Prepare for Disasters Using Emergency Procedures Manual
Emergencies, disasters, accidents, and injuries can occur any time and without warning. Most recently, in June, the president declared parts of Florida a federal disaster area as a result of damage done by Tropical Storm Debby. And this year, areas of West Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama have all been declared federal disaster areas as a result of storms.
A disaster doesn’t have to be recognized by the president or be on national news to affect the lives of residents at your site. A fire in a unit, a violent crime, or a natural disaster—such as a localized earthquake or tornado—could suddenly leave you scrambling to make correct, quick decisions.
Whatever the cause of the disaster, your staff has to know what to do when one occurs. The more prepared you are, the better your staff can act and minimize panic or confusion. In times of emergency, without a prepared emergency plan, someone could get hurt or the property could sustain damage that could have been avoided.
Rose Kugler, president of Risk Innovations, a risk management consulting firm, recommends writing down the steps your staff should take during emergencies. People panic during emergencies, which makes it difficult to think clearly and act efficiently. By using a manual, where information can be found easily in one location, your staff can respond correctly under pressure, possibly limiting property damage and personal injuries.
When developing emergency management procedures, remember to keep the plan simple, says Harry Smith, director of management for Gumley Haft Real Estate Management. A simple plan will make it easier for all concerned to stay calm during an emergency.
To help you create an emergency procedures manual for your site, we’ll give you the basics of what should go into a manual and how it should be used.
HOW TO CREATE AND USE A MANUAL
You’ll get the benefits of an emergency procedures manual only if it’s created and used the right way. Here are three guidelines you can follow to ensure that your manual is effective.
Guideline #1: Include Key Sections
Every site's emergency procedures manual should include the following key sections:
Emergency telephone numbers. List all relevant emergency telephone numbers so they’ll be readily available when an emergency occurs. In addition to 911, include the numbers of your local hospitals, poison control center, utility companies, key personnel from your management office (home and office numbers), and any other important phone numbers that may be needed during an emergency. Also include phone numbers that may be needed after an emergency, such as the phone numbers of emergency repair contractors and security guard services.
Medical emergencies. Outline your procedures for handling situations that require medical assistance, such as when someone suffers a heart attack or a child breaks a leg. The staff should know the location of your community's medical equipment, such as first-aid kits or automated external defibrillators, says Smith.
Utility outages and equipment failures. Include procedures for dealing with elevators during an emergency. If your site has an emergency backup generator, this section should say where it is located and how it works.
Fire and explosions. List your procedures for responding to reports of smoke, fire, gas leaks, and explosions at your site. Include a site map that shows the locations of all gas valves, main electricity sources, sprinkler standpipes, and fire hydrants to allow for immediate access.
Natural disasters. Include your procedures for handling natural disasters that may occur at your site because of its geographic location. For example, if your site is in Los Angeles, you should include your procedures for responding to an earthquake. If your site is in the Midwest, you may want to include procedures for responding to tornadoes and floods.
Smith recommends having a portable radio for listening to updates. These may be placed at various places around the site. Smith also recommends having a supply of lanterns or flashlights with extra batteries, well-stocked first aid kits, a defibrillator, and a cell phone with extra batteries. The location for these items should be included in the manual.
Guideline #2: Tailor Manual's Procedures to Your Site
Keep in mind that you must tailor the information in your emergency procedures manual to the particulars of your site. The procedures you include will depend on many factors, such as:
Buildings' size and layout. The method of warning people that an emergency is underway will differ depending on the layout of the buildings at your site. In a high-rise building, several staff members may have to knock on residents' doors, starting on the top floor and working their way down. Or there may be a designated staff person for each floor to act as the main point of communication. This person can alert the rest of the residents on the floor and communicate special needs to emergency personnel.
Site's geographic location. The geographic location of your site will affect which types of natural disasters you address in your manual.
Resident profile. Residents can affect how you should handle emergencies at your site. When you create your manual, make sure you take into account the specific demographics of your site. For example, if you have elderly or disabled residents at your site, you may want to include instructions on how to provide help to these people during an emergency.
> Non-ambulatory residents. Non-ambulatory residents' needs and preferences will vary. Always consult the person about his preference for ways of being removed from the wheelchair, since wheelchairs should not be used in stairwells, if at all possible.
> Visually impaired residents. Most residents with a visual impairment will be familiar with their immediate surroundings. In the event of an emergency, tell the resident the nature of the emergency and offer to guide him. As you walk, tell the person where you are and advise of any obstacles. When you’ve reached safety, orient the resident to where he is and ask whether he needs any further assistance.
> Hearing-impaired residents. Residents with hearing impairments may not perceive emergency alarms or shouts from staff members. Alerting methods may include writing a note telling what the emergency is and giving the nearest evacuation route, or turning a light switch on and off to gain attention and then indicating through gestures what’s happening and what to do.
Guideline #3: Have Staff Read Manual
Your entire staff should be familiar with how your emergency procedures manual is organized and which procedures it contains. You should also tell your staff that the information in your emergency procedures manual is confidential. This way, they will keep private any sensitive information that you include, such as telephone numbers, security system information, and insurance information.
Also, be sure to emphasize that the information included in the manual is not all-inclusive, but covers most actions taken during emergencies. Remind staff that common sense must prevail when instructions aren’t available or don’t fit the site's particular needs.
Editor's Note: If your procedures or any other information in the manual changes, update it promptly. Names and phone numbers will be updated most often. If you change personnel or emergency contractors, update the names and phone numbers in the “Emergency Telephone Numbers” section.
Rose Kugler, CPCU, ARM: President, Risk Innovations, 1202-N 75 St., #25, Downers Grove, IL 60516; (630) 725-1770; www.riskinnovations.com.
Harry Smith: Director of Management, Gumley Haft, 415 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017; (212) 371-2525; www.gumleyhaft.com.