by Patrick Hardy, CEM, MBCP, CRM
September 28, 2023
While there is always discussion of an emergency in the media in RV parks and campgrounds around the world, there is little discussion on the life cycle of one. Dramatic photographs of rescues from floodwaters and interviews are always a common theme, however, for an organization, the life cycle is much more nuanced and complex.
There are 5 Milestones in an emergency that will provide you with the ability to be more resilient for the next one. While they run in a simple chronology, in many cases each will have concurrent elements that will flow into the next one. You must master each one, and ensure it is properly accounted for as you develop a comprehensive emergency preparedness program that focuses not only on natural emergencies, but technological and security emergencies as well.
The first of these is “Ready”, This essentially refers to the preparedness phase of your emergency program, including emergency plans, training, drills and exercises as well as Equipment, Supplies, Technology (EST). These are all the elements to get your property ready for whatever you face and can also include things like creating a defensible space (wildfires), developing safe rooms (tornados and security events), and reinforcing windows for wind events. Regardless of what you do, each one should be based on the actual threat conditions of the area, and a realistic evaluation of the vulnerabilities of the property. This is especially true for management companies which may have multiple properties spread out throughout a large geographic area.
This is the moment you discover the emergency has struck, what is called “the gasp moment”. It may be that when the initial incident occurred, you were unaware of it, because of the location it occurred. A good example is when shots are being fired in one part of the building but is out of your earshot. There are really two elements here that are important: assessing the scene to determine exactly what is going on, and ensuring you stay safe during those first chaotic moments. This is critical, because each emergency can create unique hazards that are invisible but can harm you physically (like airborne radiation particles or electrified water) or mentally (psychological stressors). This is the critical moment when taking responsibility and command for an incident is critical for its success.
This is what I call the “Lights and sirens phase” of the incident. This is primarily when health and safety is the primary focus, and proactive actions are immediately necessary to protect the health and safety of employees and guests. Evacuation, Shelter-in-Place, and Lockdown all occur at this time period, and initial property protection steps are initiated. Crisis communication, leadership and initial activation of emergency procedures all occur here. These can range from a few minutes to a few days depending on the size, severity, and type of emergency.
Recovery is basically the answer to a single question: what is the fastest way to get back in business? Notice I didn’t say “get back to normal” because that is not what recovery is about. Recovery focuses on restoring the minimum number of processes it needs to function, like IT, human resources, operations, etc. Each of these basic processes are essential to what we call “Business Continuity”, and the key is to minimize the downtime after an emergency has struck. “Getting back to normal” is a much longer process and involves bringing the property back to its pre-emergency condition. This is where insurance and restoration services enter into the picture, providing the resources necessary for long-term support. This is also a critical point where significant losses sustained (particularly those involving people) should be considered with renewed focus.
This novel step is unique in that it cannot be found in traditional emergency preparedness guides. “Reversing Emergency” means to take everything you learned throughout the emergency and turning that into a tool to become more resilient and more sustainable than before. So often, companies that experience an emergency become much weaker as a result of the damage and devastation. This is not an inevitable result. Your property can actually convert an emergency into a tremendous opportunity for resilience. This goes beyond simply discovering the lessons learned, it is evaluating the damage and seeing how you can turn that into a competitive business advantage. It requires a psychological shift so that instead of seeing what’s been destroyed, you see what the emergency has revealed. This may be as small as a minor policy change, but it could be as much as looking at a damaged building and instead of simply rebuilding it the way it was, seeing how you can improve on the original.
These five steps are the life cycle of an emergency and represent key opportunities to improve your organization’s resiliency. Evacuations, recoveries, training and drills all form the constellation of elements that must be in place for your program. From before the emergency to the end of it, each of the steps must be methodically designed so you are as prepared for emergency as much as it is prepared for you.