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Do You Have a Plan for Workplace Disasters?

Originally posted by Chris Kilbourne on https://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

In the past few months, disasters have been prominent, from the Texas fertilizer plan explosion to the Boston bombings and the Oklahoma tornado. In light of those events, we present a 4-step disaster preparedness plan for the workplace.

Step 1: Establish a Planning Team

The size of the planning team depends on your facility’s operations, requirements, and resources. A group is preferable to a single leader for several reasons. A team approach:

Gets more people involved in the process

  • Increases the amount of time and energy participants can give
  • Enhances the visibility and stature of the planning process
  • Provides a broader perspective on the issues

The team should include representatives from all functional areas—from upper management to line management, labor, HR, engineering and maintenance, safety/health/environmental affairs, public relations, security, sales and marketing, legal, and finance.

The team should be led by the chief executive or plant manager, who should issue a mission statement to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the process.

An effective statement:

  • Defines the purpose of the plan
  • Indicates that it involves the whole organization
  • Describes the authority and structure of the planning group

Other team basics include a schedule, and a budget for such things as research, printing, seminars, consulting services, and other likely expenses.

Step 2: Analyze

This step entails gathering information about current capabilities and possible hazards and emergencies your workplace may face, and then conducting a vulnerability analysis to determine how ready you are to handle them.

Capabilities and hazards. In order to determine where you are at the moment, review existing documents, including your evacuation plan, fire protection plan, safety and health program, security procedures, insurance programs, plant closing policy, employee manuals, hazardous materials plan, risk management plan, and agreements with other entities that could assist in emergency response.

Another excellent source of input is outside groups. Ask them about potential emergencies and about resources for responding. Consider contacting a local emergency planning committee, fire and police departments, the American Red Cross, emergency medical service organizations, the National Weather Service, electric utilities, and neighboring businesses, among others.

You’ll also want to identify applicable federal, state, and local regulations, and assess internal resources and capabilities that could be needed in an emergency. For example:


  • Personnel—fire brigade, hazmat response team, emergency medical responders, emergency management group, evacuation team, and public information officer.
  • Equipment—fire protection and suppression equipment, communications devices, first-aid supplies, warning systems, emergency power equipment, and decontamination equipment.
  • Facilities—emergency operating center, media briefing area, shelters, first-aid stations, and sanitation facilities.
  • Organizational capabilities—training, evacuation plan, and employee support system.
  • Backup systems—arrangements with other facilities to provide for payroll, communications, production, customer service, shipping and receiving, information systems, emergency power, and recovery support. It is also a good idea to conduct an insurance review to assess what policies are in place and precisely whom and what they cover.

Vulnerability. Once this information has been amassed, the next step is to conduct a vulnerability analysis, which is a way to determine the probability and potential impact of each type of emergency.

In assessing what can happen, think broadly and ask questions like:

  • What types of emergencies have occurred at this facility or in the community in the past?
  • What might happen as a result of the facility’s geographic location (floods, hurricanes, and the like)?
  • What could result from a particular process or system failure?
  • What emergencies could be caused by employee error?
  • What types of emergencies could result from the design or construction of the facility?
  • What emergencies or hazards are you required to deal with by regulation?

This kind of assessment helps estimate the probability of each type of emergency, as well as the potential human toll, property losses, and business impact.

Step 3: Develop the Plan

With a team in place and capabilities, hazards, and vulnerabilities assessed, the next step is to actually develop the plan. It should include a number of basic components:

  • The executive summary gives management a brief overview of the purpose, the facility’s emergency management policy, authority and responsibilities of key players, the types of emergencies that could occur, and the site of response operations.
  • Emergency management elements describe the facility’s approach to managing emergencies. Included are direction and control, communications, property protection, and administration and logistics, among others.
  • Emergency response procedures spell out how the facility will respond. These are best developed as checklists that can be accessed quickly. Specific procedures might be needed for particular situations such as bomb threats or tornadoes.
  • Support documents are those that could be needed in an emergency. Examples are emergency call lists (wallet size if possible) and building and site maps.

Now it’s time to write the plan. Each member of the planning team should be assigned a section to draft. Establish an aggressive timeline with specific goals.

Other plan development tasks include establishing a training schedule for the plan once it is finalized, and coordination with outside organizations. Make sure the plan provides for the needs of the disabled and of non-English-speaking employees.

After the plan is drafted, reviewed, and revised, seek final approval by the CEO and other senior managers.

Tomorrow, the final step, implementation of your workplace disaster plan.