Because no one knows when an emergency will occur, it becomes critical to plan for the various emergencies that could happen. Preparing for them through a careful process and then implementing protocols by practicing drills enables participants to stay calm and take the best steps to preserve life when a crisis arises.The process of building an emergency plan includes the following four basic steps:
- Assemble the team – You may find that you have experienced individuals in your organization that can contribute to the emergency planning process. Remember to include representation from ministry leadership, medical personnel, and first responders if available.
- Identify your threats and hazards – Threats and hazards could include a medical emergency, fire, earthquake, tornado, local chemical spill, missing child, or active shooter. Once you have a list of potential risks based on where your ministry is located, you will want to prioritize them by their probability or gravity. You should focus on those items that have a higher likelihood and severity first.
- Write your action plan – You can then move forward with your team to write action steps for each of the listed scenarios. Starting with the higher priority items. There is useful information to guide you through this process at various government agency websites and Adventistrisk.org under Safety Resources.
- Implement and practice the plan – Communicate the plan to potential participants and key members who perform specific functions, and practice protocols through drills. These steps will help your team and participants be better prepared in a real emergency.
Conducting DrillsDeveloping a plan document is fundamental to effective emergency preparedness. Still, if those plans are not exercised or tested, they will not do much good in a real emergency. It is essential to put these protocols into practice, find out where they need to be improved, and see how well your team responds. As in all emergency planning, stay focused on the big picture of keeping people safe and ensure that all exercises are done carefully, safely, and calmly. You do not want anyone to get hurt during these activities.
To run the more involved exercises that test functionality, process, procedures, and the team’s readiness to perform their duties, some critical first steps should be taken. Consider walkthroughs, orientation, or workshop techniques to help everyone understand their roles, processes, and emergency plan goals.
Tabletop exercises are a great starting place for testing your plans. Tabletop exercises are designed to help an organization test a scenario, such as a natural or man-made disaster. This is an opportunity to evaluate the group’s ability to respond to the incident and how they work together, and test their readiness to respond. Often team members meet in an informal boardroom, online, or classroom setting to discuss their roles during an emergency and their responses to a particular emergency scenario.
The following tips will aid in effective tabletop testing drills:
- Prepare for the exercise - This is the most time-consuming part of the planning. If done correctly, however, it will ensure the exercise drill has value. Focus on the scope and objectives of the training and identify key participants. The safety officer may be a good leader for this planning. Assigning roles will give participants a specific focus that they can execute and therefore test during the exercise.
- Involve multiple perspectives – A church could identify and include members of the Sabbath School, ministerial (elders and deacons), and Pathfinder/youth department. Invite experts such as medical or first responders to participate, if available. This will allow all potential scenarios to be considered when planning for emergencies.
- Communicate the exercise scope - It is essential everyone involved in the exercise drill clearly understands the training’s range and goals. When participants don't understand the ground rules at the beginning of an activity, they can become frustrated. This results in a negative experience. The goal is to keep every team member engaged in the drill, so they do not feel that it is a waste of time.
Live, full-scale drills are more successful after plans have been well-developed and tested through tabletop and functional exercises. Just as we learn to crawl before we walk and run, we must first prepare and communicate to our participants before holding a live emergency evacuation drill. Guides for several emergency drill scenarios are available at Adventistrisk.org under Safety Resources.
Remember, it is much better to be appropriately prepared and practice emergency drills regularly than to have no plan at all and react to an emergency.