When was the last time you had an emergency drill at work?
If you haven’t participated in one recently, it’s a good indication that your company may not have an emergency action plan (EAP) in place.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies with more than 10 employees to have an EAP, a written procedure detailing the appropriate response to various types of emergencies. The emergency can be something as simple as a fall at work to something more complex, such as a coronavirus outbreak.
“An emergency action plan is part of a company’s security plan,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “It maps out procedures for different scenarios, such as losing power, what to do in a hurricane or how to respond when a traveling employee has a heart attack overseas.”
Bush should know. He’s a 20-year U.S. Navy SEAL veteran with an additional 10 years of experience in international travel and corporate security. He has assessed sites and developed EAPs for a variety of corporations, governments and educational institutions.
A Business Necessity
Companies, government agencies, organizations and even educational institutions cannot function without emergency procedures and policies.
The central document most organizations utilize is the company handbook or company security plan. This document contains standard operating procedures (SOP), a step-by-step set of instructions guiding employees to perform tasks in a consistent manner.
There are numerous standard operating procedures in an organization. Some examples include visitor policies, cybersecurity measures, building entry safeguards, employee background checks — and they are all designed to prevent emergencies.
“Parking, entering the building, logging on to a computer, how e-mails are sent and how transactions are conducted — these are only a few examples,” Bush said. “Most of these procedures become second nature and are ingrained into the culture of the organization. Any deviation is easy to address and correct.”
Failure to comply with SOPs — for example, not staying home if you are ill or not cleaning up after a spill on the manufacturing floor— can cause an emergency. This is when an EAP comes into play.
More Important Now Than Ever
Given the current state of the COVID-19 crisis, EAPs are more important now than ever.
An example: You’ve already updated your SOP to include COVID-19 screening for employees and an employee has a positive test. This triggers the EAP, should you have one for this event, to institute work from home protocols.
“Procedures and policies that we may not practice every day — but are critical to safety or security — are policies that deal with emergency preparedness,” Bush said. “EAPs mandate the necessary actions taken by organization staff to mitigate the negative consequences of an emergency. Some examples are building evacuations, fire drills, active shooter, power outage, flood, cyber breach, injury at work and workplace violence.”
A corporate EAP looks very different than a factory EAP. Each emergency — flood, fire, chemical spill, injury or heart attack — requires its own set of procedures. The risk manager or risk management team must evaluate scenarios with help from human resources, operations, logistics, finance and legal. There are also a variety of other factors to take into account, like geographic location, worksite layout, structural features and local emergency resources and response time, to name a few.
“Some emergencies cannot be avoided,” Bush said. “Risk managers need to plan ahead and lead the charge. An effective SOP will reduce the likelihood of an emergency and an effective EAP will lessen the impact and consequences of an emergency.”
What is a challenges for businesses post-COVID-19? Planning ahead.
Coronavirus presents a new challenge for organizations. Most emergencies happen once and an EAP for a hurricane, for example, may stand the test of time. With the COVID-19 pandemic, information seems to change frequently, with new outbreak locations, country-specific travel restrictions, new symptoms. A coronavirus business EAP may need a weekly or monthly review.
Sound daunting? The experts at Global Rescue help companies across the globe establish emergency action plans every day. If you’re evaluating your emergency preparedness, they suggest beginning with a five-step process.
Step One: Is There An EAP?
Emergency action plans are usually found in the overall company security plan or the organization’s standard operating procedures.
“Whoever leads the effort should take inventory of what plans are already in place and what plans will need to be modified or updated,” Bush said. “The leader should also talk with staff members to evaluate the level of understanding of policies in place.”
Step Two: Select A Team
Choose a person to supervise and coordinate the EAP.
“Developing an EAP is a comprehensive effort,” Bush said. “There needs to be a leader, only to maintain focus and organize the thoughts and requirements of the rest of the EAP team: key personnel from departments affected by the emergency or the required action.”
All departments should be represented on the team writing the plan. You’ll want a combination of management and staff.
“Enthusiastic participation in the earlier stages of putting together the plan will make the validation process easier and more effective,” Bush said.
Step Three: Assess Risks
Now it is time to review key objectives and priorities. Balance “business as usual” against new demands, such as coronavirus restrictions, and changing priorities, including safer business travel.
“Before any specific plan writing begins, an overall risk assessment should be conducted. This assessment should prioritize potential emergencies using a combination of the likelihood of occurrence and possible negative or catastrophic consequences to personnel, property and business objectives,” Bush said.
“During this assessment, changing a few standard procedures may significantly reduce the likelihood of an emergency. This is an example of being proactive rather than reactive — or waiting for the emergency to happen before taking action.”
In addition, assessments should rely heavily on past experiences and those lessons learned.
“Has the company experienced any prior emergencies? What went well and what could have gone better? What caused the emergency and how were overall business operations affected?” Bush said.
Step Four: Write And Validate The Plan
After existing plans are reviewed and updated or new plans are created, the next step is communicating to all personnel.
“There needs to be an effort to ensure the plan is understood. This should be more than just having staff read and sign off on it,” Bush said. “Short, interactive drills and exercises are effective within individual departments. These exercises will provide valuable feedback about the overall understanding of the plan and how well the plan may work.”
Communicating and validating the plan does not have to be a massive scale effort detracting from business operations.
“Small, individualized question-and-answer sessions, discussions or walkthrough rehearsals of specific portions of the plan can be sufficient,” he said.
Step Five: Incorporate The EAP
Once the drills and exercises are conducted and the findings and recommendations are incorporated, the plan is presented to leadership for final approval.
“It is now ready to be incorporated into official company policy,” Bush said. “Personnel acknowledge understanding of the plan and are responsible for carrying it out when necessary.”
Companies should offer training and perform routine checks to ensure everyone remembers their specific role and responsibility. Companies should also accept ongoing feedback for improvements to the EAP.
How Global Rescue Can Help
All EAPs need to be reviewed to ensure any COVID-19 requirements are included.
“If mistakes are made, the consequences are greater, due to COVID,” Bush said. “You can end up with a follow-on COVID-19 emergency if EAPs are not modified to consider COVID-19 requirements.”
If your organization needs to develop or update an EAP, the security experts at Global Rescue can help. This could include a broad range of services, from reviewing standard operating procedures to creating a full security plan, or providing a situational briefing and assessment for an upcoming international trip.
“Global Rescue ensures employers have proactive plans in place to protect the safety and security of employees,” said Bush. “From creating an emergency action plan or blueprint for best practices to reduce the risk of liability or exposure during the coronavirus pandemic, Global Rescue provides intelligence capabilities customizable to your business needs.”
Click here to learn more about Global Rescue’s travel risk and crisis management services.
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