The Proactive Approach to Emergency Preparedness

As a leader, how would you handle an unforeseen event in your workplace? Just one hour after the incident, would you be able to communicate through national media, giving correct information and demonstrate control over the situation?

You would perhaps argue that it would depend on the type of incident. My claim is that the best leaders can do so regardless of what has transpired. Not because of any extreme, personal quality, but because they have prepared their organisation that incidents may occur. They are one step ahead. It is what emergency preparedness experts call the proactive method.

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Proactive emergency preparedness management involves identifying measures that will steer the situation in the right direction and take action before circumstances force you to. It is all about being one step ahead of the action. An incident will live its own life and lay down the premises within which we act. Proactive crisis management aims to minimize the effect of the circumstances of the situation and instead to take the lead.

Emergency preparedness values

All planning and handling must reflect the preparedness values (in order of priority):

  • Life and health
  • Environment
  • Material values
  • Reputation

Worst case scenario

Obviously, it is not possible to predict with certainty when or where an incident may occur, but personnel with competence within the areas of safety and security are good at pointing towards exposed places/processes/personnel within an enterprise. Based on this, risk- and vulnerability analyses are developed, together with plans for crisis management based on the proactive method.

We assess the consequences of each type of incident in a worst-case-scenario-perspective. Then we develop a plan that prepares the organization for the worst possible outcome of an incident. Simply stated: If the organisation is prepared to tackle the worst that can happen, it will be easy to scale down the resources if the incident proves to be of lesser gravity.

The phases of the proactive method

1. The first meeting

The emergency preparedness organisation meets as close in time to the incident as practically possible. These are people that already have important responsibilities case of an emergency. They are trained for the tasks at hand and will execute them no matter the scope of the crisis. The Head of Crisis Management summonses this meeting. It is short and has a known agenda to avoid doubts, confusion and unnecessary administration in a high-pressure situation. The most important items on the agenda for this meeting are:

  • What has happened? The procurement of as much details as possible.
  • Based on the information available, clarify the scope of the incident alert those necessary

2. Focus

The Head of Crisis Management decides what to focus on until the next meeting when more information is available. If life and health are at stake, all efforts should be directed at saving lives and avoiding injuries until the next focal point is established (in a status meeting). The point being that the routines are the same regardless of focus. Those involved remain the same, the time window is the same, and the process should be the same as if life and health were at stake.

3. Measures

When the main focus is decided in the first meeting, each member of the crisis management staff has a responsibility to implement the appropriate measures. These measures are already established and delegated to the members of the crisis management staff. The first meeting decides which measures are necessary to deal with the current incident.

4. Status meeting

As the view of the situation gets clearer, or should something unexpected happen, the Head of Crisis Management convenes a status meeting. Here, all available information is shared, and each member gives a short update. The intention of the meeting is to decide whether to proceed to the next focus area, or move in a different direction. The interval between status meetings,given the absence of unforeseen developments, is established. This cycle is followed until the situation is normalized.

Take charge!

No company is immune to unwanted incidents and accidents. But it is my view that it is possible to take charge in the case of an incident and steer the development to minimize the consequences for life, health, environment, material, and reputation.

Leaders in afflicted enterprises are under enormous pressure in such situations. A trimmed crisis management organisation handles an unforeseen incident professionally and effectively and thus gives the leader a possibility to appear with the composure and control the situation demands.

If you start from scratch the day the accident occurs, you are at the mercy of the surroundings and the development of the incident itself. Proactive crisis management will help you steer the development and quickly regain control. What this may mean to your business is almost impossible to quantify.

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By Jan Terje Sæterbø

Jan Terje is a project manager and KAM in One Voice AS. He has worked with designing digital crisis management solutions from the late 1990s and led the implementation of such for a variety of both domestic and international enterprises. He has a military background and years of experience from the IT industry both as a leader and project manager

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