Ready for Anything: Emergency Response Planning

You've done your risk assessments, now what?

Businesses, manufacturing facilities, government installations and commercial properties spend billions of dollars each year on security measures. They install elaborate physical impediments to access such as fences, bollards and barricades. They put electronic access control systems in place. Sensitive facilities install X-ray and metal detection systems in their mailrooms and lobbies. Technology transforms ordinary fences into "smart" fences. Hundreds of millions are spent on security guards.

These security upgrades are extraordinarily useful in improving the security posture of a given location. However, one oft-overlooked solution is the simple and cost-effective measure of implementing a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan. Having a plan and drilling it on a regular basis is arguably the most important step in safeguarding the lives of employees, protecting property and providing for business continuity. Yet many businesses have plans that are inadequate or outdated, and a surprisingly high number have no plan at all.

Why Do We Do It?
The most important reason for having an emergency preparedness plan is that the stress induced by a crisis severely limits cognitive ability. In plain language, when people become frightened or anxious, their ability to process information and make judgments appropriate to the circumstances is severely degraded. This happens to everyone to some degree. By planning for emergencies, we can make our decisions while in a calm state, unaffected by stress.

Planning also allows us to call upon the knowledge and experience of other managers and staff in the organization to help us make the right decisions. In short, we are doing all the thinking about how to respond to any given emergency long before it actually happens. This will help save lives and property and limit the interruption to the organization.

Where Do We Start?
How do you begin to create an emergency response plan? Whether your company is doing it in-house or with the assistance of a security consulting firm, the starting point is the assessment of the facility to determine the likely level of risk it bears. Obviously a nuclear power plant has a different level of risk than a factory manufacturing leather goods. Factors such as location, type of business activity, size, number of employees and degree of facility control all bear upon the level of risk.

Once the risk assessment has been completed, the plan may be created. The plan must consider a wide variety of situations, everything from the mundane to the catastrophic. Many businesses are quite properly concerned with the threat posed by acts of terrorism. Those concerns are certainly valid and must be planned for. In general, however, the more common occurrences are those encountered virtually every day in many businesses and locations. So while we make contingency plans for the release of toxic chemicals, dirty bombs and suicide bombers, we must not forget to plan for the more frequent situations such as elevator entrapments, disgruntled employees, civil disturbances, strikes, fire and smoke.

To create a viable and comprehensive plan, representatives from management, security, engineering and maintenance, as well as supervisory personnel, must be included in all aspects of planning. Each department has a defined role and area of responsibility. Without the input of the respective departments, a plan cannot be created or managed. Further, the management of the plan must be done by a team rather than by individuals. This team must include representatives from each department.

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