How effective is your company’s Emergency Response Plan?


A South African newspaper called the Beeld this week featured front page footage including dramatic colour photos of the Seaboard Hotel fire in Durban, South Africa with a caption: “Hotel-Inferno: Helicopters win battle against time to save 80 from roof”. It also featured another section a day later about the panic of people in the building – see – http://www.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2136981,00.html

I wonder how many organization’s employees actually saw this and wondered (or doubted) about their organisation’s readiness to deal with a life-safety situation. However this was not the only articles in that paper dealing with such situations. Two other articles caught my eye. One dealt with the fire at the Renault Dealer workshop in Roodepoort where four cars were damaged when a fire broke out and the other story dealt with the 18 months old child that was mauled by a Bengal Tiger. In this story the father lost his one finger when they came to close to the fence and the tiger managed to grab the child and pull her towards him.

What struck me was that the camp has adequate signage and has been declared safe by the authorities, AND that the camp is popular with some schools because of its reputation for safety. Unfortunately signage is no guarantee that people have read and understood the message. So few of us ever bother to read the instruction manual of an appliance that we buy; until it breaks.

The problem with many safety drives and emergency response and crisis management plans is that they tend to focus on physical safe situations. Interestingly accident statistics have shown that 2% of accidents can be referred to as “acts of god” meaning that it is outside our level of control, that 10% of accidents are caused by unsafe situations and 88% caused by unsafe behaviour.

Hence the inherent danger – Human Behaviour remains the key weak link in any plan.Often we plan without considering the intangibles that can make a difference such as adequate communication and consideration for human behavior. People do not always react as planned and we need to take this into account.

Events such as the Virginia Tech shootings and disturbances at schools across the USA and in South Africa (teachers killed at school, teachers participating in industrial action and pupil violence including scissor attacks) have also illustrated the role and importance of crisis management preplanning and communications in an emergency and have reiterated the critical need for heightened emergency preparedness and response at schools, businesses and universities throughout South Africa. 

But what is an Emergency? An emergency is any unplanned event that can cause deaths or significant injuries to employees, customers or the public; or that can shut down your business, disrupt operations, cause physical or environmental damage, or threaten the facility’s financial standing or reputation.

Emergency management is the process of preparing for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from an emergency. Emergency management is a dynamic process. Planning, though critical, is not the only component. Training, conducting drills, testing equipment and coordinating activities with the community are other important functions.

In Powerlines Number 65 dated August 2006  I wrote an article called "An Untested Emergency Response Plan is a Source of Reputation Risk – The link between Reputation & Emergency Response ". I also mentioned in it that I had teamed up with a company called Scott-Safe to design and write emergency response plans that are benchmarked and compliant. Few people contacted me. This got me thinking: Do people actually care? How do they know that the Emergency Response plan of the organisation is compliant and tested? If you then have not asked that question, you should.

Or perhaps, let me ask you something personal; do you have a fire extuinghshers at home? Do you have an Emergency Response plan for your own home? Recently a delegate told a group about how they woke up at 3. 22 a.m. to find their house completely covered in smoke. They had to crawl their way out and their whole house burned down.

So when last have you taken a good look at those signs on the wall that tell you what to do in an emergency? When last where you part of a drill and how did it go?

Or do you honestly still believe that it will never happen to me?

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