Emergency management is a field dedicated to preventing, preparing, mitigating, and recovering from disasters and crises. These can include severe weather, fires, medical emergencies, flooding, active shooters, and other situations that occur suddenly, unexpectedly, and with negative results. To prepare communities for the worst and to minimize damage, emergency management professionals often create a crisis management plan (CMP).
CMPs consist of strategies, modules, and instructions that clearly identify the proper response to a crisis. CMPs are used on the federal, state, local, and even business levels to avoid damages associated with crises. In the community, citizens and responders need to be in sync and understand what roles they will play according to the CMP.
The more effective a CMP is, the more efficient the response will be in mitigating damage and injury. When creating or improving a plan, community leaders and emergency management professionals can ask themselves these simple questions.
Is there a clear chain of command?
For a CMP to be effective, responders and community liaisons need to understand the chain of command. In a crisis, control and coordination are key. Although there is a balance of power and responsibilities under normal circumstances, emergencies and disasters require fast, consolidated measures.
Crises send people into disarray and panic, which is why a clear chain of command is absolutely vital. Not only does the community need to know who to look to, but the team members themselves also need to understand their roles. A chain of command places specific roles and responsibilities on individuals so questions, concerns, and issues that arise will be handled by the appropriate personnel.
Is there a way to communicate/signal a crisis?
A CMP needs to include pre-designated signals and alerts that signify the presence of a crisis. Similar to the universal sign for choking, the community, its leaders, and emergency management professionals must understand when and how to alert others of a disaster.
Once the command is given, the CMP appropriate to that crisis situation can be implemented. Almost as important as signaling the beginning of a crisis is the signal for the “all clear.” In the community’s chain of command, one of the responsibilities held by a leader should be to give the safe or “all clear” signal. These signals can be vocal acknowledgement spread via the media and emergency channels as well as written warnings disseminated through social media and emergency phone alerts.
This type of communication is also important for updating friends, families, and professionals outside of the crisis on the safety and well-being of the community.
Is there a process for assessing the severity of the incident and its impact on the community?
The Department of Homeland Security and the Red Cross offer advisory warnings on the national and community levels. The first step in assessing a crisis is taking advantage of available warning systems and services dedicated to analyzing potential risks.
Measuring the severity of a situation requires extensive information gathered from the ground up. Local responders, schools, community groups, and others that comprise a community need to convey up-to-date information to emergency management professionals. They, in turn, communicate upwards to better understand the severity.
Previous disasters and crises set standards that can be learned from and set standards for what to do in similar situations. They can provide a timeline of events that may roughly match future incidents for better response.
Are there procedures in place for responding to different types of crises?
A CMP is not just one plan, but a variety of plans for unique situations. These plans, or modules, are prepared for managing crises according to their respective variables. Emergency situations such as fires, active shooters, floods, earthquakes, or disasters that affect the community require unique and particular responses.
Responses can include lockdown, evacuation, police assistance, and medical response depending on what takes precedence. The type of crisis shows emergency professionals which CMP module to choose. It’s important to note these modules should be created according to geographical area. Certain areas are susceptible to different crises and the CMP needs to prioritize these first. For example, communities in California should have earthquake modules that are more comprehensive and practiced than that of east coast communities.
Is there a process for testing the effectiveness of these responses and updating on a regular basis?
At least two times a year, the community’s CMP needs to be exercised, tested, and evaluated. A scheduled assessment may be used, but a random test better measures the implementation speed. Crises and disasters happen suddenly and unexpectedly, so the response time is critical.
When actual incidents occur, the emergency response team needs to review the aftermath as soon as possible. Real crises, while terrible, can provide data and information that can be utilized to better mitigate future issues. Their review should look at what went well, what were the key lessons, and what can be changed to improve their current CMP.
Knowledge is Power
Although first responders and emergency management professionals implement and structure the CMP, the whole community should be aware of its steps and possibilities. Disasters and crises require teamwork to overcome the panic and damage they inflict. Through a clear chain of command, proper signals, quality severity assessment, a variety of modules, and constant review, a community’s CMP will have a strong chance to minimize injury and damage.
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