Emergency Management Is No Laughing Matter

Located in Chicago, the iconic comedy club Second City is renowned for its legendary comedians and famous alumni like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Tina Fey. Recently, Second City was in the news, but not for comedy. A fire started in the kitchen of a restaurant that shares the building with Second City, destroying the offices. The theater in the next building was spared, but tenants were forced to relocate. Because I am a security practitioner, my first thought after learning no one was seriously injured, “Was there an emergency management plan?

An all-hazards approach prepares for all kinds of emergencies since emergency plans rarely cover everything that might be required for an incident. Because the evacuation requirements for a fire may differ significantly from those for a hazardous materials spill, the plan needs to be adaptable to circumstances, innovative, and, when necessary, improvisational. An all-hazards plan provides a basic framework for responding to a wide variety of emergencies.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure      

Simply stated, the recommended approach to preparing for an emergency begins with the plan. Your plan should address the four phases of emergency management: (1) prevention, (2) preparedness, (3) response, and (4) recovery. The first phase of the plan, prevention, includes any activities that are preventative, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or mitigate the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. A practical example is an emergency notification system to alert people of a security- or safety-related incident in real time.

When You’re Prepared There is No Pressure

The famous Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, was once asked before a big game if he was nervous. Coach Holtz stated, “When you’re prepared, there is no pressure.” This mantra also applies to an emergency, and as long as you know that you have done everything you can to prepare for an incident, then you don’t need to be nervous about the outcome. The second phase, preparedness, details measures needed to prepare for an emergency. Training is at the heart of preparedness, and specific examples include a fire drill conducted to familiarize building occupants with emergency evacuation routes and the shelter-in-place stocking of items like water, food, and blankets.

Every Emergency Is an Incident, but Not Every Incident Is an Emergency

The third phase, response, has general actions including moving people to a safe room or assembly area and turning off gas lines in a fire scenario. A well-constructed plan also outlines specific roles and responsibilities for designated personnel to perform once an incident occurs and may prevent it from becoming an emergency. This orchestrated response not only mitigates danger, it also brings calm to potential chaos. If people know how to respond during an incident, it might not become an emergency. We want to be able to pour water on the fire, not gasoline; or in other words, douse the flames, not fan the fire.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

The saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” definitely applies to recovering from an emergency. Now that the event is over, how will you recover? How will you continue to serve and support your employees, as well as your clients? A well-crafted and thought-out plan has a recovery process to allow continuity of operations without disrupting business. Recovery from an emergency includes implementing actions to return to normal operations or to an even safer situation following an incident. Temporary housing, an alternate work site, and individual counseling are all parts of this process. Following these four phases will prepare you for all types of emergencies and may even allow you to crack a smile in the face of danger.

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