Emergency response has been the cornerstone of business recovery for a very long time, and yet the paradox is that it still is an emerging discipline. Complex and interwoven, emergency response is the first chance you get at recovering your business.
Mess this process up and you risk losing stakeholder and customer confidence, delaying your recovery, and ultimately going out of business. But do it right and you will shrink your recovery window, enable your business recovery, and get back on the road to normalcy within acceptable timeframes.
At the core of emergency response is the emergency response team. It is critical to understand team elements and roles. Like any great team the members make the team successful.
You’ve heard the old adage “There is no ‘I’ in team.” That is certainly the case in something as serious as your emergency response team make up. Think long and hard about who should be on the team and what roles they should play. This is the time to think about people’s personalities, ability to work under a stressful situation, and ability to work together. Hard decisions will need to be made about who to invite onto the team and who will play another role later on.
Educate yourself on the requirements of the mission and staff accordingly. As Max Mayfield, the Director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, once famously said “Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.” No truer words have been spoken.
Who Goes There?
The emergency response team is designed to be the eyes and ears of management while responding to emergency situations. As the organization’s first responders, this team should be empowered to make decisions and act on behalf of the company. Generally the emergency response team is made up of individuals who have some clout within the organization and have demonstrated good leadership abilities.
This group often will have to make decisions quickly in a rapidly changing situation. One or more members of this team will be responsible for assessing the extent of the emergency and will coordinate the response. They also have the authority to call for support from other teams and external resources.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure that you have sufficient back-up team members if needed, and the golden rule is that there are no single-person teams. You can be confident that your emergency response team is effective if you make sure that the team is made up of the right people, who are capable, qualified, and well trained.
What’s the Problem?
The entire emergency response team should become familiar with the most likely scenarios that they will face. Select the most likely scenarios that may impact your locations and train on them and your team’s response. Other items to be concerned with and to train on are:
- Identification and use of various types of fire extinguishers
- First aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Emergency shut-down procedures
- Evacuation procedures
- Use and deployment of self-contained breathing apparatus
- Search and emergency rescue procedures
- Incipient and advance state firefighting procedures
- First Aid training
- Disgruntled employee
Knowing when to directly intervene in a situation is really important. Team members need to know when a fire is too large to handle or if the emergency shut down procedures should be started. Discretion is the better part of valor and by training time and time again, team members can be confident enough to make decisions and follow through on them. The guiding principle, however, is that no one should never endanger his or her life—or those of others—while trying to control a situation.
Early in my career, I knew a district manager for a records storage company. A fire erupted in the records warehouse, the alarm was sounded and the building was safely evacuated. The district manager, however, chose to stay and try to fight the fire. Eventually, he was overcome by smoke and fell to the floor. He was lucky to be found by the firefighters and revived. He was sent on to the hospital for a lengthy stay and recuperation period. He should never have tried to fight this fire; he should have done what he told his employees do—evacuate.
How’s It Going?
Many practitioners recommend that the emergency response plan operate under the Incident Command System (ICS). This system is derived from FEMA’s crisis management methodology.
Under ICS a single incident commander becomes responsible for the front line management of the incident, tactical planning and execution, for determining whether outside assistance is needed, and replying to requests for assistance from outside agencies. The incident manager is the responsible authority and employees must follow his/her instruction in order to avoid confusion and to maintain order.
Other team members supporting the incident commander are essential. There is need for skilled and talented people to serve with and advise the incident commander. Some examples of supporting roles include:
- Deputy Incident Commander–serves as the principal assistant to the incident commander.
- Emergency Safety Leader–appoints and supervises the activities of the safety wardens.
- Damage Assessment Team Leader–a knowledgeable facility person qualified to inspect property once released by the authorities.
- Inspection Team Members–support the Damage Assessment Team Leader by making inspections of property. These team members must work jointly in order to maintain their safety while conducting their inspections.
- IT Recovery Team Leader–leads and directs the recovery of the information technology assets and data.
- Restoration Crew–individuals responsible for cleaning the facilities after a disaster. Most organizations contract with a professional cleaning service in order to restore the facilities. It is important to note that organizations should enter into an agreement with one of the commercial vendors before disaster strikes. Professional cleaning services usually will not engage with a new client at the time of disaster until their contracted clients have been satisfied.
Team make up and size will vary from organization to organization. The “best practice” principle of making the team fit your specific situation is best employed here. Take stock of your needs, your product or service, and your teams. Balance that with a well-qualified team and start to rehearse.
Sun Tzu, the famous military tactician once said “Now there are five matters to which a general must pay strict heed. The first of these is administration; the second, preparedness; the third, determination; the fourth, prudence; and the fifth, economy.” In all cases these words, if followed, will deliver great dividends.
And, In the End…
The final matter that we should investigate is that of activation guidelines. Generally there are five levels of activation that are employed. These are:
- Level I Alert–response to events that threaten an individual or small group
- Level II Alert–response to events that threaten a larger group, department or business unit
- Level III Alert–response to events that threaten an entire facility
- Level IV Alert–response to events that threaten multiple facilities or the entire organization
- Level V Alert–response to a wide scale regional, national or international event(s)
The response to a crisis should be proportional to the size of the event. For example, a small water leak may not require too much activity. Evacuation would not be necessary if the local staff can manage the leak, determine its cause and affect the repairs. However, evacuation might be necessary if the leak caused greater damage or forced the repair team to shut off water to the entire building.
Emergency response can be an involved process. You have to select the right people for the teams and then make sure that they have the tools and skills necessary to do the job well. Like any other continuity program, exercise is the key. Practice frequently and on realistic situations that might affect your business and people. Emergency response is a task that you must do well. Make sure that you are ready.