Emergency response planning has grown to encompass so much more than it used to, but the goal remains to help employees feel safe and valued.

One of the hot topics at our most recent EHSxTech gathering in London was the way emergency response has grown and expanded to encompass so much more than it used to. Before, there were fire and weather drills, and maybe a quick refresher on “stop, drop, and roll,” but on the whole emergency response planning was straightforward and universal. Not so anymore.

Today, organizations have to contend with and prepare for a huge variety of potential emergencies, from active threat situations (which themselves can look very different in different parts of the world) to crowd control and protests, to terrorism, to event safety, all the way through to post-incident support, such as through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP.) The end goal, of course, is to make employees feel safe and valued, and the consequences of failing to do so can be disastrous.

Lay (and Maintain) the Track Through Solid Planning

Every organization’s emergency preparedness needs will be different depending on facility types and locations (and whether these are open to the public or not), employee expectations, and other relevant risk factors, so it’s important to make sure your approach is tailored to meet those needs. An incident nearly always requires a cross-functional response, so determine who that includes for your company—EHS, Facilities, Security, Loss Prevention, PR/ Communications, et cetera—and get them working toward a common strategy.

The goal is to move toward a concise and well-defined program encompassing everything from planning and training to drills and documentation. It’s best to keep plans short (ideally five pages or less, including diagrams and maps) to ensure they are easy to review and simple to follow. These early stages of planning and implementing your program can be a great time to leverage technology, both for compiling and analyzing multiple data sources and for automating reporting and reminders to help keep things running smoothly.

Above all, bear in mind that employee empowerment is key in emergencies—there won’t be time to review a policy document or ask management’s opinion during a crisis, so employees need to know ahead of time what they should do and what authority they have to do so, and trust that they have the organization’s support to make those calls. Preparedness allows employees to respond instantly in a crisis, potentially saving seconds that could mean the difference between life and death.

Avoid Signal Error with Employee Engagement

Even the best-laid plans are ineffective if not understood and implemented by employees, so communication and training are crucial. The most impactful (but also the most difficult) way to ensure employee buy-in is by incorporating emergency response planning and preparation into a strong organizational culture of safety. You can start to build this kind of culture by spotlighting safety in department and site meetings and during employee orientation and can include safety committees and activities like EHS fairs or contests.

Another tactic you can use is to create a compelling story around your program—know your audience (which will be unique to your organization), speak directly to the value and benefits they will see in an emergency response program, and understand the context in which your efforts are situated. When possible, it can also be great to incorporate “extras” that benefit employees in their personal lives, such as first aid for infants and children. These perks can increase awareness, engagement, and momentum even in the midst of growth and employee turnover.

Use All Available Doors to Go Above and Beyond

Once you have a plan in place and employees onboard, it’s time to explore creative ways to take your program to the next level. One way to be proactive is to prepare a safety guide or wishlist for use as your organization expands into new locations. This list could include building security systems, bloodborne pathogen spill kits, proximity to emergency services, designated chemical storage areas, clear and well-lit exterior pathways, and more.

You can also take a proactive approach to working with local emergency services by providing floor plans and key card access up front. Many law enforcement agencies are happy to use your site for practice (outside of business hours), which allows them to run drills and become more familiar with the space. Consider inviting them to participate in your live drills or simulations as well, which can apprise them of your plans and foster closer collaboration, to the benefit of all involved.

Ensure a Safe Ride for Everyone

In today’s world, consumers and employees hold brands to higher standards than ever before, and the best way to live up to those expectations is to take your responsibility to your employees and the general public seriously through careful preparation and emergency response planning. Above all, you are striving to keep your employees safe and risk-proof your business.

Learn more about EHSxTech or contact us for support with your emergency response planning.

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