HR Policies & Procedures

Emergency Planning 101: Tips for Basic Preparedness

The very real possibility of an emergency in the workplace is not a pleasant thought, and planning for such situations can be overwhelming. With so many contingencies and aspects to consider, some employers may fear that their emergency planning will fall short. Here are some tips for being prepared.

To get started, ensure that your organization has covered its bases across the types of emergency plans needed for the business. Employers need to consider not only employee safety (obviously), but also data security, business continuity, and more.

What Types of Emergency Plans Do You Need?

Here’s a starter list of the types of emergency plans that all employers should implement for their workplaces:

  • Weather-related contingency plans. This might include plans for hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, severe lightning and thunderstorms, blizzards, wildfires, extreme heat or cold, drought, landslides, tsunamis, or even volcanic eruptions, depending on the location of your business.
  • Evacuation plans for every facility (for any reason).
  • Outlined responses to terrorism or other workplace violence, including threats of violence (such as bomb threats).
  • Plans to address contagious disease, such as viral outbreaks or pandemic flu.
  • Plans for other medical emergencies that may or may not involve multiple people, such as heart attacks, strokes, allergic reactions, or on-the-job injuries.
  • How to handle extended power outages or other situations that limit access to facilities.
  • Procedures for chemical or radiation incidents.
  • What to do in case of an explosion (either within the workplace or nearby).
  • Procedures addressing extended systems shutdowns (such as cyberattacks that shut down communications systems or the Internet) or other long-term utility failures.

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What Should These Plans Cover?

The plans listed above will have a lot of moving parts. When outlining their emergency procedures, employers should ask themselves the following questions in order to cover all aspects of an effective plan:

  • How should employees respond? How can employees warn others? Should they stay home if not already at the workplace (e.g., for weather issues)? Should they evacuate if already at the workplace? When should employees not evacuate?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring everyone is safe (include contingencies in case that person is unavailable or incapacitated)? In other words, who is in charge? These plans should establish a chain of command. Someone should be in charge to assess the situation and advise what actions to take next.
  • Where is the list of all employees that need to be accounted for should an emergency occur? What is the procedure to account for everyone? Who is responsible for doing so?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining critical operations (for safety purposes) during the evacuation? Who will shut down machinery?
  • What are the medical and other emergency response duties of individual employees?
  • Who will communicate with all employees for the duration of the event (and how)?
  • What other steps need to be taken? For example, who must the emergency be reported to? How will the organization stay in contact with emergency personnel (even if emergency personnel are not actively required)?
  • Whom can the employees contact with questions?

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  • What type of personal protective equipment is available, and where is it stored? (For example, the employer may have respiratory masks, suits, or gloves that protect against chemical exposure; hard hats; special shoes, etc.)
  • Who will help those who need assistance, such as individuals with disabilities?
  • Where are copies of building maps, insurance policies, supplier/vendor information, and financial information?
  • Where is emergency equipment located, such as fire extinguishers, fire hoses, emergency eyewash stations, defibrillators, and fire alarms?
  • What is the pay policy for nonexempt personnel who come in when work is called off, or when they have to leave or evacuate during the workday?
  • Continuity plans must be considered as well, such as:
    • Who will ensure that business data is secure and shut down properly (while still staying safe, of course)?
    • Under what conditions will the business keep running? Under what conditions will the business be temporarily closed?
    • Who will ensure customer care during the emergency (if applicable)?
    • Who will contact suppliers/vendors to coordinate alternatives when required?
    • Are alternate means of working off-site available? Is access to computer files possible? Are alternate worksites available? Do you have a work-from-home policy?

Bear in mind that the answers to these questions will be the same for many plans but will vary for others. Be sure everyone involved knows his or her role and no critical actions are overlooked. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it should serve as a good starting point. Add to it as necessary.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we will review other considerations for emergency planning, plus an introduction to SilkRoad’s best practices report, The Ultimate Guide to Onboarding.