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Accidents and disasters, either man-made or natural, can strike anytime. No business is immune. The development and execution of an emergency response plan makes sure your employees are prepared to handle a situation.

Every organization, no matter the size, needs an emergency response plan in place, says Zachery Bruce, safety services manager at Hortica.

“An emergency response plan is important because it allows an organization to identify potential emergencies and be prepared for them. You can’t be prepared if you don’t plan,” he says. “A plan should train staff to respond appropriately to emergencies and it provides documentation for every employee. And leadership must know how to execute the plan.”

When it comes to emergencies, weather is typically the first thing people think about. But there are other perils facing businesses such as pandemics, cyber attacks (see page 8 for the story on cybersecurity), accidents and burglaries.

How to begin

The first step when creating a plan is to identify an emergency response team.

“Make sure you have key employees on your team who have a good understanding of the organization and the facilities,” Bruce says. “Maintenance staff should be included because they know where the find the shutoff valves for power, gas and water, for example. The team shouldn’t be so big that it becomes unmanageable, but you need a good representation of people from HR, maintenance and production.”

Once you have your team in place, it’s time to perform a risk assessment. The team is charged with identifying what potential emergencies could your facility face.

If you need help identifying a comprehensive list of emergencies or developing the plan, there are agencies and companies that can help. An interagency site, www.ready.gov, provides a comprehensive list of resources for emergency response plans. OSHA provides e-tools to help businesses create plans. It’s available at www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/eap.html.

Your own insurance carrier can assist with training materials or templates, and it’s always a good idea to contact your local emergency response authorities such as fire departments and EMS for guidance, Bruce says.

Once your plan is finalized, choose someone on the response team who will initiate and act on the plan when an emergency arises.

“There needs to be someone who leads the response,” Bruce advises. Name a backup in case that person is not at work when the emergency occurs.

Next steps

It’s critical to perform drills, which often doesn’t happen in many businesses, Bruce says.

“If you don’t practice it, you won’t likely do well in your response,” he adds.

During a drill, take notes to determine which areas need work or where more training is needed. Did everyone get out in a timely manner? Was the plan clear?

“It’s a good learning experience, and it will demonstrate where your shortcomings may be,” he says. “You should also consider having a drill during the peak season when the majority of your employees are there.”

Emergency response plans should be reviewed annually at the very least, and certainly after you’ve completed a drill, he says. Review it and make necessary changes if you perform any major facility changes, such as new buildings and new equipment, which could create new potential exposures, he says.

Your plan and list of procedures must be accessible to all employees. Consider housing it on a company intranet, or putting a copy in breakroom or in another common area. Also consider your non-English speaking employees and make sure your plan is properly translated.

Another consideration when it comes to emergencies is to store copies of important documents offsite, to house data backups offsite and make sure you test that backup system, he adds.

Source: Hortica (www.hortica.com)