Tip

Building successful first responder relationships

Organizations in both the public and private sectors may at some time be faced with an emergency that requires intervention by first responder organizations. These include police and fire departments;

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emergency rescue units; local, regional and national offices of emergency management; military organizations; and government agencies.

The sudden presence of a first responder organization at your offices may be a surprise or fully expected and welcomed. Your reaction will depend on how prepared you are to deal with first responders. And the outcomes of first responder participation may also be influenced by how well you have established a relationship with them.

Clearly, your organization stands to benefit if you have a positive and collaborative relationship with first responders. If police and fire departments, for example, know how you plan to respond to an incident because they have seen your emergency plans and may have participated in an exercise, they will know what you are likely to do and will be prepared to work with you. That way, everybody can do their work safely and with minimal interruption. Just remember that awareness of your emergency plans by first responders is no guarantee that your employees will not have to evacuate the site in an emergency. First responders are trained to address each situation individually.

Tips to ensure a smooth interface with first responders

1. Awareness. Take the time to contact first responder agencies, meet with their leadership teams and learn as much as you can about how they operate and how you can help make their jobs easier when an emergency occurs.

2. Information sharing. As you develop your business continuity plan, incident response and emergency management plans, invite representatives from first responder agencies to review your plans and offer suggestions. Make sure that first responders have maps and floor plans of your building so they will know where to go in an emergency.

3. Training. If first responder agencies offer educational programs to help citizens better understand how to respond in emergencies, take the classes. Government-sponsored programs from FEMA, for example, provide knowledge on all aspects of emergency management.

4. Exercises. First responders conduct thousands of exercises annually, as it's the best way to ensure they know exactly what to do in an emergency. If such an exercise is open to the public, be an observer or participant if possible. When you schedule exercises of your business continuity and/or incident response and emergency management plans, invite first responders to observe, participate and critique the exercises.

5. Public-private sector initiatives. A growing number of major cities and larger municipalities have launched proactive public-private sector outreach programs to encourage greater dialogue and active participation among public and private sector organizations. An excellent example is the City of New York's Public-Private Sector Initiatives Program in the Office of Emergency Management.

6. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). Volunteer in your local community's CERT program, which builds teams of volunteers who can provide a variety of support activities (e.g., administrative support to first responders, delivering supplies and communicating with local citizens) during emergencies.

7. Specialized arrangements. Several U.S. cities such as Buffalo and New York City offer a special emergency access credentialing program called Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS). If you live in an area that offers CEAS, it may be worth pursuing (www.ceas.com).

Summary

The best way to establish a relationship with first responder organizations is to take the initiative. Most agencies will be delighted to discuss a broad range of emergency issues with you. Be sure to engage first responders as you build, implement and exercise your emergency and business continuity plans.

About the author:
Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCI, has more than 24 years of experience in business continuity management (BCM) as a consultant, author and educator. He has completed dozens of BCM consulting and audit engagements that address all aspects of a business continuity management system (BCMS) and which are aligned with global standards including BS 25999 and ISO 22301. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter and a member of the BCI Global Membership Council. He can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

This was first published in October 2012

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