The following explores the often unseen - or not fully understood benefits - of the emergency preparedness process.
The emergency training process builds relationships within the client’s organization and broader response community, as well as challenges institutional impediments to emergency preparedness.
It is a curiosity that an agency or company will spend large sums on leadership and team-building training and events for their employees such as social events, merit awards, and hiring “leadership gurus,” when a fraction of the budget devoted to emergency training can achieve similar results.
There is a lack of understanding that the process of emergency preparedness can have immediate benefits to an agency, company or community. For example, the process of establishing of an Incident Management Team for external risks (spill preparedness) or internal ones (business continuation, fire drill) brings an organization’s staff together for a common goal, breaks down internal barriers (silos) between departments (sales, engineering, administration) and between staff positions (managers, technicians, administrators). The initiative demonstrates commitment to the environment, to the organization’s employees, as well as to other stakeholders (shareholders, public, regulators). These benefits alone can justify the cost of a robust emergency preparedness program.
It is not just about being prepared for an emergency, but seen to be prepared.
Training in emergency management is not only about preparing for a future event, but also about fostering immediate relationships internal and external to an organization - whether a company, agency or community. Emergency training lends itself to positive marketing, especially if the training is done collectively and cooperatively with other participants and not just the sponsor's employees. Even a simple fire drill with employees assigned as a fire warden or safety officers should be celebrated and acknowledge by executive managers for every drill. The process of emergency training is an opportunity to demonstrate corporate leadership and social and environmental commitment.
There is a fundamental difference between having emergency capability versus capacity. Capability may reside in only a few well trained personnel, such as a ship’s crew or a facility’s fire-fighting staff. Capacity is the ability to expand the numbers of capable people from other sources internal and external to the organization. These may be people that have never met or worked with the organization before.
Effective emergency training builds capability and capacity in emergency preparedness by using common organization, terminology, and protocols widely adopted international by the response community. The use of internationally recognized emergency training such as the Incident Command System (ICS) by agencies, companies, consultants, First Responders (fire, police, ambulance) establishes a pool of capable responders to tap into. Furthermore, advanced emergency training recognizes that there are two factors that cannot be readily achieved during an emergency - making friends and educating responders.
Effective emergency training also focuses on understanding and overcoming the institutional challenges to achieve meaningful emergency preparedness.
There are several institutional impediments to emergency preparedness that marginalizes planning and response capacity building. First, there is a basic misunderstanding of the immediate benefits of emergency preparedness as noted above. This applies to both agencies and companies that have mandates to be prepared. Executives know it is important to be prepared for an emergency (spill, industrial accident, earthquake, etc.) for either due diligence or governance reasons. Nevertheless, there is an underlying hope that an incident doesn’t happen on their watch. As such, the level of emergency staffing and budgeting can sometimes be largely “faith” based. Other competing and current demands on staff and the organization often take precedence over emergency preparedness.
A company or agency may think another organization (fire department, spill response agency, industry spill cooperative) may be adequately prepared to address the potential threat they may experience. Consequently, the level of agency or company emergency preparedness resourcing and commitment can be marginalized. Often these external responders have their own institutional impediments, such as limited and constrained response mandates or inability to operate outside their jurisdictional boundary.
The application of incident management programs is at the same level of government, corporate, and public understanding as employee safety and welfare programs were a decade ago.
Incident management under the Incident Command System is where a Commander and his/her response management team stand-back to manage the response without being distracted by the chaos in the field. This requires a high degree of discipline and structure; this is what the ICS brings to emergency preparedness. The ICS is not about response tactics per se, such as how to actually fight a fire or cleanup a spill, but about organizational excellence and sharing the responsibility on directing operational tactics and planning ahead.
Incident management training has the potential to make a significant social and environmental improvement in public safety and ecological protection - which a company, agency, or community can be part of. A case-in-point is that emergency management training can be a “tipping point” in showing positive corporate or government leadership and exposure. This is because emergency preparedness “ideas”, “products”, “messages” and “behaviours” can spread quickly once the organization is prepared - and seen to be prepared - for threats they are considered to be responsible for.** It is a remarkable occurrence during an incident when a Commander is shown being in charged. Better still is when there are other Commanders and team members sharing the responsibility to manage the incident as a collective effort, such for a large oil spill or flood event.
** The concept of rapid change where a “little things can make a big difference” is in the book “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company, New York.