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Emergency planning: how to prepare

What will you and your team do in the event of a disaster? Investing time in emergency planning pays off in the long run, as it keeps you and your employees safe and reduces downtime.

Get prepared

A health and safety requirement is to have an emergency plan. It’s a big risk for your company and the people who work there if you don’t have one.

Being ready for a disaster or emergency can help you:

  • Saving lives and avoiding harm

  • help businesses to continue trading through hardship.

  • gives staff and owners confidence.

  • protect equipment and premises.

  • quickly get businesses running again.

Determine emergency risks

Nobody expects you to be able to prepare for every eventuality. Given your industry and location, you should have a good idea of the risks you face at work. It’s all about being ready for the most likely scenarios in your situation.

It’s especially crucial to plan for unexpected events that come with little to no warning or opportunity to prepare.

Here are some emergencies for which you should prepare a plan; some may pose a greater threat to you than others.

  • Natural hazards: earthquake, flood, tsunami, volcanic eruption or ash, landslide, tornado, high winds, extreme weather (e.g. drought, major storm), fire.

  • Workplace incidents, hazardous substance events (eg chemical spills), medical emergencies, public health events, violent people, animal attacks, epidemics.

  • Electricity outages, IT outages, and water supply challenges are all examples of utility failures.

What your plan should cover

Adapt your strategy to your company’s needs. This means that if you’re a two-person operation, you might decide to meet at a nearby school in the event of an emergency. You’ll probably need more structured systems in place if your company grows or becomes more complex.

When making plans, keep in mind that emergencies often necessitate flexibility. Instead of rigid plans, consider strategies. Your plan should be saved both electronically and on paper.

Emergency procedures

These should include:

  • Staff evacuation: Make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency. Plan how to stay in touch with employees who work offsite.

Make sure staff know what to do in the case of:

  • You must create and maintain a fire evacuation plan if you own your property. Follow your landlord’s evacuation plan if you’re a tenant. It’s possible that you’ll need a pre-approved evacuation plan.

  • Earthquake: Unlike fire threats, evacuating employees outside during and immediately after a quake is risky. During the quake, everyone should dive, cover, and hold on. Make a plan for where you will meet once the shaking has stopped.

  • Tsunami: Check to see if your place of business is in a tsunami zone. Plan to get to higher ground or as far inland as possible if an earthquake lasts longer than a minute or knocks you off your feet. Keep in mind that a tsunami could strike before an official warning is issued. More information on tsunami procedures will be available from your local civil defense and emergency management group.

  • Assembly point: Choose a secure meeting location close to your business. Staff will want to be with their families in a major crisis. Make a plan for staff to leave after you’ve informed them.

  • Wardens: After an evacuation, assign staff wardens the task of counting all workers and visitors, such as subcontractors and clients. In the event of a sudden absence, have backup plans in place.

  • First aid: Have a plan in place for dealing with injuries. For minor injuries, you’ll need a medical kit. If the situation becomes more serious, locate the nearest medical center or hospital. Find out if any of your employees have received first-aid training.

  • Emergency contacts: Keep important contact information up-to-date and accessible. This includes staff, emergency services, clients, suppliers, and the insurance company’s phone numbers. In an emergency, you can also get information and assistance by visiting your local civil defense and emergency management group’s website and Facebook page.

  • Communication: Make sure you have a plan in place for informing employees about when and where they should report to work. If your workplace is unsafe, make arrangements for a different location or work schedule.

  • Utilities: If you suspect a leak, you may need to turn off the electricity, water, and gas. After a natural disaster, fires caused by gas leaks and electrical sparks are a risk. You’ll want to conserve water as well. Make sure you or a designated staff member understand when and how to turn off these devices.

Emergency supplies

Install a civil defense cabinet with emergency supplies such as water, blankets, rope, torches, radio, first-aid kit, dust masks, and gloves.

If you feed your employees, you’ll need to do so again in an emergency. Make sure you have enough supplies for a 24-hour period.

It’s also a good idea to keep all work vehicles’ gasoline tanks at least half-full. If the power goes out, ATMs may not work, so having emergency cash on hand is a good idea. To make plans that work, solicit input from employees and conduct regular drills.

Practice your plan

Plans must be dynamic documents that evolve as your company grows and changes. Communication is essential, as is keeping your plan up-to-date when necessary.

Dry runs should be done on a regular basis (at least twice a year), but surprise drills should also be included. Talk about how these went and how you can make them better. To cover fires, earthquakes, and other hazards, various scenarios are used.

Involve staff

Participate in emergency discussions with all employees. Ascertain that everyone understands what they should do.

Consider forming a team to prepare for emergencies, preferably from across your company. The team can facilitate all-staff meetings and keep the plan current.

Don’t rely on yourself to plan for emergencies. Including other people in the process will result in a more robust plan that is easier to maintain and execute.