Perfect Planning doesn't mean Perfect Response, But...

Perfect Planning doesn't mean Perfect Response, But...

A disaster brings immediate chaos, distress, disbelief, worry, confusion, fear, panic, anger, etc. to all people affected by the disaster.  You don't want to be trying to work out whose doing what and trying to explain how staff should respond or what your role is during the disaster.  You also don't want to introduce yourself for the first time, and then say, "By the way, you need to do this; it's written in our plan."  If they don't know you, they may tell you good luck with your plan.

We PLAN, so that we can "work out the kinks" before the disaster happens.  We write it down, test it, and re-test.  It's a never-ending circle of writing, training, and testing, but we do this so that our own staff will know and understand what the "plan" is when Hurricane Tsoetsy occurs.  We TRAIN and TEST, so that our staff will not be learning everything for the first time "on the job."  We, as planners, do all the behind-the-scenes and ground work, so that, ultimately, the people we work with will know what their roles and responsibilities are.  It won't be flawless, as it never is; however, if done right, it will be one less thing to worry about during the disaster.

Here are some tips from

STEP 1 -- ESTABLISH A PLANNING TEAM.  There must be an individual or group in charge of developing the emergency management plan.  You will need to form the planning team, establish authority, issue a mission statement, establish a schedule, and budget.

STEP 2 -- ANALYZE CAPABILITIES AND HAZARDS.  This step entails gathering information about current capabilities and about possible hazards and emergencies, and then conducting a vulnerability analysis to determine the facility's capabilities for handling emergencies.  Determine where you stand at the moment, and meet with outside group/community partners.  Talking to your community partners and making them part of your planning team or coalition before the disaster is important so that you can BUILD THAT RELATIONSHIP or keep the relationship going.  Your planning team will need to identify local, state, and federal regulations, policies, and grant requirements.  Your planning team will also need to determine your current capabilities and resources.  Use this planning team to work through a Threats and Hazards Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) planning tool.

STEP 3 -- DEVELOP THE PLAN.  This step mainly includes the process of developing the plan.  The research and risk assessments you have conducted previously come into play here.  After the assessments are completed, you will prioritize activities and identify challenges.  You will determine specific goals and milestones to move forward in your planning and response operations.  Each emergency operations plan has five basic components:  1) executive summary, 2) emergency management elements, 3) response procedures, 4) supporting documents, and 5) a list of resources.  After the plan has been developed, you will need to develop a training and exercise timeline.  Don't set hard dates, but set aside weeks to conduct training and exercises.  It's important to also set deadlines with specific goals and measures.  Finally, work with your community partners on both training and exercise related goals.  You can't expect others to come out and "play" by your rules if you haven't shared the expectations.  If you're from a large organization, share your successes and challenges with the executive level staff.  Progress notes on what you're doing will help keep them in the loop, so they can maintain communication with other sister facilities (such as notification requirements).  They will be able to review the plan and help conduct training, give final approval, and distribute the plan.

STEP 4 -- IMPLEMENT THE PLAN.  This step means more than passing out the plan and hoping staff read it.  We all know that never happens!  To implement any plan successfully, you will have to follow the "rinse and repeat" cycle.

RINSE:  Take your plan and hand it out to staff and community partners.  Train and test everyone on the plan.  Disasters may not occur frequently, but when they do, you will need support at all levels.  Dedicating time to train those who may not have had practical exposure to real-world emergencies will be more effective then on-the-job training.  Simulation exercises put pressure on staff and community partners without causing extreme panic.  It allows staff and community partners to make mistakes and then talk about those mistakes in the evaluation process.

REPEAT:  After staff and community partners have read the plan, have been trained and tested on the plan, and then have helped evaluate the plan, do everything over again.  Take those evaluation comments and recommendations, and revise your plan.  Re-train and re-test everyone on the revised plan, and conduct another evaluation.  Repeat again.

So back to the perfect plan...Remember, an emergency plan shouldn’t be something that is developed then filed away, and emergency preparedness plans must be flexible.  To ensure your plan is effective, you will need to involve your employees in the Rinse and Repeat planning cycle and communicate why it’s important.  Consider making the emergency plan part of the new employee orientation and written training materials.  Emergency planning is just as critical for the your place of work as it is for your home.  In recent years, the nation, particularly the federal government, has re-evaluated its approach to emergency preparedness and response.  We must remember that the emergency planning process starts long before an incident and extends long after.  Knowing that these preparations are in place is reassuring for your agency and your community.

U.S. Department of Labor:

Tsoetsy Harris, MPH, MEP

Tsoetsy Harris, MPH, MEP

Independent Consultant

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