Getting Out of a Bind: Why Paper Emergency Operating Plans DON’T WORK!

ImageMany industries find facility-wide process changes difficult to implement. This is especially true if their Emergency Operations System has never been compromised in an emergency. Oftentimes, there may only be one master binder with hard copies of important documents alongside the Emergency Operating Plan. The use of the crisis binder that sits on a shelf collecting dust is a thing of the past. The prioritization of emergency planning in each industry is a growing one, as disasters are growing more common, demanding schools, the health sector, airports, and infrastructural public works and other industries, keep crisis binders active in their updating and implementation of their contingency exercises and drills. In our previous blog on crisis binders, we discussed why it is important to have one. Today, I want to highlight why it’s important to keep it updated with easy-to-access software and synch it to a mobile application for your phone or iPad, such as the one we offer here at REM4TM. By taking a proactive, technological approach, you will have access to the documents and plans you need to pull you out of a BIND in an emergency.

Top 10 Reasons Paper EOPs DO NOT WORK

1.     Emergency Operating Plans (EOPs) are meant to be living documents with consistently updated information based on the ever-changing needs of its users; paper EOPs are static, allowing the information to become outdated upon review.

2.     Bulky paper EOPs serve more as a tick in a box for compliance than a strategic plan that is actively utilized.

3.     Paper plans are often misplaced, locked in someone’s office, or placed on a shelf and not reviewed regularly; making updating changes to distributed copies a logistics challenge and leading many to forget or misinform important updates when it is time to review.

4.     Updating paper plans periodically rather than updating as needs arise incurs a large use of staff time and cost associated with the collection of information, printing and distribution. 

5.     You can’t easily forward or send a paper EOP to others during response, nor can you read the content in severe weather or darkness.

6.     If all staff were not included in the latest distribution, in the event of an emergency this would leave employees vulnerable and without instructions.

7.     Size matters! During an emergency evacuation, staff is unlikely to take a paper EOP, while their iPads, laptops and/or smart phones are already in their bag as they’re headed out the door.

8.     When your facility is impacted by a catastrophic event, such as tornado, hurricane, or wild fire, paper EOPs and the computers they’re saved to, may be destroyed.

9.     Paper EOPs are strategic documents that are not typically “user friendly” and staff may be unfamiliar with its organization. If you have to collect pieces of information during or after an emergency situation, it may impede your recovery by months or even years. 

10.  The nature of constructing paper EOPs do not allow for a complete backup of all plans, checklist, photos, maps and workflows to exist in one place.

 

This is not to say that having hard copies of documents isn’t good to have in addition to a software approach, we just want to promote one that beckons you to think critically about the amount of information required by FEMA and other response institutions should you need it as efficiently as possible.  Documentation of insurance forms, property information, staff information, recent repair work (to help estimate value), inventories, floor plans, etc., may take up several hundred sheets of paper. Factor in the plan itself and you may realize by weight alone will lead you to a technological approach that values your time, energy, and likelihood of utilization, leading to a safer workplace for everyone.

Please contact info@rem4ed.com if you have questions about products and information today!

Kali Rapp, REM4ed Emergency Preparedness and Technology Blog Contributor

Business Continuity Planning: Lessening the Long-Term Effects of a Disaster

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High impact, low probability events, as we’ve discussed throughout this blog, affect entire communities and hurts community members physically and emotionally and compromises their infrastructure. This leads to an uncertain future for the community as a whole. The ability for businesses to recover quickly and efficiently is essential to ensuring the success of the community’s reconstruction. Today, business continuity planning is putting a new twist on recovery as corporate and small businesses are planning for disasters better than ever before, and yours can too!

Who knew having the ability to go to work or go to the businesses you’re most familiar with can boost morale after a disaster? Some may think of annual, predictable events, leading to welcomed snow days or small hurricane-related days off, aka “hurrications,” as weather-related vacations.  Residents may look to their favorite businesses in town to keep their doors open for a drink or a trip to the store. When these close due to more severe events, residents are left without their go-to and losing routine is detrimental to morale.

Luckily, several businesses are demonstrating the importance of getting up and running as soon as possible in order to take care of themselves and their valuable customers and community. In fact, FEMA uses businesses that have demonstrated highly-developed emergency plans as points-of-reference to estimate how long a devastated area may take to recover. For example, after the most recent disastrous tornadoes in Oklahoma, Craig Fugate, Director of FEMA, checked out the local Waffle House for what he calls the “Waffle House Index,” described on The Guardian and FEMA’s blog: http://www.fema.gov/blog/2011-07-07/news-day-what-do-waffle-houses-have-do-risk-management.

In New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a gutsy few businesses even kept their doors open in the lesser-flooded French Quarter in order to give its residents a place to go. While it is never advised if one is putting themselves in danger, these businesses otherwise tell an inspiring tale of perseverance and the true meaning of continuity. If a business is able to quickly pick up the pieces of its operations, it decreases the economic duress caused by the event, which gives community members a comforting sense of normalcy and routine.  Depending on the nature of the business, economies have fared just as well, if not better, due to support from the community in ensuring their survival.

Business Continuity Plans are reliant upon the entire system of function at all levels from the ground up. They must be flexible and on alert at all times. A BCP typically includes five sections:

  1. BCP Governance
  2. Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
  3. Plans, measures, and arrangements for business continuity
  4. Readiness procedures
  5. Quality assurance techniques (exercises, maintenance and auditing)

If you want to learn more about a Business Continuity Plan, speak to your local Emergency Operations Center, or visit the website: http://www.ready.gov/business for more information.

If you’d like help creating, implementing, and managing your plan with an invaluable technology-based approach and customer service, please email info@rem4ed.com for more information today.

Kali Rapp, REM4ed Emergency Preparedness and Technology Blog Contributor

Emergency Communications, Is Your Business or School In Trouble?

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If your business or school practices safety at work by implementing training on regulations and gives kudos for those practices, then this is one important and valuable form of safety communication. What about emergency communication? In running exercises, practicing not only the way to communicate in case of disaster, but doing it the most efficient way possible, can be difficult to do. Here at REM4, we stress an emergency communications plan that involves the participation of everyone at every level. Each person must know how to respond and what their role is.

Know Your Incident Command System (ICS): This is how your staff operates in the event of an emergency. In this scenario, a pre-organized crisis team then puts the Incident Command System chain of command and emergency plan in motion. The Commander is then in charge of the operation and orders the plan to shelter-in-place or evacuate, and leads the rest of the staff and crisis team to safety. This plan should be organized and discussed in accordance with the hazards identified in the risk assessment during the Crisis Team and all-staff meetings before the emergency ever takes place. 

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Courtesy of www.osha.gov

An Incident Management Team:

  • Includes command and general staff members and support personnel.
  • Has statutory authority and/or formal response requirements and responsibilities.
  • Has predesignated roles and responsibilities for members (Roster and on-call: Identified and able to be contacted for deployment).
  • Is available 24/7/365

Communications play an important role in knowing that the plan has been set in motion. The Commander’s knowledge and ability to ensure accessibility and interoperability is another imperative for safety during the plan.

Emergency 101 Tips: While there are many requirements on ready.gov for how your business or school should enact an emergency plan, for the communications plan– the most important thing is that it has to work for your staff! Tailoring every plan to reach your entire staff should be the greatest purpose for your plan.

Early Warning Systems (EWS) must be understandable, trusted by and relevant to your business or school. Warnings will have little value unless they reach the people most at risk who need to be trained to respond appropriately to an approaching hazard. For example, know how to use sirens, alarms, announcements, telephone trees (Commander calls one member of crisis team, that member contacts the next member or department, an announcement is made to all staff), and so on. These are a very practical way to notify your staff efficiently.

What if there’s a lack of EWS at the community level, and the business or school is unable to heed the warning?

Then this is a BIG problem. In the last blog, we discussed the importance of regional Emergency Operations Centers to the community. Again, a member of your crisis team should check with your EOC to find out what the EWS systems are, and how to get added to the notification list or find other notification systems available. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if that starts at the top—then no matter the strength of the rest of the plan, there may be far more destruction than there should be.

The FCC recommends the following for all individuals in the event of an emergency (especially storm-related):

  1. Limit non-emergency phone calls. This will minimize network congestion, free up “space” on the network for emergency communications and conserve battery power if you are using a wireless phone;
  2. Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to use it only to convey vital information to emergency personnel and/or family;
  3. For non-emergency calls, try text messaging, also known as short messaging service (SMS) when using your wireless phone. In many cases text messages will go through when your call may not. It will also help free up more “space” for emergency communications on the telephone network;
  4. If possible try a variety of communications services if you are unsuccessful in getting through with one. For example, if you are unsuccessful in getting through on your wireless phone, try a messaging capability like text messaging or email. Alternatively, try a landline phone if one is available. This will help spread the communications demand over multiple networks and should reduce overall congestion;
  5. Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call. On many wireless handsets, to re-dial a number, you simply push “send” after you’ve ended a call to redial the previous number. If you do this too quickly, the data from the handset to the cell sites do not have enough time to clear before you’ve resent the same data. This contributes to a clogged network;
  6. Have charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power for your wireless phone;
  7. Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your phone;
  8. If in your vehicle, try to place calls while your vehicle is stationary;
  9. Have a family communications plan in place. Designate someone out of the area as a central contact, and make certain all family members know who to contact if they become separated;
  10. If you have Call Forwarding on your home number, forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. That way you will get incoming calls from your landline phone;
  11. After the storm has passed, if you lose power in your home, try using your car to charge cell phones or listen to news alerts on the car radio. But be careful – don’t try to reach your car if it is not safe to do so, and remain vigilant about carbon monoxide emissions from your car if it is a closed space, such as a garage.
  12. Tune-in to broadcast and radio news for important news alerts.

 

Getting to Know Your Community Emergency Operations Center (EOC)

Blog_HeaderFor each city, each community, preparedness comes from a place of priority. If an emergency has never affected you or someone close to you, personally—it may make it difficult for planning to become a priority.

This is a topic that exists at the very core of funding for crisis preparation: Why would we plan for a storm if we don’t know WHEN or IF it’s even coming? See our first blog post for an explanation on why you should make preparation a priority for your household and company. In your area, an Emergency Operations Center serves the full-time function of analyzing the risks and providing hazard mitigation to the infrastructure, including businesses, energy, water, schools, and industrial plants. Their function is also in preparedness and educating the public about hazards in addition to providing information on early warning systems and notifying schools and businesses about necessary drills that should be performed regularly.

Knowing about your given EOC and its programming available to the public is one step to making sure you’re prepared. Many different Emergency Operations Centers are reaching out to the public in different ways. For instance, in New Orleans, nolaready.gov, the local New Orleans EOC, worked with the American Red Cross to canvas previously flood-vulnerable neighborhoods, talking with community members and discussing their needs on the ground to better customize programming for the individuals its serving. San Francisco recently took to a new approach to preparedness by coordinating a website through the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (each city or region has one) called http://www.72hours.org.

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The website involves clicking on icons that describe varying levels of planning, including ensuring household safety of your home, pets, planning “go bags” and information on proper storage of extra food and water. Additionally, it provides access to resources for training, volunteering and community planning so that you know how to contribute services to your best ability in the event of an emergency. Additionally, there are several response protocol listed for “in the event of” issues. Please see their icons below.

When the community reminds its constituents that it is important to prepare for your personal needs, it creates a ripple effect and embeds the goals of preparedness into the culture, which then creates better education and programming for each individual.

Emergency 101 Tip: Get to know your hazards. If you or your company need to prepare better, find your local EOC and explore the hazards it identifies and the measures it recommends to take in order to alleviate the possible repercussions that hazard may have.

Safety in Schools and Your Community: Identifying Risks

During the last blog entry, we introduced the four phases of emergency preparedness. Today, we want to discuss hazard mitigation and preparedness while highlighting K-12 school risks. When we look at the emergencies that have swept schools over the years, what becomes the most difficult to assess is the ripple effect that it has on the overall community. If a school is damaged by a natural disaster or violated by an attacker, it compromises the quality of that community’s infrastructure and demands reevaluation of protocol and policies. Even more importantly, when the safety of our children has been compromised, the community must learn to better identify and prepare to recover from emotionally, physically and administrative challenges for the long-term.

Here at REM4, we are constantly reminded that there will always be hazards that are difficult to plan for. We wish to emphasize the importance of proactive hazard and risk assessments and programming so that you can create hazard mitigation and preparedness tools that will aid you in time of need, and ease recovery.

What is a Risk Assessment?

The purpose of risk assessments is to identify demonstrated vulnerabilities/hazards that will turn into liabilities for damage and policy, should the hazards not be addressed. The risk assessment is one of the first implemented documents in your Crisis Binder.  

There are several types of challenges that risk assessments seek to target:

  • School emergency and crisis preparedness planning
  • Security crime and violence prevention policies and procedures
  • Physical security measures including access control, communications capabilities, intrusion detection systems, perimeter security, after hours security, physical design, and many related areas
  • Professional development training needs related to school safety and emergency planning
  • Examination of support service roles in school safety, security, and emergency planning including facilities operations, food services, transportation services, pupil services, physical and mental health services, technology services, and associated school departments
  • School security and school police staffing, operational practices, and related services
  • Linking of security with prevention and intervention services
  • Personnel and internal security
  • School-community collaboration, school and public safety agency partnerships, and school-community relations issues on school safety

List courtesy of: http://www.schoolsecurity.org/consultants/security-assessments.html

 

Investment in a high-quality risk assessment is the first step in instilling a solid foundation for hazard mitigation and preparedness programming. For example, studying the crime rates and statistics in your community aid in evaluating your security needs, researching the natural hazards that have historically hit the region allow you to create sound evacuation and shelter-in-place drills/procedures, and knowing the special skills of your own staff will ensure that you have valuable assistance in any given crisis. Lists provided by professionals in Emergency Preparedness and Technology are the first step in risk assessment.

Emergency 101 Tips: Take your time and make risk assessment a priority. Question multiple resources including experts of different capacities on staff (i.e. facilities, maintenance, security, principal) and archived documents.

Already have a risk assessment, but there may be holes or it hasn’t been updated in a while? Don’t fret. Set up a recurring audit for your risk assessment is one way of ensuring that new information is added into your tool. Updating risk assessments is necessary to ensure quality data and programming is in place!  

Interested in an easier way to not only create, but implement a risk assessment? REM4ed is a leading expert in emergency management and preparedness, including a high-quality risk assessment tool and training for proper planning. Contact one of our experts for a consultation today: info@rem4ed.com

 

Preparing for Rain on a Sunny Day

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What we don’t know can hurt us: Emergency preparedness is a top concern for each school, business and government entity. Your organization has hopefully completed risk assessments that outline its hazards and their potential severity, yet what no one can assess is WHEN the hazard will strike nor HOW MUCH damage it will cause.

So when an emergency strikes, who will be affected? In planning, we must assume the answer is EVERYONE! Who should be involved in emergency preparedness? You guessed it! EVERYONE! Participation is the key to ensuring safety facility-wide. It should be simple for individuals to learn their role and responsibilities for preventing, preparing, responding to and recovering from any crisis. When dealing with uncertainty, we must behave as if we are certain that an event WILL occur, and preparedness and mitigation participation on an individual level are the only feasible solutions to prevent maximum damage occurring. 

Because we know that preparedness planning is in everyone’s best interest, we want you to know to know it too. With the upcoming entries in this blog, you can begin to learn about preparedness tips and methods will help get you there! So welcome to Preparedness, Readiness and Planning–we hope that you stop by again and again to read our up-to-date emergency information to help you get ready for those rainy days, even though it’s a perfect 75 degrees outside.

 

Emergency Preparedness 101: Getting to know the Four Phases of Emergency Management
These phases are important to understand so that you can create courses of action in mitigation and preparedness to prevent the amount of work one must do during response and recovery. Scroll down and get to know these phases’ definitions and examples on a basic level. Upcoming blogs will identify ideas and actions that can be taken to practice these methods further!

Mitigation

 

Preventing future emergencies or minimizing their effects

: Includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or reduce the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies.

: Buying flood and fire insurance for your home is a mitigation activity.

: Mitigation activities take place before and after emergencies.

 

Preparedness

 

Preparing to handle an emergency

 

: Includes plans or preparations made to save lives and to help response and rescue operations.

: Evacuation plans and stocking food and water are both examples of preparedness.

: Preparedness activities take place before an emergency occurs.

Response

 

Responding safely to an emergency

 

: Includes actions taken to save lives and prevent further property damage in an emergency situation. Response is putting your preparedness plans into action.

: Seeking shelter from a tornado or turning off gas valves in an earthquake are both response activities.

: Response activities take place during an emergency.

Recovery

 

Recovering from an emergency

 

: Includes actions taken to return to a normal or an even safer situation following an emergency.

: Recovery includes getting financial assistance to help pay for the repairs.

: Recovery activities take place after an emergency.

Chart and diagram taken from The Four Phases of Emergency Management, courtesy of FEMA IS 10: training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/is10_unit3.doc