By Tom Delaney

With the increasing frequency of weather emergencies and violence in the workplace, and with chemical mishaps and even computer crashes, you should have an emergency response plan. Of course, the time to work on a plan is before you need it, or you’re taking a serious gamble.

While all the above-mentioned areas are important, you may first want to conduct a risk assessment. A risk assessment is a process to identify potential hazards, and analyze what could happen if one occurs. There are numerous hazards to consider, and for each there are many possible scenarios that could unfold depending on its timing and magnitude. You may want to evaluate several things first; for example, how many employees you have, and where your business is physically located (Are you near any bodies of water? Do you know about neighboring buildings or facilities?). If you store hazardous products, such as pesticides and fertilizers, evaluate your storage, mixing and loading areas. Also, check any equipment fueling and maintenance areas, other supply storage areas, and sections of the building that house mechanical or electrical equipment. You may want to invite the local fire department to your facility to help with identifying any problem areas, and so they get to know what products you store.

In addition to a risk assessment, conducting a business impact analysis (BIA) is also important. A BIA predicts the consequences of disruption to a business function and process, and gathers information needed to develop recovery strategies. Business operations may also be interrupted by a supplier’s failure to deliver or delay in delivering goods or services. A business impact analysis should include:

Ranking of critical and non-critical business processes.
Assignment of recovery time objective and recovery point objective for each business process.
Document listings of key vendors, systems and vital records.
Estimates of the qualitative and quantitative impact of an event, based on duration of unplanned disruption (e.g., 24 hours, 48 hours, 5 days, etc.).
An overview of what would be necessary to recover the functions of the section or program.

At the very least, every facility should develop and implement an emergency plan for protecting employees, visitors, contractors and anyone else in the facility. This part of the emergency plan is called “protective actions for life safety” and includes processes for building evacuation (“fire drills”); sheltering from severe weather, such as tornadoes; sheltering in place from an exterior airborne hazard, such as a chemical release; and lockdown or protective action for dealing with an act of violence.

When an emergency occurs, the first priority is always to preserve life. The second priority is the stabilization of the incident. Actions such as first aid and CPR by trained employees can save lives. Use of fire extinguishers by trained employees can extinguish a small fire. Containment of a small chemical spill and supervision of building utilities and systems can minimize damage to a building and help prevent environmental damage.

Some severe weather events can be forecast hours before they arrive, providing valuable time to protect a facility. A plan should be established and resources should be on hand, or quickly available, to prepare a facility. The plan should also include a process for damage assessment, salvage, protection of undamaged property, and cleanup following an incident. Efforts to minimize further damage and business disruption are examples of property conservation.

A communication and operational plan for office disruption and an information technology disaster plan (interruption of service and data loss) are some other subjects you might want to address. Is your computer system protected against minor power fluctuations by a surge protector? All servers and infrastructure hardware should be protected using surge protectors and Universal Power Supply batteries. Who should be contacted in the event of a major or minor power failure that does not self-correct, accidental or incidental water damage, or a fire?

It’s also important to have planned maintenance schedules; a copy of your floor plan; and a list of staff member responsibilities, contact information, and other key phone numbers in a place where they can easily be found. Instead of hoping you won’t experience an emergency, plan as if one will happen.


Tom Delaney, is director of government affairs at the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). He can be reached via e-mail at