When the weather report calls for snow, my roommate heads for the grocery store. She buys canned foods, dry foods and light bulbs. She is preparing for a disaster.
On the same wavelength, my children and I periodically review exit strategies at home in case of a fire. Similarly, the school my sons attend dial my number four times a year to tell me that they have just conducted an emergency preparedness drill.
But one place Americans tend to forget to have ready for an emergency is their place of work. Sure, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ensures workplaces are periodically assessed for their safety standards and the local fire department might happen by to make sure the hallways at your workplace are clear, a stocked first aid kit is available and, fire extinguishers are in working order and exits properly marked. But is your place of work truly ready for a long-term emergency?
The answer to that is likely no. Emergency considerations for workplaces are expected to be temporary in nature – they might get you out of the building and keep you safe until long-term help arrives, but responsibility for your well being quickly shifts from the employer to a community service, such as the Red Cross, a hospital or a local shelter. That means if a disaster is region-wide, you might be out of luck.
The modern age also faces new difficulties during an emergency. We are so linked into our electronic devices that we have created another point of vulnerability. Disaster recovery as a service now stretches to encompass our smart phones, tablets and computers. Where would we be without them in the aftermath of a natural disaster?
Here are some basic hints for responding to emergencies in the workplace. They may sound generic in nature, but that just makes them all the more important. These steps are simple, but so critical you wouldn’t want to miss them.
Preparedness. This is the key to emergency responses. What do schools do? They run through emergency drills, even the simple ones, like leaving the building. Given the size of the school population, they do this again and again. Always be prepared.
Assessment. A preparation drill for an emergency is not just to practice a response to an emergency, it is also an on-going evaluation of your response plan. Is there a way you could be doing something better? Always assess your drill with a debriefing and see what could be improved.
Administration. After going to many, many school board meetings as a reporter, I found again and again that school supervisors always (and I mean always) kept their eye on the safety of each student under their charge. “Every student made it home,” is the bottom-line responsibility of the person in command of every school.
Businesses take heed: It is the responsibility of the Chief Executives Director to aim for profits, but it is also their responsibility to ensure every employee or visitor to their facility makes it home safe. Don’t let businesses concerns distract you from this reality.
Coordinator. The top administrator is not necessarily the best person to be the coordinator of the emergency response. It is essential, however, that one person be in charge of the emergency response. Usually this is someone with knowledge of the infrastructure of the facility, such as the head of maintenance, but it might be a junior executive who has their finger on the pulse of the facility. Make sure everyone knows who the coordinator is, so they aren’t surprised when the emergency comes around.
Communication. By definition, if you have an emergency on your hands, then you have a need to communicate with civic authorities, such as the police, rescue services, the fire department, or other local government entities. Remember, just as you would not like your babysitter to be looking up phone numbers of doctors during an emergency, you don’t want that at work, either. Have every phone number or URL you need ready in advance and part of your emergency response kit.
First Aid. There are generally two problems with first aid availability in a workplace. The first is that the first aid kit is hidden in some cabinet, where nobody can reach it during an emergency. Second, there is nobody on site trained in CPR or basic first aid in the case of an emergency. Obviously, you should take measures to correct these problems.
Shelter and Food. It is not likely every business will stock up on food to feed every employee long term, but there should be some advanced planning for how this might be done. A true disaster may be regional in nature, such as a storm or an earthquake. If you are in tornado territory, hurricane country or an area prone to earthquake (such as California), then long term planning should certainly be part of your emergency planning.
Digital response. After the emergency is over, you’ll want to return to business as usual as quickly as possible. This is likely to mean returning to a digitally-supported business. How secure is your business data? Will it survive a disaster or a cyber-attack? Are your customers protected in the event of a hack? Is your business data secure?