. When was the last time someone read them or reviewed them with the workers in order to know if they understood them? A lot of work went into developing this comprehensive plan, but does anyone really know what’s in it, and are the actions needed to respond easy to comply with?
When your team develops and writes a plan, keeping it simple is very important. Plans need to be concise as to the type of threat, the risk, and then what to do. Long lists of procedures and approvals required before taking action may make the plan larger, but when users want to know what the emergency is and what to do in that emergency, they want the information to be quickly read and easily accessible. Some organizations create small hard copies of lists: 1. Type of threat, 2. Actions to take, 3. Who to call for help, and place them in every office and workplace, and in some cases on every desk in the company. Every shop and large office should have a complete Crisis Preparedness Plan in it somewhere, and everyone should know where it is. Every individual person and working group need to know what they are supposed to do in the case of a crisis situation for their own safety and the safety of others.
For organizations that have geographically separated locations of operations, the responsibility for writing the plan, updating it, and ensuring everyone there understands it normally belongs to the local Director and his safety and security managers. But, the plan may be a little different if the locations are in different parts of your country or in different countries. Local people understand the threats and the needed responses better than some distant group of people who are not familiar with the local situations. Corporate crisis preparedness procedures need to be known by all Directors at all locations. But the risk of local crisis and the immediate actions to be taken, need to be understood by everyone for their specific location.
4. Practice and test the plan execution
In today’s world of a tsunami, shootings, and spreading viruses, the response to the crisis has changed from the past. Before, when we had an emergency, the normal procedure was to pull the fire alarm, exit the building, and tell someone to call 112 and wait for the firemen and police to arrive. In today’s world of social media and the internet, sometimes we learn of a crisis from the media before our own boss tells us about it.
Today we live in a world where everything is seen on cameras, cell phones and share almost instantly. Today’s crisis requires a much more diverse set of responses for many different types of crises. Instead of developing detailed plans for what the responders should do, identify the immediate actions the people involved in the crisis situation should do. But one thing that has not changed today, we still need to practice and test our response capabilities. We need to test the communications methods we will use to notify everyone, test the evacuation plan, or the shelter-in-place plan. If we are going to use specific phrases to notify our employees of an approaching or pending crisis, we need to test them and ensure people understand what they mean and what actions to take. Our Human Resources and IT technicians need to get involved to design the specific message that goes out to everyone and how it is displayed on their computers and cell phones if we use that method of notification.
One thing that has not changed today, we still need to practice and test our response capabilities.
Testing our plan will answer many questions about having a good plan and being able to execute it timely. DO NOT allow people to sit back and say, “I know what to do, I don’t need to practice it.”
Your security manager or safety manager should already have a plan of how to carry out a test of the preparedness plan. If not, then they need to start building the plan, and with Senior Leadership, set a time and place to test the plan. Two simple ways of testing the plan are a training briefing with questions and answers from the attendees, and small in-house response team “walk-through” exercises.
The most widely used method of getting the information and response actions in front of the audience is walk-through exercises. This gives the participants the ability to walk through what is needed during the emergency and clearly check if all the steps are in place. The walk-through exercise allows participants to simulate the response and ensure they get the expected response. During the walk-through exercise, the Leader can practice giving and getting information to flow to the necessary departments and back to the meeting room. They can check to see if the necessary information reached all departments and ask some of them to respond by adding communication channels into the exercise. Be sure to let them know this is a “practice” and they should respond as if it is real.
Walking through everyone’s responsibilities identifies who is responsible and what they need to do. The walk-through can uncover things that need to be added, but are not in the current plan. It is best to get the correct people to participate in the walk-through, the ones responsible for doing it, and not getting their deputy or someone else from their department.
During the classroom training, the trainer can ask specific people to answer critical questions about identifying crisis, sheltering, evacuation, and recovery of the organization’s operations. The trainer can set up particular scenarios for different types of crisis and test the immediate response from the participants there.
After these initial tests, you can schedule and coordinate a larger exercise that involves the whole company and maybe other geographically separated divisions of the company to test to see if all personnel understand the crisis and know how to respond.
The purpose of these larger exercises is to go far beyond the walk-through and training sessions, and they can be expensive. You may need one half of a year to coordinate with local fire and police authorities to get their support to test your plan. Operations may need to be shut down for one or two days, and production will be lost. But with proper planning of all Directors and involved departments, the value of the exercise usually far outweighs the loss of time and production. Walk-throughs and training are more cost-effective, but it is recommended that a “simulated” full response and recovery exercise for all personnel be completed at least annually. Walk-throughs should also be completed once every year for the headquarters or single location and for all of the geographically separated divisions or work locations.
After the walk-through exercise or the full simulated exercise, the work is not done. It is necessary to complete an After-Action Report. The After-Action Report (AAR) should include the original notification process used, and by whom, and was effective. This AAR is a valuable tool for evaluating your plan. If you are careful and document all response actions during an event, and complete the AAR immediately afterward, you can learn as much for it as you did from the exercise. Then after a short period, the Senior Leadership, Safety and Security Managers, and other key personnel need to review the AAR and the current Crisis Preparedness Plan again and make changes if needed.
Having a plan in place that has been developed and tested with Senior Leadership involvement is one way of ensuring we are prepared for future crises better than we are today.