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Emergency Preparedness

A gasoline tanker truck was being loaded a few years ago in a large Canadian city. The truck was not properly grounded and there was a fireball explosion killing the driver and initiating a large fire. The company had a contingency plan, so they were able to say immediately “We’re in charge” and they assembled the disaster management team. The fire department arrived and said “We’re in charge” and later the Provincial Labour investigators arrived and said “We’re in charge”. This was a real life example of a contingency plan that was in place but failed to take into account the cooperation that was necessary between the company and government officials in handling an emergency.

David Ray
Grant Thornton
The rise in the concerns for pandemics, terrorism, the necessity for environmental leadership, and a new regime of corporate governance have all contributed to the demand for a strict emergency preparedness process to prepare for a crisis when it does occur. Companies often have a variety of plans in place and these may include programs for pandemics, environmental disasters, building evacuations or criminal acts such as bomb threats or risk to personnel from threats or kidnapping. The internationalization of business has also increased the need to address crisis that may relate to political unrest or evacuation of personnel from remote areas of the world.

Comprehensive generic plans can be used for a variety of threats but it is essential to include the right people and to go through scenarios or table top exercises to ensure that the team understands their role in the program. Contingency plans must be up to date and simple enough to be handled in the heat of an emergency. Companies should also ensure that every member of a team has a back up in the event that the main designate is not available.

Most company contingency plans are based on the Incident Command System (ICS) which addresses the fact that there will be several organizations responding to a crisis. It also ensures that there is an appropriate span of control for each of the people on the team and that reliable information is communicated to them on a timely basis. It ensures an appropriate structure for a response to the crisis with clear lines of authority, establishment of objectives and standardized terminology.

A local Incident Command Team should be established to actually handle the emergency at the operating site. The roles may include the Incident Commander as well as leads for safety, human resources, environment, logistics, liaison, operations, planning, finance and communications. The Incident Commander (IC) has overall responsibility for every aspect of the response. The Human Resources Officer is responsible for any issues that may arise related to staffing such as dealing with health service providers and arranging for critical incident stress debriefing. The Communications or Information Officer’s role is to develop and release media and internal communications. This is often one of the busiest roles on the team during an emergency as the press inquiries and the demand for internal staff communication can be onerous in the midst of an emergency. The role of the Liaison Officer is to keep open lines of communication with other government agencies to ensure that response activities are coordinated.

The Safety Officer has a key role in mitigating any further loss by developing a site safety plan and by ensuring every response has an acceptable level of risk without threat to emergency personnel. The Operations Officer is responsible for direct response to the incident and the Logistics Officer is responsible for ensuring that Operations has the supplies and services needed to meet the objectives of getting the crisis under control. The Planning Officer is responsible to collect and evaluate information and often will prepare 12 and 24 hour plans targeting the objectives of the team. Lastly the Finance Officer is responsible for the administrative and cost analysis as well as ensuring that financial resources are available to facilitate the duties of the team.

Most companies will also have a corporate Incident Command Team which may include representatives from human resources, security, safety, environment, legal and corporate communications. One of the errors that many organizations make is the assumption that the corporate team can manage the incident. On the ground management of the incident must be left with the operational team and the role of the corporate team is to deal with corporate issues and to assist the operations team to ensure that they have the resources needed to get things back to normal.

Both the operational and the corporate plans will have some basic instructions, call out procedures, detailed listings of the roles of each of the team members and an up to date call out list for key people within the company. The call out list will also include suppliers that may be required in the event of an emergency but also police and government authorities and will be updated on a regular basis.

What about the command centre? Another error that many organizations make is not identifying an appropriate command centre. The centre does not need to be a room that is set aside on a 24 hour basis and it may be a designated meeting room that is appropriated in the event of an emergency. The room should be of sufficient size to accommodate the whole team given the fact that there will be a high level of activity and noise in handling these situations. The room should also have sufficient phones, faxes, whiteboards and computer access for the team members to use. Many organizations also keep up to date maps and plans of their operating sites in the command centre.

A basic risk analysis, some planning and development of a contingency plan can ensure that an organization is prepared to respond to an emergency and can mitigate the damage that it may cause.

David Ray is the Senior Practice Leader of Security & Investigations with Grant Thornton LLP, a full service accounting and consulting firm with offices across Canada.


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