You’re Prepared Before and After. What About During?
The Next Step in Business Continuity Planning: Emergency Response Team Integration
Emergencies happen every day in corporate America; the question is, how well does corporate America respond to these emergencies? The answer to this complex question depends on the type and quality of planning, as well as the dissemination of data gathered during the planning stages and the transfer of this knowledge into cogent, effective action throughout the organization.
Today’s organizations are challenged unlike ever before. The litigious nature of our society, coupled with regulatory mandates, “duties,” “community expectations,” and “standard of care” precedents, make building, implementing, and managing a health and safety program more difficult than ever before. Adding to this challenge the balancing act imposed by budgetary constraints, new products, evolving expectations, and an ever-changing marketplace, it is no wonder that today’s organizations are confused with the task of implementing effective safety and business continuity programs on time, within budget, and before the unthinkable (and inevitable) occurs.
The scope of a firm’s Business Continuity Planning (BCP) can vary as widely as the industries in which it serves. By definition, BCP is a preemptive strategy developed by organizations to ensure a firm has the strategy, capability, and capacity to return to normal business operations as quickly as possible after a business interruption. By evaluating strengths, vulnerabilities, critical business processes and applications, Business Continuity Planners assess risks and develop an actionable plan to handle recovery. Too frequently, however, BCP is limited to Information Technology (IT), finance, and data recovery. While these areas are critical business processes, and must be incorporated into every organization’s contingency plan, all too often BCP doesn’t address short-term business interruptions such as medical emergencies, facility and infrastructure problems, and how to respond to the probable. While large-scale pandemic planning is important, it is time for organizations to not only ask “what if?” but also “when?”
Enter Emergency Response Teams (ERTs). Gone are the days when organizations merely pass out orange vests and conduct boring, mundane, pre-set fire drills. In today’s workplace, organizations recognize that annual evacuation drills are only one small piece of the puzzle and, while important, do little to address injuries, illnesses and other emergencies that are commonplace and can be reasonably foreseen. By empowering voluntary groups of employees in the skills necessary to respond, thus mitigating the severity of an injury or illness, today’s workplaces are proactively addressing the inevitable, improving morale, and paving the way for safer workplaces. Important core competencies like incident command, crisis communication, and first aid must be instilled in ALL ERT members so that there isn’t a data gap or reliance on few for critical knowledge.
In order to understand why integrations between BCP and ERTs in a market which heretofore was fragmented and disconnected is important, it is first necessary to understand the impact of business operations on a sliding scale of business interruptions. The following examples are only further exacerbated for organizations with large numbers of employees, multiple offices and locations, varying man-made and natural vulnerabilities (i.e. flood zones), and poor or improper training and planning. Routinely organizations compartmentalize BCP and ERT training into two mutually exclusive business functions, while in reality, no two business competencies should be more integrated.
- Earthquake in the Bay Area.
An earthquake can have catastrophic affects on businesses. There will likely be numerous injuries, loss of power, destruction of property and equipment, and severe (wide-spread) emotional response. Business operations will be halted, sales will slow, the bottom line will be affected, and return to normal business operations may be uncertain. Organizations must utilize all available resources to address all aspects of their response efforts – from urgent medical response to data and system recovery.
- Chest pain in the lunchroom.
Assuming no prior planning, employees, patrons, and partners will likely be extremely affected, especially if the incident escalates to cardiac arrest. A loss of life at the workplace will be long-lasting, destructive, and certainly an interruption in normal business operations. A coordinated effort must take place to treat the urgency of the victim’s needs, appropriately address the staff, and resume normal operations while maintaining the integrity of likely emotional response.
- Sprinkler head activation.
A sprinkler head activation will likely involve the destruction of property, loss of materials, clean up efforts, etc. and while physical injury is unlikely, mitigation and protective measures such as flood control, signage, and emergency shut off must be taken. ERT members must respond to limit water damage during the event, while traditional Business Continuity Planners ensure recovery efforts by beginning ASAP.
- Cut in the supply room.
A cut, no matter how severe, will affect workplace morale and business operations. Only the emergency response will determine how expediently an organization can return to normal business operations. Ensuring proper medical response is primary, and while it is highly unlikely an organization will deploy their Incident Command tent equipped with the latest communications equipment and food rations, openly communicating with outside parties (families, vendors, partners, etc.) is necessary.
While this range of emergency situations is broad, there are commonalities between each incident: each is an emergency, each is a disaster, and each involves an interruption in normal business operations. Typical programs will have a theoretical program developed which likely consists of a dusty contingency plan sitting on a bookshelf, and little-to-no translation of critical employee roles and responsibilities passed throughout the organization. An improved program will address each incident effectively within 6 minutes and will enable the business to return to normal business operations expediently. A solid program will utilize the same model to handle each incident and will scale depending on the severity of the emergency including: notification, activation, response, mitigation, transfer of care, and return to normal business operations.
Scalability is key. Most fire departments in the United States operate under a protocol of “first-on” incident management whereby the first to arrive on scene handles the department’s incident management, allocating resources, assigning responsibilities, and coordinating centralized communications efforts to immediately cover critical areas of vulnerability and weakness. This duty is managed until relieved by a higher ranking officer or release of command to another agency. Today’s organizations, with enough foresight, planning, and training, can replicate the systems professionals use to effectively mitigate and manage all emergencies, big and small. However, without inter-department coordination, cooperation, and shattering the barriers which lead to a distinction and separation between emergency response and business recovery, organizations will continue to operate and recover as they always have (likely ineffectively). Prepare. Respond. Recover. Together.
By: Micah Bongberg, VP of Business Development, Annuvia, Inc. Annuvia (http://www.annuvia.com) is a leading provider of health, safety, emergency preparedness and emergency response services in the nation. They assist businesses and organizations with health training programs from preventative solutions like healthy eating habits and exercise programs to emergency training programs for CPR, AED use and first aid safety. Annuvia specializes in streamlining national programs for many of the nation’s largest organizations.