The Roadmap to Emergency Preparedness

08/24/2015  |  By Peter Hodes

In today’s unpredictable environment, emergency planning has become a critical element for executive management. Within the education sector, these responsibilities fall on principals and presidents, chancellors and CFOs, administrators and educators. Everyone has a role in preparedness, response and the long-term recovery.

Disasters, emergencies and disruptions will continue to occur and the necessities for emergency preparedness are even more critical now than ever before. When confronted with a crisis, having an emergency plan in place will ensure that management and educational administrators are trained to handle the situation and can make the necessary decisions for the safety of students, faculty and staff.

For an organization to prepare itself for natural, man-made, biological and technological hazards, executive leadership must be actively engaged. This process has to start at the top with a “cultural” shift that recognizes the importance of preparedness and promotes the initiative for safety and security. Key management and educational administrators need to assume leadership roles and mandate to all staff that this is a priority, and that sufficient time and resources should be appropriately allocated. Only with consistent and active participation will this initiative be successful.

Emergency planning and preparedness is an ongoing initiative that needs to involve your entire staff and be pushed from the highest levels. With lives on the line, this subject cannot be ignored in today’s uncertain world. Everyone clearly desires to be prepared and ready for a wide range of events that could impact operations, but what does that really mean and how do we actually get there?

1. Understanding Emergency Planning

Emergency preparedness is a very fragmented and somewhat confusing field. It involves every aspect of your business and deals with an infinite combination of risks and considerations. However at its heart, it is very simple. Build a team. Talk and think about your capabilities and weaknesses. Train and exercise to get better!

Planning and training are the keys to success. Every organization addresses planning differently and there are many important aspects that need to be considered. Understanding these elements and how they work together is the first step to better preparing your organization. The following are just a few of the detailed plans that are promoted and required by government and private sector entities across the country.

  • Emergency Operations Planning (EOP): Framework and actions for the immediate response during the event. This includes evacuations, lock-downs, and shelter-in-place and other procedures for life safety.
  • Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP): Internal recovery strategies for the continuation of services and critical functions during and after the event. This is also called Business Continuity Planning (BCP).
  • Security Planning: Protocols and resources for protecting lives and assets.
  • Disaster Recovery Planning (DR): Protection measures for information technology systems and infrastructure.

It is easy to become confused, but remember these are all aspects of one overarching program — YOUR emergency preparedness program! Stay focused on the basics, get started and just keep moving forward.

2. Executive Leadership and Support

When bad things happen, management will be required to make numerous, tough decisions on the spot without a lot of good information. Therefore executive management must be actively involved in the day-to-day activities for emergency planning. This is not something that can be pushed to a subordinate because at “game time” the subordinate will NOT be the one making decisions and in the public’s eye.

In the education sector, teachers and staff are swamped and additional resources are lacking. Only with proactive, aggressive action from top management will your emergency preparedness program be initiated and sustained.

Start today with this checklist:

  1. Recognize that this is YOUR plan. Take ownership of it and embrace it as your armor and shield.
  2. Make preparedness a priority. Talk about emergency planning with your staff as a regular subject in your day-to-day conversations.
  3. Write a letter of executive support for planning and distribute to your staff to physically show your interest in this subject.
  4. Allocate sufficient resources — staff, time and money — to get this project started. This is a marathon and not a sprint so you only need a little at a time.
  5. Build your team. Engage your staff and work with them to understand their objectives and responsibilities.

3. Building Your Team

You have to be involved, but you don’t have to do everything yourself. In fact, you CAN’T do everything by yourself. Your team will start with a small core of dedicated individuals and over time should grow to include all your teachers, staff, students, parents and community first responders.

Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities, so training and exercising are critical to better preparedness. Within your organization there are a number of key individuals that have to be involved in this effort.

  • Security: For schools and campuses, security and student safety is the obvious #1 priority. Therefore School Resource Officers (SRO), security staff and local law enforcement must be on the core team from the beginning.
  • Facilities Management: Staff responsible for your buildings and physical assets is critical to the success of any response.
  • Information Technology: In today’s world an IT issue is an emergency!  IT staff must be involved to protect your IT assets and to provide support for response and the subsequent recovery period.
  • Human Resources and Administration: All emergencies will involve your staff. A wide range of HR issues will come up during emergency planning so this is a key team member.
  • Finance: Emergencies cost money! There will be issues with short-term emergency purchases and also with the long-term recovery process.

Building a “’Culture of Preparedness”

Twenty years ago, only the military and local first responders ever thought about emergency preparedness. Today, this is a major topic for all sectors of our world economy including education, healthcare, finance and information technology. K-12 schools and higher education institutions are increasingly becoming aware of their responsibilities to protect students and to prepare for a wide range of events.

With this awareness comes the requirement for action. Executive management must initiate this action. Principals, superintendents, college presidents, chancellors, and administrators, along with others in responsible positions establish the “culture” within the organization. So within YOUR organization, start the process of building a “culture of preparedness” today.

Peter Hodes is the CEO of BOLDplanning Inc., a Nashville, Tennessee based company. BOLDplanning provides a range of emergency and continuity planning services nationally to over 7,000 government, education and healthcare organization.
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