Ready for Anything: Emergency Response Planning

You've done your risk assessments, now what?

Keeping It Current
Once a plan has been formulated it must be validated through repetitive drill. During such drills, either live exercise or in tabletop format, plan weaknesses become evident. After the plan has been finalized, it must again be thoroughly and regularly drilled. Drills must be initially conducted on a scheduled basis until the plan becomes familiar to the occupants of the facility or building. Later, unscheduled drills should be implemented no less than four times per year. Drills should be repeated each time critical personnel are changed and should be conducted more frequently in high-risk areas.

The management team must continually upgrade the plan to account for changes in personnel and the structure of the facility. The personnel or management office must check the emergency plan each time an employee goes on leave, is transferred, quits or is terminated. The management office or security must be notified and must coordinate the replacement of the missing individual into the plan. Engineering and maintenance must check the emergency plan before they begin any construction or maintenance project that might interfere with the plan's implementation. Again, management or security must be notified and make necessary accommodations.

Clear Communication
The best plan requires a clear channel of communication and redundant systems as well.
Commonly used methods of communication include

  • Fire Alarm
  • Public Address
  • Bullhorn
  • Telephone (Landline)
  • Cell phone (In buildings with internal repeaters this can be quite effective)
  • E-mail
  • Runners (Face to face)

Built-in redundancy will make communications possible even under the most difficult circumstances. Special attention should be given to making sure that buildings with internal repeaters have the system tied into the emergency generator.

One of the most important aspects of any plan is the need to account for employees, tenants and visitors if there is a catastrophic event. In the case of commercial office buildings, each tenant must be responsible for accounting for their own personnel as well as their guests. Most building access systems keep track of individuals entering a building but do not track those persons when they leave. There are a number of solutions to this problem. One is to use electronic access control that does track users' entry and egress from the property; there are many systems available that offer this function. Another option is to use simple sign-in sheets in each office. Everyone signs in and everyone signs out. An alternative to the sign-in/sign-out sheet is an electronic visitor management system used in conjunction with access control.

Each tenant or company must have a primary and alternate meeting point where an accounting will be made. Subsequently, a tenant representative will provide that accounting to a member of the building or facility's emergency team.

Special needs individuals must be provided for as well. A list of all individuals requiring special assistance must be provided to security. However, arrangements for assisting those individuals must be made in-house. Building management is rarely, if ever, equipped to assist in the evacuation of people with conditions preventing them from using normal methods of egress.

Clearly there are a multitude of possibilities to consider in an emergency situation, and that makes it all the more important to have a comprehensive emergency response plan in place before disaster strikes.

About the author: David S. Katz is the president and CEO of Global Security Group Inc., a firm specializing in international security consulting, risk management, specialized training, protective services, investigations and counter-terrorism. He is also the program director of the Emergency Preparedness Planning Programs division of Diversified Security Solutions Inc. A former U.S. Federal Agent and instructor at the FBI/DEA academy at Quantico, Mr. Katz has prepared emergency action plans for more than 50 of the most prestigious commercial properties in New York City. He can be reached at