When Disaster Strikes, Will You Have a Plan?

Business Emergency Action Plan

There's no time to create a good plan after an emergency strikes. Fires, floods, explosions, and pandemics like the current COVID-19 virus don't send advanced notice, and some situations can escalate in seconds.

Reacting to an emergency is not the best course of action — it's hard to think straight during an urgent situation, and one wrong move can spell disaster. It's better to be proactive, and have a strong, well-practiced emergency action plan in place.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests that plans be tailored to a given work site and take into account all of the potential disasters that may strike. This means performing a hazard assessment first and figuring out any physical or chemical sources of danger. OSHA also requires businesses with more than ten employees to have disaster response plans in writing, while smaller companies are allowed to communicate their procedures orally.

Roman routinely plans and implements policies to mitigate potential disasters for a variety of commercial clients, so if you're developing an emergency response plan for your workplace, here are a few tips from Roman to help get you started:

1. Follow OSHA's guidelines

The rules for formulating an action plan state that it must, at minimum, contain:

  • An evacuation procedure.
  • A method for reporting emergencies.
  • Escape procedures and routes, including floor plans, maps, and any safe rooms.
  • Procedures for employees who need to remain behind during an evacuation, in order to shut down critical processes or mitigate a disaster.
  • Procedures for any workers assigned to rescue duties. When creating an emergency plan, treat this as a checklist to make sure it has all of the required information.

2. Assess the risks

A grocery store will face different risks than, for example, a chemistry lab, and a business located on a coast will face different risks than one that isn't. Every situation is unique. Before formulating an emergency plan, perform a risk assessment to determine what scenarios it will need to address. Share this knowledge with local police and fire fighters, so first responders can develop a plan for stabilizing a disaster. If you are a tenant in a multi-unit building, share it with the other tenants to develop a coordinated response.

3. Determine the proper response to individual threats

During any emergency, the number one priority should be protecting the safety of everyone involved. Evacuation isn't necessarily always the best response. While fires or gas leaks require evacuation, natural disasters and active shooters do not.

Generally speaking, there are four different actions that can be used to protect employees and customers in an emergency: lockdown, sheltering, shelter-in-place, or evacuation. Each of these is appropriate for a different situation, and a good disaster plan will detail exactly what to do, when, and the proper procedures for doing so.

4. Designate and train employees

Each employee should be trained in their specific role and responsibility during a disaster. Some workers may need to perform critical functions to help contain or mitigate a disaster. Others may need to be ready to provide CPR or other support. Workers will need to be re-trained every time an emergency response plan gets an update and should be given periodic refresher courses.

5. Inventory or purchase special equipment

Some disasters may require specialized equipment to contain them and protect employees. Goggles, hard hats, respirators, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, or hazmat suits are all possibilities, but it's important to consult with safety experts before investing in them. Not all types of safety equipment are appropriate for every emergency and choosing the wrong one can have deadly consequences.

6. Have a plan to protect documents and files

After protecting human life, the next priority should be protecting the business. This includes data assets like important documents and digital files. OSHA recommends that emergency plans detail a location for safely keeping essential documents. It's also a good idea to have digital files stored in an offsite data center or cloud storage. This will help maintain business continuity during and in the wake of a disaster.

7. Have an efficient way to communicate with employees and clients

During and after a disaster, communication can break down catastrophically. Having a way to stay in contact with everyone affected will help ensure a smooth emergency response, protect everyone's safety, and keep things running afterward.

8. Test, adjust, and test again

It's not hard for an emergency action plan to look good on paper, but how well does it work during an actual disaster? It's not a good idea to wait for a crisis in order to find out. Once you have a plan, test it, pick out the rough spots, adjust the plan, and test again. Every time the plan needs an update, repeat the process. A little bit of testing and practice will go a long way in the event of a legitimate emergency.

Whether it's a flood, a fire, a terrorist attack, or a global pandemic like the Coronavirus, there's no way to anticipate an emergency. Creating a good emergency response plan can help save a business' employees and assets and allow it to maintain continuity during and after a disaster. With these tips, you can develop a strong, individualized disaster preparedness protocol for your business.

If you need help creating and implementing an emergency action plan for your business or organization, the experts at Roman can help. To request a consultation contact Roman by calling us at 800.422.9032 or by sending us an email.