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Emergencies – Are you prepared?

- September 15, 2014 by Steve Danner, CSP (View all posts by Steve)

While driving along a freeway last summer, I observed two people on the side of the road attempting to put out a fire with blankets.  I immediately signaled and pulled over to assist at the same time as a tow truck operator made the same decision.  While I fumbled around in the trunk searching for my fire extinguisher, the tow truck operator ran past me yelling, “No problem, I got this!”

As a safety professional, I was embarrassed because I was unprepared.  You can never do too much to prepare for an emergency.

Emergency evacuation drills are an integral part of an Emergency Preparedness Program, because in the event of an emergency, most will only have time to react and they may only get one chance.  The truth is that practice and planning are the only way to be prepared when an emergency occurs.

Many of us are better prepared for an airplane-related emergency—like a water landing.   After all, flight attendants start each flight explaining what to do in the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, water landing or unexpected landing.  In fact, you’ve probably heard it so many times that you tend to ignore their instructions as you play with your phone or laptop.

The reason you practice emergency evacuation procedures, whether it is at a manufacturing facility, or on an airplane or a ship, is to familiarize yourself and the people around you with the exit routes, emergency lighting, and available life safety equipment like breathing and flotation devices.  Having some familiarity with these procedures, equipment and the exit routes can help you cope with the disaster at hand, taking the appropriate steps as you go along.  It isn’t the first time you’ve evacuated, it’s just the first time that it was a life or death situation.

The tragic sinking of the Korean ferry in April of 2014 is another example of being unprepared when an emergency struck.  The New York Times quoted Kang Haeseong, a communications officer on the ferry that sank, as saying that “he could not recall taking part in any evacuation drills for the ship and that when a real emergency came, ‘I didn’t have time to look at the manual for evacuation…  I repeatedly told people to calm themselves and stay where they were for an hour.’”  Could an evacuation drill have prepared the crew for what happened that night?  The Times suggested that there was time to evacuate the passengers even quoting James T. Shirley Jr., an accident investigator from Pennsylvania, as saying “that in the two and a half hours it took the ship to sink, the crew ‘certainly had enough time to get most of the people off.'”

Don’t wait to become the morning news, start planning and preparing for emergencies now.  Your team should not be left wondering what they should do after an emergency has occurred; make sure they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to handle whatever comes their way.

FEMA provides a great online resource at ready.gov that can help start the planning process.  It provides turnkey step-by-step guides to help businesses create and implement an emergency preparedness plan and even includes tips on business impact analysis, training exercises, and program improvement.

Where are you in the planning process?  Have any suggestions for our readers?  Please share your experiences with us in the comments section.

References:

Sang-hun, Choe, Su-hyun Lee, and Jiha Ham. “Human Error Suspected as Hope Fades in Korean Ferry Sinking.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 Sept. 2014.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/18/world/asia/south-korean-ferry-accident.html?_r=0

“How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations.” OSHA.gov. U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ND. Web. 17 Jul 2014. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3088.pdf.

“Make a Plan.” Ready.gov. FEMA, 29 Jan 2014. Web. 17 Jul 2014. http://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.