We have spoken about emergency drills for the workplace before and their importance. In this article, the objective will be to provide guidance, not only on how to conduct drills or exercises but to establish a framework for initial and ongoing testing of the emergency management plan.
Who should be involved in planning workplace emergency exercise
As with most aspects of a business, the key to success is mostly communication and therefore a communications plan will help identify the needs of individuals and groups.
A collaborative approach which empowers managers, occupiers and employees will establish a framework for the effectiveness of exercises. The conversation may start within an emergency planning committee (EPC) but should involve owners and senior management of organisations. Without the support from these people, it is unlikely that others will participate wholeheartedly.
Furthermore, these senior managers are ultimately responsible for emergency planning and the effectiveness of the plan during an emergency response. Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all. At least when an emergency occurs there will be some guidance and emergency wardens should be able to problem-solve specific outcomes that aren’t achieving desired objectives.
The emergency planning committees have responsibilities
The senior managers may be accountable but the emergency planning committee has the responsibility to ensure such exercises are relevant and achieve established objectives. Often seeking advice from emergency management specialists and/or simply deciding on scenarios that will test all parts of a given process.
Therefore, interlinking with other parts of the emergency plan. I.e. individual and organisational training plans, mentoring processes and general emergency response and recovery activities.
Finally, emergency response exercises should never be top secret and kept form employees (pre-exercise). As this may have an impact on the learning taken away from the exercise. Generally, members of the emergency control organisation and other employees don’t want to be seen as failures in front of their peers. So giving everyone an opportunity to pre-plan their role can only increase the likelihood of increased learning.
Also, by keeping activities secret there is the potential that many of the participants may only get one chance to learn from the exercise.
Initial testing and implementation of the emergency plan
Once the EPC has put together an awesome emergency management plan it should be tested to identify the good and bad. If parts of the plan fail then what a great learning opportunity. Better to learn during a training exercise than during a real emergency.
Within the initial plan, there will be some emergency response procedure. The way they were put together was probably in a brainstorming session amongst the EPC. So the procedure s workability really hasn’t been determined until they are tested in a controlled environment.
It should probably be said here that until a real emergency there will be a number of unknowns. Know matter how much thought goes into the plan. This is one reason it’s so important to consult an “experienced” emergency manager who can give general guidance on methods of attack that will and won’t work during very stressful times.
It is very likely that those involved in an emergency will have a flight or fight response when exposed to such situations. With flight or fight adrenaline will surge through the body one of the psychological responses is confusing. Often resulting in poor decisions. One way to limit this confusion is experience and training. But this is for another article.
Who’s going to pay?
It’s inevitable that a well planned and thought out scenario for an exercise will cost the organisation money. I.e. employees will need to leave their work stations and EPC members will need to meet and establish the exercise framework.
Therefore, buy-in from senior management is essential. It’s always a good idea to have one of these managers on the EPC. Who often become quite passionate about scenario preparations and how to deal effectively with emergencies.
Initial testing leads to an ongoing program of exercising.
As mentioned above one of the positive outcomes of exercises it to reduce confusion during real emergencies by implementing training and exercising regime.
Debriefing and reporting to leaders of organisations, after emergencies and exercises, will help solve response and recovery issues. Ensuring an effective response by those tasked with emergency control organisation duties.
How to make the exercise scenarios relevant and well tested
There are three main parts to every exercise, and those are preparedness, response and recovery. There are also three contributing parties. These are the EPC, emergency control organisation and general employees.
Bring all the parts together is challenging, but can be very satisfying for those who manage the control and coordination. One of the most likely causes of failure is having one or more parties who see it as a chore and don’t really want to get involved.
When this occurs its more than likely a result of poor planning and/or poor communications within and to all parties.
One method of pre-testing before the main exercise is to get the emergency control organisation together and have a tabletop exercise. It can be a totally different scenario but will give the EPC the opportunity to motivate the team before each exercise.
Is an observer important?
When employees are involved in an exercise it’s often very hard to have an objective point of view. Thus often resulting in the blame game at debriefings. Therefore, observers can have a general overall view of the scenario and potentially give some great constructive feedback, both positive and negative, to those involved.
Ideally, this person should be an experienced and qualified emergency management representative, but where the money is tight an employee who may be a volunteer or the like whilst not at work will suffice. And provide very good feedback. They should have a checklist available and normally provided by the EPC. AS3745 has a good checklist in the appendix.
The Emergency control organisation (ECO)
In a large organisation, it may be quite hard and time-consuming to involve all members of the ECO in a debrief but to ensure relevance there must be some method for them to have input. Emergency management plan updates will be much more effective and easier to understand where this is achieved.
There is always a possibility that there will be a real emergency during an exercise. A predetermined word should be communicated to all members of the ECO to put a halt to the exercise where required. AS3745 list eh phrase “NO DUFF” as the phrase to stop an exercise. But in reality, you can use any simple word or phrase as long as it’s communicated to everyone in the ECO
Debriefing is one of the most important aspects and provides the basis for making the required changes. Emergency response exercises are used to update emergency management plans to ensure they are ultimately workable during emergencies. The objective will always to keep those within and around your organisation safe.