Emergency Planning Tips for Disaster Management
Emergency planning and having your team prepared before an incident can make a significant difference in the success of your disaster response. Practice allows familiarity, which means your team is more resilient and better equipped to handle unknown events during a disaster.
How do you choose what disasters to make emergency plans for?
In disaster management, resources need to be directed to the most significant risk in your area. This is what you need to be prepared to handle in your emergency plans and why your emergency management agency was formed.
A standard annual emergency planning process for the Director of Emergency Management (DEM) is to calculate this list by completing a HIRA (Hazard Identification Risk Assessment) or HVRA (Hazard, Risk, and Vulnerability Analysis). Both follow a similar approach and show a result that can be simplified by the following formula:
Risk = Probability of Occurrence (chance it will happen) x Severity (consequence of impact)
The critical importance is that by going through each risk, we end up with a classification of what to start planning for.
For example, if a large asteroid hits our area, the severity is catastrophic (for us and the planet). Still, the probability is so low that we should not be focusing resources on this as our main concern.
Here’s an example:
The result is a list of top priorities (based on risk) that you should begin planning for. You may be afraid of an airplane crash, but the number one plan that needs to be created and practiced in this example is for wildfire forest fires.
During this discussion, the most common question from elected officials is how this list changes over time and how these values are known (probability and severity). Remember all that paperwork you used to file to track each response/disaster in your area? This is where a computer software system can quickly be utilized to help guide your plan priorities. Tracking all the incidents (which is important for several reasons) in a computer system allows reports to be easily generated that let us know the past behavior in our specific region. A large traffic fatality may have disrupted the community and been in the news, but if that only happens rarely, it may still not be a priority.
The importance of using a systematic approach to prioritize our planning is a time-tested way to ensure our resources are being spent on mitigation and hopefully preventing the most extreme risks in your region. With any luck, the severity of those specific hazards should drop as good emergency plans are put into practice!
How do you know who is ready to respond?
Now that we know what to plan for, the next question is who can respond when an incident occurs. Again, software can greatly help manage this process.
For full situation awareness, it is not sufficient to simply have a big red button to call everyone when there is a disaster. As the Incident Commander, you also have to manage your team to ensure personnel with the right skills are available to respond at all times.
The On-Call Now section of the D4H Personnel & Training allows you to tell the system what your goals and thresholds are. For example, ‘how many K9 units need to be available on call at any given time?’.
By setting expectations for our personnel needs, limitations can be visualized, and steps can be taken to ensure our communities remain protected. COVID-19 is a great example; With personnel taking many sick days, the Incident Commander needs to know when to contact mutual aid partners if their readiness levels start to drop.
What do you do when disasters deviate from the emergency plan?
Scenarios can be walked through. Response plans can be conducted as drills and tabletops. We can even create template responses in our emergency management software. This helps users get comfortable with the interface, ask questions without the pressure of time, and become more familiar with the tools.
It’s important to practice the emergency plan, monitor for readiness, and feel prepared, but the reality is during a disaster, we also need to be agile and ready for the unexpected.
Disaster resilience is the ability to absorb and recover from hazards, shocks, or stresses while positively adapting to long-term changes and uncertainty. Emergency plans need to be flexible to accommodate and allow for resilience.
It’s great to have a structure and a process to follow in your disaster management tool, but does it allow for flexibility during a response?
With D4H, the forms used to gather data, store information, and share dashboards are easy to modify or even create from scratch as needed. Here’s an example of how quickly a map field can be added to a form in D4H:
More form-building tips here.
Emergency management planning is about ensuring you are following the whole disaster cycle. Prepare your plan for the highest risk. Focus your resources on your highest risks to minimize their impacts. Monitor your team to ensure your level of readiness. And finally, be dynamic and flexible enough in your plan to accommodate the unexpected that could occur during the actual disaster.
About the author
For over seven years, Clinton Boyda has led a regional municipal agency in Alberta, Canada, as the Director of Emergency Management (DEM). Representing ten municipalities, Clinton has seen how important using a tool like D4H is to help Emergency Managers keep organized during all phases of a disaster. Also, as a Search and Rescue First Responder, he has seen the value D4H provides to manage certifications, callouts, and incident reports. Do you have plans to provide structure for your team that are flexible enough to accommodate real-world disaster surprises?