September, though quickly coming to an end, is National Preparedness Month, an initiative sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
To acknowledge the annual effort and in support of FEMA’s popular public outreach campaign, www.ready.gov, Send Word Now recently introduced a new “Ready” blog mini-series. The posts have focused on FEMA’s five key steps in developing a successful emergency response program, particularly as they relate to business resilience. So far, we’ve covered Program Management, Planning and Implementation.
In this post, we’ll address step four, Testing & Exercises.
As explained on FEMA’s website, there are three reasons why your organization should conduct such activities. They are: 1) to evaluate the overall effectiveness of your preparedness program, 2) to verify that employees know exactly what to do in an emergency, e.g., natural disaster, fire, or active shooter situation, and 3) to determine any “missing parts” so they can be addressed before an actual event occurs.
While these reasons may seem obvious, the important step of Testing & Exercises is oftentimes curtailed in the haste to roll out the program. Unfortunately, it is at this crucial time that your organization may actually benefit the most.
How so? Consider the following key benefits and the many ways they fit into the “big picture” of preparedness as you strive to:
• Adequately train personnel; better clarify roles and responsibilities
• Fully reinforce knowledge of procedures, facilities, systems and equipment
• Vastly improve individual performance, as well as organizational coordination and communications
• Easily evaluate policies, plans, procedures, and the knowledge and skills of team members
• Quickly reveal program weaknesses, resource gaps and other areas for improvement
• Consistently comply with local laws, codes, industry regulations, etc.
• Promptly gain recognition for the emergency management and/or business continuity program
The benefits of Testing & Exercises can extend far beyond the initial development phase if you conduct such activities on a consistent basis after program implementation.
As a best practice, allocate time, whether once per quarter, semi-annually, or even once each year (National Preparedness Month is a great reminder) to check your organization’s readiness, especially in the area of critical communication.
Test your procedures, whether manual or automated, for alerting and mobilizing personnel; accounting for employees, especially during large-scale events; notifying vendors, clients or other stakeholders; and providing vital status updates. It will be time well spent and ultimately bolster your organization’s resilience.