Emergency management planning: What business continuity professionals need to know

Learn about what goes into emergency management planning including activities, standards and best practices.

What you will learn in this tip: how business continuity (BC) professionals can be more actively involved in emergency management planning for their organizations, the importance of emergency management planning activities and emergency management standards.

In the context of business continuity planning, emergency management is defined by the National Fire Protection Association No. 1600 as "an ongoing process to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from an incident that threatens life, property, operations or the environment." Or, according to the International Association of Emergency Managers, emergency management is the "managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters."

When getting started with emergency management planning, it's good to think of emergency management as part of a timeline for managing a disaster. The figure below ("Emergency management timeline") provides an example of emergency management as part of a timeline.

Emergency management timeline

Immediately following the onset of the incident, emergency management springs into action. Efforts are made to assess the incident and determine its severity and potential for elimination, containment or expansion. If it's determined that the incident will not be quickly suppressed, and is likely to continue and possibly expand, the emergency management team (EMT) activates procedures to mitigate incident severity, duration and impact, thus managing the incident through to its containment and termination. Then disaster recovery (DR) steps to restart critical business functions, and business continuity ensures that the organization will emerge from the incident intact and functioning normally.

Emergency management planning activities

According to the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) and DRI International, the emergency management team is comprised of professionals both inside and outside and organization who have been specially trained to provide immediate assistance following an incident. This can be extended to define a group of trained and authorized individuals who manage and control an emergency situation on behalf of the organization. In other words, these people are responsible for protecting the organization. It is crucial that they perform well, both as individuals and as a coordinated team.

Once the EMT has been activated following an incident, the assembled team meets to review inputs from initial incident response activities, such as a damage assessment. The team may also meet with local first responders such as police, fire departments and local/state offices of emergency management. The EMT follows a plan with procedures that commence immediately to prevent the loss of life and minimize injury and property damage. Emergency actions often are coordinated from an emergency operations center (EOC), where response teams/officials (municipal, county, state and federal) provide direction and exercise control.

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The emergency management team often relies on the Incident Command System (ICS) when responding to threatening incidents. The ICS is a structured framework developed in the 1970s to address the coordination issues associated with fighting wild fires in the western U.S. It was developed to address the communications problems and coordination issues that occurred when emergency response agencies of different jurisdictions arrived on-scene to fight the fires. The ICS is commonly used as the structure for command, control and coordination of resources, and is the framework for the National Incident Management System (NIMS). It coordinates facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures and communications within a common organizational structure. On-site emergency procedures are usually managed by an incident manager or incident commander (IC), who manages the local emergency operations center (EOC) and is charged with reporting to senior management on progress. Key activities performed by emergency management personnel include evacuations, sheltering-in-place, first aid, staff relocations, liaison with first responders and recovery site management.

Emergency management standards and practices

The principal standards used in emergency management are National Fire Protection Association Standard No.1600 and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) Standard. These two standards provide the primary context for the use of other emergency management standards and practices in the U.S. Also, the ICS provides the essential framework for emergency response activities. Details on the ICS can be found at the FEMA website.

Professional associations

Emergency managers seeking to advance the profession of emergency management are members of professional organizations such as the National Emergency Manager's Association (NEMA) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). They also participate in appropriate state, local and professional associations.

An excellent resource that can help you better understand emergency management is a monograph called Principles of Emergency Management (2007). Its development was facilitated by the IAEM.

Relationship to business continuity and disaster recovery

Emergency management and business continuity are usually in different chains of command within organizations. EM is usually associated with security, and business continuity/disaster recovery plans with information technology. Emergency management activities usually precede BC/DR; inputs from emergency management can be highly valuable to BC/DR staff, in that recovery and restoration activities will largely be influenced by the efforts of the EMTs. As with BC/DR, emergency management prepares and plans for situations that may or may not ever occur.

In an ideal situation, both emergency management and business continuity/disaster recovery teams should train side-by-side and have regular meetings to exchange information about threats, vulnerabilities and how they can be addressed. By coordinating their activities and sitting on each other's planning committees, the two groups can provide added value to the organization. Each group should have policies, procedures and controls. Regular sharing of this expertise can ensure that both groups are aligned with each other's goals as well as those of the organization.

Business continuity professionals who have the opportunity to work alongside and collaborate with their emergency management counterparts -- both inside and outside the organization --are well advised to do so. Cross-training and rotating positions between the two organizations are two good ways to share experiences and to establish backup staff in case of an emergency.

Both BC/DR and emergency management are responsible for protecting the company, its personnel and assets. Identify opportunities for collaborative projects, such as joint disaster exercises, evacuations and risk assessments. Regular joint meetings of risk-related departments, such as business continuity/disaster recovery, emergency management, incident management, information security and insurance, can help eliminate potential confusion in an actual emergency, as compared with those same units operating in independent silos.

About this author: Paul F. Kirvan, FBCI, CBCP, CISSP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He is also secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter.


This was first published in June 2010

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