Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) are often the tired, little-used programs that gather dust on the shelf. Yeah, you do your required drills. But little thought is given about the mechanisms of what transpires post emergency or the infinite details that need to be addressed to make the plan truly effective. (See the scenario I wrote about yesterday for some eye opening considerations).
EAPs encompass a variety of regional hazards, such as earthquakes or wildfires. However, severe weather is a universal hazard for the workplace, regardless of location, and therefore should be addressed in all EAPs. Review these points for effective emergency response to severe weather and other hazards.
√ How does your workplace receive alerts that severe weather heading your way? Think about 2 things: How you get the notification and who receives it. There should be at least one dedicated employee per shift, charged with this detail. Don’t depend on cell phone weather alerts as your sole source of notification, because cell reception can be sporadic. Get a cheap, dual powered weather alert device and routinely check the batteries.
√ Who is responsible for activating the alarm to evacuate or seek shelter? (At least one person per shift should be designated for this). Two or more are better, as people do take sick days and vacations. And disasters don’t wait for the return of these individuals to strike. (Note: The person who recieves notification of alerts can also be the same person to activate the alert.)
√ Have your offsite workers been trained in emergency response for severe weather and disasters? Are all offsite workers trained in first aid and CPR? Have you established a method of communication if a serious, widespread regional emergency transpires?
√ Do all workplace vehicles/offsite workers have emergency supplies such as first aid kits, water and blankets?
√ Can everyone in your facility hear the alarms? (Check bathrooms, areas with loud machinery and out buildings).
√ Do you have both an evacuation meeting place for fire situations AND a shelter area for severe weather?
√ Have you tested the shelter area to be certain it holds the entire workforce? Is the route equipped with emergency lights? Is it free of flammables, combustibles and other dangers?
√ Is your in-house response team trained in first aid, CPR and bloodborne pathogens? Are first aid & bloodborne pathogen kits readily accessible and well stocked throughout the facility?
√ Do you have kits stored in the designated shelter area? Are your kits the cheap office kind or do they actually contain first aid supplies to treat potentially serious injuries until medical professional arrive?
√ Do you keep fire extinguishers in/near the shelter areas? Are they routinely inspected and operational? Do you have a supply of batteries and flashlights in case power is out?
√ Do you have a backup supply of water and non-perishable food available on site in case your workers must shelter in place for a while? Don’t go hog-wild with this and build a storage unit for this purpose, but it still bears consideration and action, especially if your area is prone to earthquakes, hurricanes or serious natural disasters.
√Do you have a designated method to account for workers once in the shelter/evacuation point?
√ Are workers trained to act as “wardens” and lead workers to safety? Have you appointed specific individuals to assist workers with physical impairments to shelter?
√ When training workers on emergency response, do you have people appointed to check for downed power lines in the parking lot or electrical hazards in the workplace after a crisis? Are they trained in electrical safe practices and fire protection to recognize these hazards?
√ Have you performed a drill for evacuation and shelter on each shift to test the functionality of the plan? Do you do so at least annually?
These are but a few of many elements of a viable workplace emergency action plan. It’s a lot to consider and implement. But the safety of your workers will be greatly improved through investing this effort. In my own community, we were lucky this week following a severe thunderstorm and damaging straight line winds. There were only minor injuries and no fatalities. But there are no guarantees when it comes to crisis events.
We’ve all witnessed the horrific aftermath of Katrina and Joplin and know very well the potential exists for major cataclysmic events in every community. While we can’t plan for everything, we can always find methods to be more prepared.
It’s called an emergency “action” plan for a reason. We need to carefully consider each action of our response, before, during and after a crisis situation and equip our workers appropriately.
NOTE: Some states or regions mandate more frequent drills or have specific requirements regarding these plans. Always check with your state or local area for guidelines before implementing an EAP.
Video captured by Jeremy Vohwinkle, on July 22, 2011, Northern Indiana
Below is a link for a PDF version of this article which contains an EAP checklist for severe weather procedures:
Just a brief disclaimer: Nothing here on this site constitutes legal or medical advice. There are countless variables that affect the workplace and while I (or other safety professionals) can offer general information, you’ll need on site assistance from a credible expert to fill in the gaps.