Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19: The Importance of Emergency Planning
By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
Trying to predict the coronavirus pandemic before it happened would’ve been like trying to pick winning lottery numbers or time the stock market. But the fact is, we did know a pandemic would happen at some point.
Bill Gates gave a much-lauded TED Talk on the subject in 2015. As a result, we’re learning a hard lesson. Even if you don’t know when something will happen, you can still plan for how to handle it. While businesses are a little late preparing workplaces for COVID-19, it doesn’t mean they can’t start planning for the next major disruption.
Emergency planning isn’t only reserved for global pandemics or life-and-death situations. Every business needs a file folder of emergency plans for disruptions big and small. If there’s a potential for displacement, you need a plan.
Evaluate current emergency plans
To prepare your workplace for the next big emergency, start with your current safety and emergency plans. Do you have the following?
- Fire preparedness and evacuation plan
- Flood mitigation and safety plan
- Explosion or spill safety plan
- Terrorism or active shooter safety plan
- Power outage or electrical disruption plan
- Critical equipment failure safety plan
- Tornado shelter in place plan (where applicable)
- Earthquake shelter in place plan (where applicable)
- Hurricane evacuation plan (where applicable)
- Winter storm contingency plan (where applicable)
Add a pandemic plan to this list. More importantly, check to see that there’s a robust procedure built out for each of these unique types of emergencies. While the imminence and severity of each situation differs, it’s still important to plan for every eventuality.
What happens when a car hits a transformer and kills your building’s power, shutting down access control systems? Is there a safe place to shelter during an earthquake? What’s the protocol for notifying employees of an active shooter? We tend not to think of these situations until they’re a reality, but a little forethought goes a long way in knowing how to act if and when the time comes.
Fill gaps in emergency planning
It’s not enough to have an emergency plan; make sure your plan is airtight. Create simple, step-by-step actions for how to proceed when an emergency situation arises. Then, communicate the plan and delegate responsibilities to trustworthy employees. Every person should know their role in an emergency and know how to act accordingly without hesitation.
Which fire exit do I use in the event of an evacuation? Where’s the nearest first aid kit? What’s the protocol during a power outage? Employees should never wonder about questions like these. That’s why training and retraining are critical parts of emergency planning. Host fire drills and active shooter drills. Quiz employees annually about procedure. Get team leaders certified or trained to act with authority during a disruption.
Emergency planning goes beyond the plan—even beyond the people. Make sure your business is also set up to pivot around emergencies, no matter how long they last. What happens when fire renders 40% of your offices unsafe to work in? What’s the protocol for adopting workflow to account for lost workdays? Be as thorough as possible as you plan for the unpredictable.
Constantly reevaluate emergency plans
Emergency plans should evolve often and for the better. Your workplace is dynamic, which means any disruption to it needs an equally dynamic response.
Take coronavirus, for example. Social distancing policies are a temporary norm to prevent workplace exposure. But distancing may displace employees from their regular workspaces or routines. As a result, their reaction to other emergencies may change. They’re no longer near the usual fire exit or aren’t sure where the safest area is in the event of a tornado.
Use disruptions like COVID-19 to revise and redistribute workplace emergency plans. Better yet, build in new actions and protocols from your current situation into other plans. COVID-19 might expose gaps in your power outage plan or give you the means to improve your winter storm contingency plan. Exposure to one type of disruption can inform better policies for coping with others.
Use COVID-19 as a learning opportunity
COVID-19 caught most businesses unaware. They either had to scramble to cobble together remote work solutions or face a shutdown as a non-essential business. Many essential businesses had to think on their feet to adapt operations and comply with social distancing measures. While pandemic planning might not have answered every question, it likely would’ve afforded many companies much-needed agility in the early days of the crisis.
Who knows when there will be another pandemic or what disaster looms unseen around the corner? We can’t predict the future, but we can plan for it. In emergency situations, a proactive approach is always the best one.
Keep reading: COVID-19 Resources