‘Tis the season: the one where everyone worries if businesses and organizations will be ready for record snowstorms, floods, and other emergencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released the results of its 2016 National Preparedness Survey. According to FEMA, “the report evaluates and measures gains individuals and communities, private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, and all levels of governments have made in preparedness and identifies where challenges remain.”
What it doesn’t cover is what was covered in the Office of Personnel Management’s Emergency Preparedness Survey, the most recent of which appears to have been issued in 2005. According to the 2004 survey results, fewer than half of the answering agencies practices shelter-in-place and fire drills regularly. This survey also pointed to the level of adoption of telework policies in case of emergencies: just 43 percent in 2004. Compared to many other industries, this was a high level of telework adoption in that year.
OPM continues to survey employee opinions on a variety of subjects, with its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. However, it may be time for another emergency preparedness survey. Why?
First and foremost, as many employees can attest, being prepared for emergencies is critical to employee safety. Any employer is required by law to offer a safe working environment to employees, and emergency management can often be overlooked as a facet.
The state agency for which I worked updated its emergency preparedness policies during upgrades to the physical building. It was working to meet OSHA and FEMA requirements for earthquake safety. While this was a good time to complete an OSHA job hazard analysis, emergency policy updates shouldn’t occur in the middle of a crisis.
Nor should policies be updated and employees trained simply to avoid OSHA fines. They should be updated regularly in order to meet requirements and keep employees safe. If employees don’t feel safe, especially in an emergency situation, they will struggle to perform their most essential duties.
In times of emergency, the most essential duty of public employees is offering safety and assistance to the people. Thus, it’s key for federal, state, and local government employees to have the most up-to-date emergency management plans.
Creating up-to-date emergency plans for constituents is key to communicating them to the public. Communication is key in public services, especially when safety is at stake; having unclear or outdated plans only leads to chaos.
Today, one of the easiest ways to disseminate public safety information is via technology. This could amount to a digital library of all necessary emergency plans. It should, for maximum effect, also include digital alerts sent to both employees and constituents.
In the Meantime
The OPM’s last emergency-preparedness-specific survey took place more than a decade ago. The survey is a prime opportunity for auditing emergency management practices across the federal and even state and local settings.
While waiting for the possibility of another such survey, federal, state, and local agencies can conduct their own audits. Begin with the existing plans; execute them in drill settings and watch for gaps. It’s easy to dismiss drills as unnecessary; it’s also easy to do what my municipality did and audit plans only after the gaps were found.
Emergency preparedness audits and surveys are great ways to learn just how your agency, and by extension its customers and constituents, are ready to survive natural disasters and public safety crises. Don’t wait for the OPM to issue another survey. Do your own before you have to.