By Jamie Ridenhour

How will your organization react in the event of an emergency? What will you expect your employees to do if there’s a natural disaster or a man-made hazard? Emergencies can disrupt business operations and cause loss of life. That’s why every organization should have an emergency action plan (EAP) to cover various potential emergency situations.

By having an EAP and personnel trained to implement it, your organization will be able to more effectively evacuate, lock down, contact emergency services, and make sure all employees are safe and accounted for during or after an adverse event.

Before creating an EAP it is necessary to fully understand the potential hazards that your business faces. Some hazards are nearly universal, but others will depend on your geographic region, particularity of your industry, business location, and the like.

Natural disasters are common theme of emergency preparedness, but not all types of natural disasters affect every area. The need to plan for hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornados, or earthquakes is highly dependent on the area of the country you’re in, so EAPs should be planned accordingly and the amount of depth and planning appropriate for the risk the disaster may pose.

The same applies to man-made hazards. Businesses that handle or store chemicals must understand the risks posed by a spill or accident and be prepared for such an event. Facilities in the local area should be considered, as well since a spill or toxic release can affect a broad area. All businesses must be prepared for violent incidences as well. Workplace violence, an active shooter, and the like are unfortunately events that must be considered and planned for.

Perhaps the most important part of the EAP is a clear and simple evacuation plan. Evacuation plans will differ depending on the hazard. In a building fire or chemical spill, for example, priority will be placed on a quick and orderly exit from the building. On the other hand, employees should seek a basement location or one far away from windows in the event of a tornado.

Some important elements that should be included in any evacuation plan are:

  • The employees responsible for coordinating and managing the evacuation
  • How employees will be notified of the evacuation
  • A current and detailed floor plan
  • Which areas should be sought out or avoided
  • The fastest routes to leave the building or seek shelter
  • Where to gather after leaving the building
  • How employees will be accounted for

The next step is to create a chain of command and designate leadership for evacuation operations. It is important that multiple employees are well versed in the evacuation plans to increase the likelihood that one of them will be on site if evacuation is necessary. There should be a chain of command to help ensure that things run smoothly and to minimize conflicting information. Roles in the evacuation team can be assigned or volunteers can be requested.

Next, be sure to document when and how to notify emergency services. Fire alarm systems will often automatically alert the fire department, but many other events such as a medical emergency or workplace violence incident will require an employee to initiate contact.

The EAP should include a list of all emergency services numbers as well as those of utility companies and building owners. This section should detail who should be called if a particular emergency occurs.

Along with emergency services, the EAP should also cover how and when to alert employees and guests of an event. Some events, such as a fire, will require everyone in the building to be notified as soon as possible, while a medical emergency may only require a 911 call.

Contact information should be included for all employees who have a leadership responsibility in the EAP. The plan should also include information on where to find emergency contact information for all employees. This information likely will not be accessible to everyone, so it should be noted who can access it. Contact information should be updated at least annually.

Once your emergency action plan is complete, it should be distributed to all employees with some explanation of their responsibilities. An EAP handbook or company-wide training session are recommended. This information should be presented to new employees as part of the onboarding process. All employees should know what is expected of them in an emergency.

Regular drills should be scheduled to test the EAP. Most employees are familiar with fire drills, but it’s a good idea to perform drills for other events such as tornado warning as well. These exercises will not only give employees an opportunity to become familiar with the process, but also allow leadership to evaluate the EAP and modify it if necessary. It is important that the EAP not be viewed as a static document, but one that should be regularly updated.

We hope this introduction will encourage you to start the process of creating an emergency action plan if you don’t already have one in place. Every second counts when disaster strikes and a well thought out EAP can make a big difference in how effectively employees respond. A wealth of information is available from government sources such as FEMA, EMA, and OSHA.