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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in emergency preparedness

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How prepared is your organization in the event of an emergency or disaster?

What might seem like a simple, straightforward question is often a very complex issue to answer.

September 2015 marks the twelfth annual National Preparedness Month. A central goal of the observance is educating the public on how to prepare for natural and man-made disasters. This year’s theme is “Don't Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today.”

Much of the focus of each year’s observance is on being ready to deal with emergencies and disasters at home, but the observance also raises the issue of being prepared for emergencies at work. In 2004, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unveiled Ready Business, an extension of the national Ready campaign that focuses on business preparedness. The business preparedness section of the website Ready.gov recommends that the planning process take an “all hazards” approach. That is, taking into account different types of threats and hazards and their likelihood of occurring.

As part of the planning process, the website recommends developing strategies for prevention/deterrence and risk mitigation. This should include threats or hazards that can be classified as probable as well as hazards that could cause injury, property damage, business disruption or environmental impact.

Developing an all hazards preparedness plan includes identifying potential hazards, assessing vulnerabilities and considering potential impacts. A risk assessment identifies threats or hazards and opportunities for hazard prevention, deterrence, and risk mitigation. Human injuries should be the consideration of highest priority in a risk assessment, of course, but other assets in the assessment could range from buildings and machinery to raw materials and finished products.

In conducting a risk assessment, the Ready.gov recommends looking for vulnerabilities, or weaknesses, that would make an asset more susceptible to (and contribute to the severity of) damage from a hazard. Such vulnerabilities could range from deficiencies in the way a structure is built to its security or protection system. A simple example of such a deficiency is not having a working sprinkler system in place to limit damage in the event of a fire.

For more information on putting together emergency plans for the workplace, visit http://www.ready.gov/business

An early cold snap in mid-November that made most places in the United States feel like the calendar had skipped ahead a couple of months raises the issue of severe winter weather preparedness.

Last winter’s extensive use of travel warnings – in some cases, outright bans on using roadways – highlighted the fact that not everyone knew whether they really should stay at home at the risk of running into trouble with their employers, or whether they should risk the trip and face the possibility of running into trouble with law enforcement personnel in the process.

The situation underscored the need by employers to educate employees on what it is expected of them in emergencies of any kind – natural or manmade.

Here are some questions that could draw attention to existing policies at your organization and help to identify areas where new or revised policies might be in order:

Do employees know who among them is considered essential and is expected to show up for work no matter what, such as during a snow storm or other severe weather event? Do they know who is expected to stay at home during such events?
What are your organization’s expectations for employees with regard to assisting others during an emergency? What about first aid, rescue, and evacuation plans?

How effective and reliable are the systems you use to notify employees (Email, text message, in-house paging system, messengers, etc.)? Do they know whom to contact in the event of an emergency? Is contact information clearly and conspicuously posted?

How does your organization confirm that employees are accounted for in an emergency at the workplace? What about those with disability and/or unique positions – or any workers whose jobs may place them outside normal routes ¬that may keep them from hearing pages or noticing other signals of an emergency? Do exits remain clear at all times?

Do you have and maintain a comprehensive inventory of substance that are potentially dangerous, as well as a list of the proper cleanup/containment equipment? Do you hold emergency response drills?

Do your emergency preparedness plans exist in multiple copies on multiple media?

Emergency operations plans should provide clear and definitive answers to these and a number of related questions. Rather than being locked away and allowed to collect dust, they should be viewed as dynamic documents, subject to revision as needed. Safety at your workplace could well depend on it.

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