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Everyone is Out of the Building. Now What?

Be prepared to communicate. This is an element of response that is often overlooked and needs to be continually practiced.

By Karen D. Hamel

Imagine: emergency response drills have happened once a quarter for the past five years. Everyone knows exactly what actions to take, how to evacuate, and where to report afterward. From time to time, different scenarios have been presented, lessons were learned, and plans were updated to reduce risk and increase safety. If something bad happens, everything will be okay, right?

It really doesn't matter what the emergency is: fire, chemical spill, natural or manmade disaster. When the disaster is real, no matter how well-trained employees are or how quickly they are able to get out of harm’s way, there can still be some uncertainty about what happens next. Being able to clearly communicate plans and expectations will minimize some of that chaos.

The primary goals of traditional emergency response plans and trainings are to get people out of harm’s way and/or initiate a response. But after those objectives are met, facilities need to have a plan for what will happen tomorrow and next week. Unlike emergency action plans, contingency or other similar plans that are required by OSHA, EPA, or other governing agencies, most facilities do not have a regulatory obligation to create a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) or disaster recovery plan. But facilities that do have these plans are more likely to recover from a disaster and to do it more quickly than facilities without a plan.

A thorough BCP covers everything from replacing buildings and relocating call centers or production lines to cyber security, providing temporary shelters, and restocking office supplies. Some are relatively simple, while others have double or even triple redundancies for every aspect outlined in the plan.

Many BCPs take into account the fact that after a large-scale disaster, the facility may need to operate with only half or even a quarter of their current staff. Many plans have personnel directories and call tree diagrams to facilitate calling employees. Some even have emergency-only intranet sites that employees can access for information.

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September 08, 2016 @ 12:25 PM EDT

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