What should be included in disaster planning for a large employer in Annapolis, Maryland, that is concerned about natural disasters such as floods and snowstorms that might shut down the company and parts of the city?
Emergency and disaster planning involve a coordinated, co-operative process of preparing to match urgent needs with available resources. The phases are research, writing, dissemination, testing, and updating. Hence, an emergency plan needs to be a living document that is periodically adapted to changing circumstances and that provides a guide to the protocols, procedures, and division of responsibilities in emergency response. Emergency planning is an exploratory process that provides generic procedures for managing unforeseen impacts and should use carefully constructed scenarios to anticipate the needs that will be generated by foreseeable hazards when they strike
Emergency response involves a mixture of plans, procedures, and improvisation. To some extent, the last of these is inevitable, but it needs to be limited by preparedness. It is axiomatic that planning and procedures should not be improvised during an emergency when they should have been thought through and created beforehand. The consequence of unwonted improvisation is inefficiency in emergency response, which may have serious or tragic consequences. A degree of uniqueness present in each new disaster means that improvisation cannot be avoided, but foresight and preparedness can constrain it to a necessary minimum.
Moreover, emergencies are always occasions for learning, and a significant part of the body of experience on which plans are based comes from the mistakes, inefficiencies, and improvisations of the past. Although many publications have the phrase “lessons learned” in their titles, there is no guarantee that a lesson will indeed be learned. If that does indeed happen, measurable positive change will result directly from the lesson. For example, lack of search-and-rescue equipment may be keenly felt in structural collapses that trap people. Hence, probes, props, and personal protection equipment may be acquired and personnel trained in how to use them.
Emergency and disaster planning is a relatively new field, and one that is evolving rapidly, driven by intensifying hazards, burgeoning vulnerabilities, and emerging risks. Hence, there is no established formula according to which a plan should be prepared. Nevertheless, there are canons and practices that must be respected.