Developing an Effective Emergency Communication Program
By Jon M. Evenson February 2011 - Emergency Preparedness
On June 26, 1996, an Air Force sergeant noticed suspicious activity near a building in the Khobar Towers complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Thanks to his quick work, several floors of the building were evacuated before a truck bomb exploded and devastated the building. But not all occupants got word in time; 20 people were killed and hundreds injured.
Since that day, a series of attacks — from school shootings to 9/11 — has reinforced the importance of being able to communicate quickly and reliably with building or campus occupants during an emergency. Indeed, NFPA 72-2010 — the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code — addresses emergency communication systems. Organizations looking to implement a comprehensive emergency management program, however, should not only look at systems and software but also operations and training to effectively plan, prepare and respond to emergencies.
When developing an emergency management program, the goal should be to integrate systems and procedures into an overall program that is communicated to individuals through training and drills. A crucial step is to review what building and site systems are installed and may be included in the emergency management program. The systems could include:
- Public address systems and equipment
- Fire and life safety systems and equipment
- Radio communication systems
- Distributed recipient notification systems
- Building management systems
When the review has been completed, facility managers should look at how the systems will be utilized before, during and after an emergency to manage the response and coordination process in accordance with the emergency management program.
When developing an emergency management program facility managers should review its operations to determine risks and threats.
After risks have been identified, facility managers should develop operational protocols to coordinate how the organization should respond to various emergencies. As part of the protocols, the use, management and coordination of various systems should be clearly identified and addressed.
Tiers of Training
To have an effective emergency management program, facility managers need to conduct training and drills to ensure that people understand the emergency management program's elements and how they are to respond in the event of an emergency. There are three tiers of training. Tier 1 is classroom training; it is easy to organize but only provides an overview of the emergency management program and the basic response protocols. Tier 2 is scenario training and involves creating a mock scenario in a controlled environment to test the attendees' ability to coordinate a response to a given event. Ideally, Tier 2 training offers a real-life feel to a response, but unless planned carefully and moderated properly, some attendees may be disinterested and not understand the value of the training.
Tier 3 training — conducting live drills — is the most effective method, but it is the most difficult to coordinate. Organizations may not be willing to interrupt operations or meetings to participate in the drill. What's more, if the drill time and date are announced ahead of time, response team members may cheat and prepare themselves to respond at the appropriate time. This may not indicate their actual ability to coordinate response efforts.
No matter what training is conducted, the training should include the local authorities. Be sure to use and discuss the specific systems and operational protocols for the organization. Lack of training and comprehension could lead to serious challenges in coordinating a response to an emergency.