The initial moments surrounding an emergency event are crucial. After all, if your facility is deemed unsafe, would you rather spend your limited time trying to figure out how to react when the clock is ticking down, or would you rather immediately commence with a predetermined evacuation plan?
While this may seem on the surface like a hypothetical question with an obvious answer, the reality is that many organizations fall woefully short when it comes to establishing and implementing evacuation plans. Wondering where to begin? Start with these 10 key steps.
1. Acknowledge all individuals impacted by the disaster
From employees and family members to customers and emergency responders, many different people are affected when disaster strikes. A thorough evacuation plan acknowledges and establishes procedures for all people, including those in need of assistance due to disabilities and other conditions.
2. Establish roles and responsibilities for all constituents
When emergencies occur, chaos can quickly ensue—particularly if no one knows what they’re supposed to do or who’s in charge. Designating a clear chain of command which tasks specific employees with the authority and responsibility to order and direct evacuations can minimize confusion. Personnel should also be designated for other key tasks, such as accounting for all employees, assisting those in need of assistance, and shutting down critical operations.
3. Make provisions for shelter-in-place or evacuation
Depending on the nature of the event as well as the specifics of your circumstances, one of the earliest decisions you may face during an emergency is whether to shelter-in-place or evacuate. (If local officials advise you to evacuate, follow their instructions.) Having clear and comprehensive plans in place for both is essential.
In the case of the former, the type of emergency mandates the response. For example, chemical incidents, active shooters, and tornado warnings all require different shelter-in-place protocols.
In the case of the latter, if your building is damaged or in danger, establish clearly-defined, accessible, unobstructed and well-lit primary and secondary evacuation routes, and make sure all stakeholders are aware of both evacuation routes and designated assembly sites.
4. Prioritize fire safety planning
While we often think of the impact of severe weather events on safety and business continuity, fire is a commonly underestimated threat. Don’t forget about fire safety strategies, such as compliance with fire codes and regulations and routine building safety inspections.
5. Safeguard IT and cyber security
While protecting people is always the first priority, protecting your organization’s data and IT systems is also vital. If you do have to evaluate, will you have access to critical information to facilitate business continuity? While managing this aspect may require specialized expertise, you’ll be grateful to have taken this step when your business isn’t immobilized for days following an evacuation.
6. Document, document, document
An evacuation plan is only as good as its documentation, which should detail all essential information. Physical copies should be clearly marked and accessible with at least one copy stored offsite, while electronic copies are also invaluable if access to your facility becomes limited.
7. Account for employee training
The more your employees know about the types of emergencies which may occur as well as how to respond to them, the more seamless your organizational response will be. Training should be offered at the time of hire, as well as at routine intervals due to changes related to everything from your building’s design and/or layout to staff turnover. Even if nothing changes, however, reiterating the plan ensures that your constituents won’t forget in an emergency.
8. Schedule routine reviews and updates
Emergency response planning is dynamic, not static. Regularly review your plan to determine areas in need of changes. One simple way to identify problem areas while reinforcing emergency procedures with your constituents? Drills. Learn from which aspects go smoothly and which don’t, and revise your plan according to these strengths and weaknesses.
9. Incorporate post-disaster planning
Your evacuation plan isn’t done just because the event itself has ended. The best evacuation plans also have mechanisms in place for supporting employee health, wellbeing and recovery after a disaster.
10. Consider communications
No emergency evacuation plan is complete without covering the critical component of communication. How will you make sure your constituents have access to the information they need when they need it? Keep in mind that the most effective methods of communication vary from person to person. A multimodal communication plan is the best way to guarantee that information is delivered—and received—in the most efficient, effective way.
“How quickly your company can get back to business after a terrorist attack or tornado, a fire or flood often depends on emergency planning done today,” says FEMA. These 10 points can help ensure best outcomes for your organization and its constituents should an evacuation become necessary.
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