January 26, 2023
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Emergency Readiness and Response Planning

Building the foundation for an effective plan

Paul Ahnberg

This post focuses on the three key elements that make up the foundation of an effective emergency readiness and response plan. But before you can make a plan for responding to emergencies, important emergency prevention steps must be taken. 

Taking proactive steps to prevent or limit our risk of emergencies is important because emergencies can adversely affect our communities, our employees, the environment, and our businesses.  

The process of emergency prevention can be broken down into three components:

  • Identification of risks and vulnerabilities
  • Assessment and risk-ranking (prioritizing) identified risks 
  • Identification and implementation of risk-preventing or mitigating controls

Learn more about the 3 Steps to Successful Emergency Prevention before reading on.

Having an emergency preparedness app is a great alternative to EHS Software. The ReadyKey platform makes it easy to customize your Ready App to support emergency prevention or other EHS compliance practices. 

Why Create an Emergency Readiness and Response Plan?

Despite our best efforts to prevent or reduce the risk of emergencies, emergencies continue to occur. So, we must plan how we will respond to an emergency situation that arises at our facilities. 

We have a responsibility to protect our employees and our communities as well as a responsibility to meet legal regulatory requirements. In the US for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires most facilities to, at a minimum, develop and maintain written Emergency Action Plans to address:

  • Reporting fires and/or other emergencies
  • Evacuation procedures and emergency exit routes
  • Procedures for employees remaining to operate or shut down critical plant operations prior to evacuation
  • Procedures for accounting for employees following evacuation
  • Procedures for employees who may be required to perform rescue or medical response activities
  • Names and titles of individuals responsible for training facility employees on the Emergency Action Plan
  • Emergency alarm systems
  • Specific training for individuals tasked with assisting other employees to evacuate safely

This discussion focusses on emergency planning for facilities electing to take the defensive actions needed to successfully address facility emergencies. 

Warehouse fire emergency safety
Prepare for warehouse fire emergencies with a Ready App

The Foundation of Emergency Readiness and Response Plans

The basic components of Emergency Readiness and Response Plans often start with the following three points

  1. Develop the Emergency Response Philosophy
  2. Determine the Plan Owners, Roles, and Responsibilities
  3. Use an Incident Command System

Develop the Emergency Response Philosophy

It is vital to clearly and transparently document what defensive actions facility leaders and employees are expected to take during an emergency. Alignment on these points is critical. Emphasis and periodic reinforcement of emergency plans and expectations is advised because many individuals are naturally inclined to step up and take enterprising, non-defensive action to counter emergencies and protect their fellow employees, themselves, and their source of livelihood.  While commendable in an altruistic sense, taking such actions has the potential to place individuals in positions of unacceptable risk.

Coupling the defensive posture emphasis with strong, pre-emergency communication and coordination efforts with outside emergency First Responder entities will strengthen and cement the desired emergency response, ensure well-executed emergency response activities, and reduce risk for everyone.

Create a section in your Ready App for the emergency response conventions at your facility. Use the Forms feature to quiz employees on what they learned after reading the emergency response conventions section. Quizzes can help your team retain information and see what they might have missed. And on the backend, managers can track participation, scores, and more.  

workers using an emergency preparedness app
Share an emergency response plan in an emergency preparedness app

Determine the Plan Owners, Roles, and Accountabilities

When assigning Emergency Readiness and Response Plan accountabilities, it is important to consider the facility’s existing management structure and resources. Facilities often assign roles and accountabilities based on job titles and hierarchy. 

Facility Manager

Overall Plan ownership and accountability typically rest with the Facility Manager.  Often, ownership and accountability for specific components of the plan are delegated to key site personnel. This includes plan development, training, and drills, coordination with outside First Responders, maintenance of facility safety systems, and more. The Facility Manager also handles the budget, personnel, and resources needed to enable successful delegation.  

While specific accountabilities are often delegated, the Facility Manager typically leads the facility’s leaders through periodic plan review meetings to assess execution. They also work with leaders to identify and assign appropriate plan improvement activities.

EHS Manager

Frequently, the facility’s EHS Manager acts in partnership with the Facility Manager and is accountable for many of the plan’s components including plan development, communication, training + drills, and First Responder coordination. The EHS Manager also handles plan administration which includes documentation, recordkeeping, regulatory reporting, and updating.

Facility Maintenance + Operations Managers

Facility Maintenance and Operations Managers are often tasked with the upkeep of facility safety and alarm systems. This includes but is not limited to maintaining the fire protection systems, chemical secondary containment, safety showers and eyewash stations, and fire and chemical alarms. These team members are also responsible for ensuring employee and contractor attendance at and participation in required emergency response training and drills.  

Training + Drills

Lastly, all the Managers listed above typically receive training and participate in drills to prepare them to step in as the facility’s emergency response leader in the event of an actual emergency.  It is important to have more than one individual prepared to fill this leadership role in order to provide backup and ensure redundancy in this key capability.

Emergency response plan leaders
Determine roles and accountabilities for emergency action plans

Use an Incident Command System  

To best achieve seamless pre-emergency communication and coordination with emergency First Responder entities, it is highly recommended that facilities consider using the Incident Command System (ICS) structure to organize their tactical emergency response activities. 

ICS is a standardized, all-hazards management system used by all outside First Responder entities to manage emergencies.  Facilities that organize their emergency response activities via ICS are thus best positioned to seamlessly link their internal defensive emergency response tactics with outside emergency response entities’ offensive tactics.

Incident Commander

Under ICS, the individual with the highest degree of emergency response knowledge or authority assumes the Incident Commander (IC) role for the incident until replaced by an individual with greater authority or emergency response capability.  In practice, this means that the facility’s IC will manage and maintain overall authority over the initial emergency response to site emergencies until such time as outside First Responder entities arrive on site and assume command.

Depending on the nature and extent of an emergency, the facility IC may elect to delegate tactical accountabilities to trained individuals.  For example, the facility EHS Manager is often tasked with overseeing an emergency's safety and environmental implications, with a direct and unimpeded reporting relationship to the IC.  Similarly, Maintenance and Operations Managers may be tasked with overseeing operational and logistical aspects of the initial, defensive response.  

Once the transfer of command to outside First Responders has occurred, the facility’s IC will become the facility’s ICS representative, subordinate to the outside First Responder IC in a Unified Command.  Although subordinate to the outside IC, the facility IC role’s importance is not diminished as the facility IC has access to critical site-specific knowledge and information that will enable the outside IC to successfully manage the incident.

Encompassing All Aspects of Planning

Emergency Readiness and Response Plans build on risk prevention efforts and allow facilities to reliably reduce residual risks to employees and communities arising from emergency incidents while also meeting legal regulatory requirements.

Incorporate the three basic components - develop the emergency response philosophy; determine the plan owners, roles, and responsibilities; and use an Incident Command System - to create the foundation for your emergency plan. To create a plan that fully encompasses all the diverse aspects of emergency preparedness, there are four more key elements to consider. Learn more about it in the next and final post in the three-part blog series, publishing next month.

About the Author

Paul Ahnberg shares his emergency prevention, readiness, and response expertise gained from 32 years of EHS experience working with multiple industries and manufacturing facilities. Beginning with facility EHS Manager roles, Paul acquired and applied the technical expertise and communication skills needed to lead OSHA 1910.38 and OSHA 1910.120 (HAZWOPER) compliant and effective all-hazard facility emergency operations and coordination with outside First Responders. 

In subsequent corporate Division and Sector roles, Paul led Division-wide, multi-facility emergency readiness and response activities. And later provided strategic thought leadership and technical oversight for dozens of business Sector facilities across North America. This includes the introduction and successful rollout of an effective Ready App to help facilities ensure safe and effective emergency readiness and response actions.

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