Emergency Response, Business Continuity, and Disaster Planning
Emergency Response, Business Continuity, and Disaster Planning
It’s a little after 2pm at a chemical plant. Suddenly, a strong odor is noticed throughout the facility. There’s been a chemical leak, and several teammates start to react to the smell. Employees begin to scatter, walking in different directions to find an exit. At least three begin to head toward the nearest exit, but as they get closer to it, they become more overwhelmed by the smell. One of the employees ventures away from the others and slowly starts walking toward another exit, much farther away. Along the way, he stops and is sick to his stomach and seems disoriented. Another colleague, not too far away, who is also headed for the farther exit notices the sick employee and helps to guide him out the door. Once outside, the sick employee begins to feel better and thanks the teammate that helped him. The helpful teammate was also thankful… Thankful for all the evacuation drills his team had been participating in over the past few months.
In this example, we know that the chemical plant had drills and obviously some kind of evacuation plan in place. What we don’t know is how many employees took interest in the plan, or paid attention during the drills. It could be argued that the unique circumstances of the emergency completely changed the projected course of action. Before we draw too many conclusions, we would first have to closely examine the effectiveness of the company’s emergency and disaster plans.
Emergency and disaster plans are the focus of today’s video.
So, first thing’s first: how do you go about creating an emergency disaster plan? Creating an emergency disaster plan involves assessing risks—both internal and external. The primary focus is saving lives and ensuring safety. As threats and risks are considered, businesses look closely at high-risk jobs, hazardous environments, and unforeseen circumstances like emergencies and natural disasters. For example, a meat processing plant may have a high volume of employee injuries due to slips, falls, and cuts. A chemical plant could experience spills and leaks, which could be a hazard to employees and the public. Anything that could disrupt or cease business operations would be placed within its emergency disaster plan. This would also consist of a building plan, which would serve as a reference in the event of an emergency.
Why is the building plan so important? The building plan shows a blueprint of room locations, dimensions, and exits, which are all important to have in the event of a fire or other emergency. The floor plans can serve as a guide to determining escape routes and building evacuation plans.
Typically, a separate emergency disaster plan should be created for each potential circumstance. That means, multiple plans should be on hand, be in writing, and be in a readily accessible place. These would involve medical emergencies, fire, natural disasters, and other threats. Items falling in the “other threats” category would classify as external events outside of natural disasters, such as a cyber security hack, a bomb threat, or a building collapse. Each plan should be complete with written procedures, an action plan, and contacts, including designated emergency personnel and first responders. Plans should also include a disaster recovery plan for each threat, which we will cover in more detail on a little later.
Similar to general emergency disaster plans are fire prevention plans. Fire prevention plans share some of the components of other plans, but there are some notable required differences. Fire hazards, including hazardous materials and hazardous areas, should be listed. This information is shared with new employees to make them aware of the hazards in their work environment. Employees are required to review the fire prevention plans and acknowledge to take every precaution for safety. For each hazard listed in a fire prevention plan, the fire-fighting measures should also be listed. For example, if the chemical plant we’ve been mentioning manufactures nail polish remover, it would list water or carbon dioxide foam as suitable extinguishers. As for equipment that holds or warms flammable substances, the fire plan must incorporate safeguards and the personnel names of those maintaining the equipment.
For the sake of time, we won’t provide an action plan for each potential threat. However, we will use our chemical plant leak example from earlier as a guide to show a condensed version of an emergency evacuation plan:
As you can see, our plan is clearly labeled at the top. The first section outlines very simply what should happen in the event of a fire or other hazardous condition, noting exactly who is in charge of evacuating employees. After this section, the assembly areas should be listed along with the building plan. A copy of a current employee roster and building escape route should be brought along to the chosen assembly area to ensure everyone is accounted for and that everyone is on the same page regarding which escape route to take. There is then a note about the evacuation alert system, followed by a note to the response teams regarding necessary documents. The plan ends with a contact list composed of the emergency response employees, the National Response Center, and the local first responders.
Earlier, I mentioned disaster recovery plans. Disaster recovery plans are developed to lessen the impact brought on from the disruption of emergencies and natural disasters. They help to restore business operations as smoothly as possible. Let’s continue to use the chemical plant as our example. The aftermath of the evacuation revealed that the emergency was caused by leaks in several chemical containers. The plant was shut down for one week while the damaged containers were identified and replaced. Structural damage was also discovered in the areas where the chemicals had leaked. Once officials gave the all clear for business to resume, the company referred to the disaster plan and took the necessary recovery strategies to reinstate operations.
Once your plans for before, during, and after a disaster are all created, how do you measure their effectiveness? Aside from just a plan and procedure, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, (OSHA) lists the four major components of an effective safety and health program.
- Management & Involvement – Managers and employees should be expected to advocate health and safety for not just themselves, but for the workplace as a whole. Both should do their part in maintaining their commitment to health and safety. This can be done through the development of policies, establishing safety programs with incentives, and tying in health and safety into employee performance appraisals.
- Worksite Analysis – A worksite analysis includes surveys and analyses that would help to determine workplace or job hazards and how best to prevent them. An example of a worksite analysis with our chemical plant would be identifying exposure risks to chemicals, whether in the air, upon skin contact, the eyes, etc.
- Hazard Prevention & Control – This measure would be taken once the level of chemical exposure is configured. As a hazard and prevention control measure, the plant would likely require employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their eyes and breathing passages while working in areas where chemical odors are more dominant. They may even restrict employees in other areas to avoid human contact altogether. Other hazard-prevention and control measures are drills, offering medical programs, or CPR certification.
- Safety and Health Training – This educates employees to be fully responsible for their own safety as well as the safety of others. When safety is incorporated in the company’s values or employee performance appraisals, employees are more likely to take it seriously.
Similar to a disaster recovery plan, a business continuity plan is taking the proper action to resume business as quickly as possible. It, too, outlines procedures and instructions to follow after a disaster. But unlike the disaster recovery plan that mainly focuses more on operations, the business continuity plan focuses on all other aspects of the business, specifically, Human Resources, Sales, Manufacturing, and Customer Service. How will HR address injuries that were reported during and after the event? What will be the Sales team plan for assuring customers that they can continue receiving the company’s services? When will manufacturing continue? How will customer service representatives handle the influx of calls? Answers to questions like these should be involved in a business continuity plan so that appropriate action is taken without causing any further business interruptions. These plans must also be thoroughly documented, and even updated, as necessary. It never hurts to consult with an external source to grade its usefulness.
Even with every precaution considered, no business is exempt from experiencing an emergency or natural disaster. The high level of detail that is applied toward all the risk assessments, disaster planning, disaster recovery, and business continuity plans are small sacrifices to make to avoid losing the business, or worse, human lives.
That’s all for this review of emergency and disaster plans! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!