I have worked in corporate emergency preparedness for 20 years and a volunteer firefighter for 18 years. In that time, I have noticed many parallels but can boil it down to 4 tactics that YOU can adopt to better prepare for and respond to emergencies
1. Call 911!
2. Respond fast
3. Know your tools and when/how to use them
4. Plan, train, repeat
The first step when an emergency occurs is that someone calls 911 to notify the authorities that there is a problem. Firefighters don’t just roam around their district hoping to happen upon someone needing their help. The public has been trained from childhood what to do in an emergency. Business owners should do that same thing for their employees. If there is a medical or physical emergency, call 911. But what about an internal emergency such as a critical piece of equipment breaking down, a quality control issue discovered or a staff strike? Every company should have an emergency contact that every employee is trained to call if there is an internal emergency. If you have a physical security or command center that is staffed 24x7, great. If not, a company cell phone that someone always has on them can suffice as a “mobile” command center. Whoever is manning that phone needs to have contact numbers and business continuity pre-plans well in hand so they can react quickly.
Fast reaction is the hallmark of firefighters. We have all seen television shows/movies where they jump out of bed, step into their boots and pants and are out the door in 30 seconds. I can tell you from first hand experience that this is not Hollywood drama, this is how it actually works. As soon as the siren blows, firefighters are donning their gear, often before they even know what the emergency is or where it is located.
Business owners need the same level of preparedness and urgency, ALWAYS ready to respond quickly to an emergency and gather information while you are on your way, not falling into the trap of analysis paralysis and potentially delaying your response which can lead to longer downtime, lost revenue and disappointed customers.
First responders are trained in the tools that they carry and how to use them in many ways so they can effectively render aid. They carry tools on their persons and engines, prepared to deploy whatever is needed. If they are responding to a car accident, they are preparing to deploy jaws of life and medical equipment, not fire hoses and axes.
Business owners need to be similarly familiar with their emergency tools. Does your store have a backup generator? Make sure you know how to start it and test it a few times a year. Do you have a cloud backup of all of your data? Make sure you and your employees know how to access it. But don’t panic and start deploying every tool in your arsenal, use what you have wisely and balance necessary response with conserving resources.
This goes without saying but I'm saying it anyway. Firefighters spend as much if not more time preparing for emergencies as they do actually responding to them. They have pre-plans for which apparatus responds to which type of emergency, which tools to use first and even have specific job assignments depending on who is sitting on which seat in the truck. The point is that “pre-planning” is a critical function of any fire department. In many departments, each vehicle and tool are tested EVERY DAY to ensure they are functional and ready to go when the call comes in.
Business owners may not need to train daily, but they should have emergency response training as a part of their new employee onboarding program and yearly re-education for all employees. You are required by law to have fire drills for your employees, why don’t you also have medical emergency, utility loss or natural disaster drills as well?
Emergency services throughout the world also document the heck out of each response and often have review meetings with all personnell involved with a major response to share lessons learned with the intention of improving their response in the future. Businesses should have similar "after action" reports and reviews so they can learn from their mistakes and increase their defense against future disruptions.
At the end of the day, preparedness and fast response are critical to building resiliency in your company.
"If you are failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
Tempest Risk Management | www.tempestrisk.com
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