Disaster Preparedness(HR)

In continuing with this blog series about Top Ten Issues, I thought it was crucial to discuss Disaster Preparedness.  No one really likes to talk about the What if? I had an opportunity to talk with someone very well versed in this area. Tim Puyleart.  Tim is founder/organizer of  MN Safety, Health, and Environmental Professionals Group.  He brings 17 years of experience in worldwide and manufacturing industries.  Tim can be reached at www.linkedin.com/timpuyleart  Here are Tim’s thoughts on Disaster Preparedness:

Emergency Planning and Management – The Basics

Tim Puyleart MPH, CSP


An emergency is defined as an unplanned event that can cause severe injuries, disrupt or shut down operations, cause physical or environmental damage, or threaten the facilities financial status or public image. Emergencies come in many forms, have many potential causes and can have little or a drastic impact on an organization. Preparing for these emergencies is a critical process, vital to minimizing the effect of the emergency and allowing everyone involved to return to business as normal as quickly as possible. In addition to keeping the business up and running and the prevention of injuries; a solid emergency management process helps an organization maintain compliance with applicable regulations and reduces the overall exposure to liability.

Emergency planning and management is a process, and as with any process, there are four key steps that should be taken in planning for an emergency and developing the management plan.

Establish a planning team.  The first step in the process it to put a team together to develop and implement the emergency plan. In looking at the facility, who should be involved in the planning process? Does it make sense to include employees, or tenants in the process? What about security? Engineering and maintenance? As you develop your planning team, think about the roles and responsibilities of the team. In order to be an effective team, it will need the authority to make decisions, a timeline to develop and implement the plan, and lastly a budget to begin the process.

Analyze capabilities and hazards. The second step is about understanding the potential hazards and emergencies, capabilities of the building occupants  as well as the community resources available.  To begin this process, review internal plans and policies regarding evacuations, fire protection, safety and health, environmental, security, insurance, and hazardous materials. Are these plans consistent across the facility? Are occupants in one area putting other occupants at risk? Compare these plans with the applicable requirements of the regulations. Next, meet with outside agencies to understand their capabilities as well as what if any potential emergencies exist in the community. If the business next door is a chemical plant and it has major fire, how will that impact the facility you own or manage?

As you are reviewing and understanding the current programs in place, start making a list of potential emergencies that could occur in the facility itself or in the local community. To gain an idea of what those emergencies might be, look at the historical data – what emergencies have happened in the past? Geographically, what are the threats: floods, dams, proximity to airports, and power plants? What technological issues could happen?  Review the building for evacuation routes and exits, emergency shelters, and hazardous materials. Is there anything in the building design or construction that could create an emergency?

Understanding the potential threats leads directly into impact assessments. If any of these potential emergencies happen, what would the impact be to occupants, to the property, to the businesses involved?  Finally, start identifying resources, internal and external that can help with emergencies. Will the external resources be able to help, or will other priorities garner their attention? Going through this resource analysis will determine procedures required, training, mutual aid agreements and any specialized contractors that may be required.   

Develop the plan.  The emergency management plan needs to contain core elements such as: who will provide direction and control if something happens, how emergencies will be communicated, life safety, property protection, community outreach, recovery and restoration and logistics.  The plan will include the emergency response procedures for the potential hazards identified in the assessment process. In the end, the occupants of the building should know two key things: their role in the process and where do I go in response. Finally, the plan should include supporting documents that could be needed in an emergency. Examples of these documents would be emergency call lists, site maps, resource lists, and key contractors. The plan should be written in coordination with the tenants, outside organizations and the property owners and or managers.

Implementation of the plan starts by communicating and training.  Conduct drills that simulate appropriate emergencies and work with those in attendance to identify gaps in the plan that may need to be improved upon. When possible, include outside resources in the drills and the debrief process.

The development of an Emergency Management Plan is a process that will take an investment of time and energy. However, laying the groundwork for a solid plan now, will reduce the damage to the overall organization later.

I think it is critical that organizations large and small have a solid Disaster Plan in place. I want to know how you and your organizations are prepared? Let’s get the conversation started…………………..


6 responses to “Disaster Preparedness(HR)

  1. Safety is extremely important. We need to think about this in advanced. Too many people wait until it’s tool late. Great post.

  2. Disaster Recovery should be common place in the IT world. But Business Continuity plans encompassing some of the areas discussed here are often pushed to the back burner. It is my experience that happens because of lack of ownership and accountability.

    The IT DR plan is pretty obvious in that it is owned by IT. Business Continuity, because it touches on varied areas as you have outlined, gets a lot trickier to determine who should own it. There are HR, Finance, Operational and IT componants so it is easier to stalemate rather than step up and address.

    Good job on bringing its importance to the fore front.

  3. Thanks Shennee for allowing me to guest write! I hope the information is useful!

  4. I agree that most of wish we didn’t have to deal with emergency preparedness but Hurricane Katrina, 911, this winter’s swine flu outbreaks, the earthquake in Haiti and many more disasters tell us otherwise. Still, trying to prepare for anything and everything is quite overwhelming. The company I work for provides 24/7 services to people with developmental disabilities; I can’t begin to tell you how complicated emergency planning quickly becomes when you start talking about medications, mobility issues, health concerns like diabetes, not to mention folks with autism who don’t do well with sudden changes, etc.

    I don’t mind saying I am happy I’m not the point person for our emergency preparedness efforts!

  5. @Krista- Thanks for your comments and thoughts. I can’t imagine how unique and difficult your emergency preparedness must be. You work for a company that offers much needed services. Kudos to all the work you do!

    @Margo- Safety is paramount and now more than ever. With all of the unforseen things happening in the world, I can’t imagine not having a system in place. Large or Small companies. It is ESSENTIAL.
    Thanks for your readership

    @Tim- Tim It was a pleasure to collaborate with you on such an important topic. You are really well versed with 17 years of experience. . Thanks for sharing your insights!

  6. @Lou- Thanks for a great point about IT. A lot of people have no idea about what happens when the systems crash, malware hits, or other system destroying things happen.
    My husband has been in IT for 13 years, so I know first hand what can and will happen. Really appreciate your readership.

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