Emergency Response Training and Testing2013-08-28T17:04:35-04:00

By: Ernest G. Vendrell, CPP, CPO, CEM
May 2001
Reprint Protection News

 

Introduction

An emergency response plan that provides the necessary structure for managing critical incidents is of vital importance to any organization. Unfortunately, many organizations lack a good emergency response plan. This can ultimately lead to a variety of negative consequences ranging from adverse publicity to significant operating losses as well as loss of life. On the other hand, those organizations that have come to realize that emergency response planning is vital, have created and circulated elaborate policies and procedures designed to deal with a variety of emergency and disaster situations. Moreover, these organizations usually feel confident that they are prepared to deal with any contingency. Their emergency response plans detail specific actions to take in the event of a catastrophic event and outline specific steps that should be employed during the ensuing recovery effort. However, far too often, this is where the planning process ends. Typically, the planning document is filed away and forgotten until a critical incident occurs.

 

Training and Testing

After an organization’s emergency response plan has been finalized, communicated to all affected personnel, and integrated into the organization’s standard operating procedures, it must be thoroughly tested. An emergency response plan will not work properly unless realistic training is provided and it is thoroughly tested prior to implementation in an actual emergency. Testing the plan helps to identify problem areas, as well as inherent weaknesses, that must be corrected in order to ensure that the plan will work as designed. Training and testing thus serve to identify areas in need of improvement thereby enhancing coordination and communication among emergency response personnel.

The first step in the training process is to assign a staff member responsibility for developing an overall training plan and the requisite goals and objectives for each component. Additionally, a determination must be made as to the following:

  • Who will actually perform the training?
  • Who will be trained?
  • What type of training activities will be employed?
  • What materials and equipment will be needed?
  • When will the training take place?
  • Where will the training take place?
  • How long will the training last?
  • How will the training be evaluated and by whom?
  • How will the training activities be documented?
  • How will special circumstances be handled?
  • How will training costs and expenses be budgeted?

It should be noted that critiques, or evaluations, are an important component of the training process and must be conducted after each training activity. Sufficient time should be allotted for the critique and any resulting recommendations should be forwarded to the emergency planning team for further review and action. Additionally, organizations should consider how to involve outside groups and agencies in the training and evaluation process. This could certainly help to avoid conflict and increase coordination and communication when a critical incident does occur.

Emergency response training can take a variety of forms. FEMA’s Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry describes six types of training activities that can be considered:

  • Orientation and Education Sessions - Sessions designed to provide information, answer questions, and identify needs and concerns.
  • Tabletop Exercise - This is a cost efficient and effective way to have members of the emergency planning team, as well as key management personnel, meet in a conference room setting to discuss roles and responsibilities and identify areas of concern.
  • Walk-through Drill - The emergency planning team and response teams actually perform their emergency response functions.
  • Functional Drills - Designed to test specific functions such as medical response, emergency notifications, and communications procedures, although not necessarily at the same time. The drill is then evaluated by the various participants and problem areas are identified.
  • Evacuation Drill - Participants walk the evacuation route to a pre-designated area where procedures for accounting for all personnel are tested. Participants are asked to make note of potential hazards along the way and the emergency response plan is modified accordingly.
  • Full-scale Exercise - An emergency is simulated as close to real as possible. Involves management, emergency response personnel, employees, as well as outside groups and agencies that would also be involved in the response.

Practical "hands-on" training always provide personnel with excellent opportunities to use skills that are taught and to learn new techniques and procedures. For emergency response training, simulations such as tabletop exercises, drills, and full-scale exercises, are particularly valuable for practicing decision-making skills, tactical techniques, and communications. Moreover, simulations serve to determine deficiencies in planning and procedures that can lead to modifications to the emergency response plan.

Evaluating the Emergency Response Plan

Regardless of the training schedule selected, a formal audit of the entire emergency response plan should be conducted at least once a year. Furthermore, in addition to the yearly audit, the emergency response plan should be evaluated, and modified if necessary, as follows:

  • After each drill or exercise
  • After each critical incident
  • When there has been a change in personnel or responsibilities
  • When the layout or design of a facility changes
  • When there is a change in policies or procedures

Of course, any modifications or changes to an emergency response plan should be communicated to affected personnel as soon as possible. Similarly, changes to the planning document should be incorporated and distributed in a timely manner.

 

Conclusion

A comprehensive emergency response plan that provides the necessary structure for managing critical incidents is of vital importance to any organization. However, an emergency response plan will not work properly unless realistic training is provided and it is thoroughly tested prior to implementation in an actual emergency. Training and testing help to identify areas in need of improvement thereby enhancing communication and coordination among all emergency response personnel.

Endnotes:

  1. E. Joyce and R. Hurth, Booking Your Next Disaster. Security Management, vol. 41, No. 11, pp. 47-50; K. Reid, Testing Murphy’s Law. Security Management, vol. 40, NO. 11, pp. 77, 78, 80-83.
  2. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), pp. 22-23.
  3. American Society for Industrial Security, Standing Committee on Disaster Management, Emergency Planning Handbook (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1994); Federal Emergency Management Agency, supra note 2; M. Nudell and N. Antokol, The Handbook for Effective Emergency Management, (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988).
  4. Federal Emergency Management Agency, supra note 2, p. 24.