Leveraging Close-calls to Improve your Emergency Management Program

The nature of the preparedness world is one of close-calls, near-misses, fits, starts, and direct hits.

Fortunately for all involved, we are not directly impacted by every threat that is forecast to come our way.

Still, a comprehensive and forward-thinking emergency management program will not let a potential crisis go to waste. 

Here are just a few actions your organization can take to improve your preparedness program without suffering the negative impacts of lessons learned through failure: 

  1. Play the “What If?” game. If your organization has put considerable effort into preparing for a forecasted event (maybe severe weather, maybe civil unrest from a mass gathering, etc), make that effort worthwhile by setting aside some time in the days following to ask, “What if?”. Bring your emergency operations team together for a brief table-top discussion to think through how the incident would have impacted your facility had it occurred. Think of it like putting the finishing touches on your preparedness discussions.  If, for example, a severe weather event misses your area but impacts another, use the data from the incident (number of utility customers without power, amount of destruction, impact to traffic, public works, public safety, etc.) experienced by your neighbors to make your “What if?” discussions more realistic and impactful.

  2. Learn from the success (and failure) of others. One of the greatest aspects of the Emergency Management community is the willingness of those who have learned lessons to share. Take advantage of this by seeking out the decision-makers involved in both successful and unsuccessful responses and picking their brains. Request any After Action Reports that were compiled by facilities, localities, or other agencies and review them for lessons that may apply to your organization. Finally, do not hesitate to reach out to the individuals involved and ask them to speak – either by phone, or in person – to your planning team. Very often, these professionals will come to tell their story without compensation other than travel costs.

  3. Document your work. Even if you don’t have follow-up conversations or seek out lessons learned, make sure you document the efforts you do undertake. Documentation such as attendance lists for preparedness meetings, After Action Reports for any Command Team activations, or outlines of conversations had in the run-up or aftermath of the planning effort can all be invaluable additions to your emergency operations plan. All of this documentation not only makes your emergency management program stronger, it is an impressive demonstration when a surveyor asks to see evidence of your program.

Now it’s your turn! Do you have additional items for this list? Email them to ccamidge@vaems.org and we may feature them in a future post.