Once an Emergency Control Organisation (E.C.O.) members become accredited to operate. It is just the start of the process and mentoring becomes a large part of remaining competent and familiar with the procedures required to keep others safe in a facility.
Therefore, general exercises and other activities form a significant part of skills retention and ensuring the facility is ready for an emergency. Accredited emergency warden training is very generalised and has to cover a number of scenarios. Therefore, the Emergency Planning Committee (E.P.C) will plan the implementation and ongoing maintenance of the plans and E.C.E. skills.
Initial testing and implementation of the emergency management plan.
Initial testing should test the emergency plan so it is critical that a number of simple objectives are formulated directly for the plan. There is a tendency to go off on a pathway, during exercises, that doesn’t relate to the risk being tested. Emergency exercises should include observers who take notes ready for discussion during a debrief. It’s one way of improving and making changes if required. Many organisations will contract and emergency specialists to observe. A report will be prepared, normally by the Chief warden, and sent to the E.P.C. for analysis.
The style and types of exercises may come from the risk assessment used to formulate the types of emergency that would be most likely to occur. If you believe a medical emergency is the highest risk then emphasis should be placed on the emergency during testing.
During a practical exercise all radio traffic or similar should be prefixed with the term “for exercise purposes only” – this stop confusion if a message is overhead by a neighbour or similar. The best outcomes of an exercise may go something like this:
- ECO initiates the emergency procedure.
- ECO responds to alarms.
- ECO searches their allocated area.
- ECO reports the location of any occupants and vulnerable.
- Simulated calls made to the Emergency Service.
- ECO communicates effectively.
- The designated control point is staffed by the chief warden.
The E.P.C. may decide that part of the initial testing will include activities like a tabletop exercise. This allows brainstorming and encourages all E.C.O. members to participate in planning processes. They will also have a better understanding of what is required in terms of procedures.
Remember these members may have never responded to any type of emergency before. There may be fear of the unknown. Emergency response procedures should be tested within 12 months of their formulation but much sooner will have better outcomes.
Often an emergency evacuation exercise scenarios are used for the first exercise as this is one of the main roles of an emergency warden and the E.C.O. Keeping occupants safe within a facility. It also tests if occupant and visitor plans have been working effectively. Where the building is a multi-storey structure it may be easier to test the plan by completing partial evacuations. Evacuations of very large and multi-level buildings can become very problematic.
Whichever method of testing the plan is used, to be successful each member of an E.C.O. must have sufficient time to perform the role and learn from the activities undertaken. This is why the initial tabletop exercise has a valuable spot in the initial testing. Other organisations have used a walkthrough method with the E.C.O. to familiarise them with safety features of the building and allow an informal forum to ask questions.
An ongoing program of updating and testing the emergency plan.
If a program is to work it is imperative that every occupant of the building takes part in the exercise. Only the E.P.C. should give written permission to be excluded from such an exercise. It should be recognised that those on holidays may miss critical aspects of the plan and some follow up should be provided to these occupants and/or E.C.O. members.
Often it is beneficial to have exemptions treated as a refusal to evacuate and the situation reported to the Chief warden as required. If using a tabletop exercise as a lead up to a full evacuation activity.
Exercises of this type may be used as a briefing tool for E.C.O. members and could include any or all of the following.
- The location of the planned scenario & identity of the wardens including new members.
- The type of alarm/system (if installed) & actions that the ECO is to take in response to the alarm signals.
- Method of reporting emergencies & location of the staging area (if applicable).
- Evacuation routes to be taken & location of assembly or designated alternative areas.
- Occupants who have approved exemptions & notification of any current or temporary hazards.
- What is required at the completion of the exercise & what to do if there is a real emergency during the exercise?
Exercise debrief sessions.
Debriefing should have a clear objective and not be used to apportion blame to anyone, no matter the mistake. It is an opportunity to take failures and make the outcome positive. Those conducting the debrief may find a need to move the conversation on or worst case scenario stop the meeting until a new objective can be established. Communication at all stages is the key.
Observers checklists will form a large part of the briefing process and can help to provide direction for debriefs. They should be kept on record for future analysis after exercises. Data is one of the keys to improvement even in the emergency response industry.
In the unlikely event that there is a real emergency. A prearranged word should be used to alert occupants that the exercise has concluded and there is a need for emergency response. The standard phrase is “NO DUFF”. Whichever phrased is used it must be easily recognised and everyone must be aware of what it means.
Routine updating of the plan.
The emergency plan shall be reviewed, tested and inspected to ensure it is compliant and remains a workable document. The E.P.C. will rectify deficiencies without delay when they are identified. The E.P.C also formulate a plan to test communications equipment monthly or intervals they determine.
In conclusion, reviewing every part of a businesses emergency plans is important to ensure all occupants are kept safe.