6 Steps to Take Right Now

Originally published September 11, 2001

By G. Mark Towhey

© 2001 G. Mark Towhey. All rights reserved. Originally published at 11:20 AM on Sep. 11, 2001. For reprint permission contact info@ballacaine.com

1. Review your emergency plan. If you don’t have an emergency plan, immediately make a quick plan.

2. Understand that no plan can possibly anticipate every scenario.

So what? So -- your plan should help you to manage the crisis in five distinct stages: The first stage is Containing the situation -- taking immediate action to prevent it from getting worse.  The second stage is taking time to Assess the situation and understand exactly what you're dealing with -- you may not have anticipated this specific scenario. Third, you must expect to make a specific Plan to deal with this specific situation. Fourth, you must Execute your specific plan. Fifth, and finally, you must Recover from the emergency, quickly Reorganize your resources to be ready for the next emergency, and Review lessons learned that can improve your response the next time. These five stages of emergency response can be easily remembered using the mnemonic: CAPER.

3. Your first task is to make your people safe. Where terrorism may have played a role in the disaster, understand that terrorists often "stack" their attacks to inflict maximum devastation, carnage and fear. They will often plan a second attack to occur after the initial incident -- hoping to injure rescue workers, good samaritans and the people who have gathered to help and watch. They know people will flock to the disaster -- and these people become targets. They hope to increase the casualty count and impede the emergency response.

So what? So -- evacuate the disaster zone quickly, and in an orderly manner. Render assistance to the injured and disabled -- and help them clear the area. Do not stop nearby the disaster scene. Unless you are able to offer help to emergency workers, clear the area and move far away from the emergency zone.

4. Expect your technology to fail. Make sure your plan does not rely on technology. Cellular telephone networks are extremely fragile. The failure of individual nodes can quickly cripple the network. Even if this doesn't happen, the massive surge of people trying to make calls will quickly overload the network and make it largely unusable. Likewise, land-line based telephone networks may quickly become overloaded or fail. In emergencies, non-priority telephones are often taken "off line" in order to make capacity available for emergency/priority phones. If you need to make a call and don't hear a dialtone... wait a few minutes to see if you get one. Pay telephones may be your best bet -- they are often designated as "priority" telephones for emergency use.

So what? So -- realize that your second priority -- after rendering aid and evacuating the danger zone -- is to re-establish communication and control. Do this by planning, and rehearsing, "immediate actions" to be followed by all employees, family members, etc. as soon as they realize that an emergency has occurred and communication has been lost. Normally, this means physically gathering at predetermined "rally points". All your employees should know thelocation of at least two and possibly three rally points: an immediate rally point across the street, or within 1 block of your worksite or home; a second rally point more than 1 block but within 5 minutes walk from the worksite or home; a long-distance rally point at least 1 km from your worksite or home -- or outside the urban zone in which you're located.

5. Expect transportation, especially in large urban centres, to be impeded.Roads will quickly become clogged with traffic, and what street capacity is available will be required for emergency vehicles. Public transit may quickly be overloaded, or shut down for fear of attack.

So what? So -- anticipate the need to walk out of the disaster area. Ensure that you and your employees have appropriate clothing to do so.

6. Expect to be on your own. In a massive emergency such as the one today, it may take hours or even days for emergency workers to come to your aid.

So what? So -- If you can't evacuate the danger zone, be prepared to be self-reliant, perhaps for days. Know how to make your worksite or home safe. Major structural disasters could rupture gas lines that may spark secondary fires or explosions. Know how to shut off the gas at your home and office, and otherwise make your location as safe as possible. Have water on site. Have a good quality first aid kit and make sure you have qualified first aid staff at the worksite. If possible, have food available -- but you can go days without food.

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