Emergency Preparedness: Planning for Events 

No one likes to think about the worst that could happen – especially given how many events fill our day even without the unexpected happening. Nonetheless, the daily news is filled with stories that should remind us of the importance of emergency preparedness.  This article provides a systematic way to consider the events that could occur, and to assess our readiness.

Assessing Risks

When developing an emergency preparedness plan, it is useful to start by considering different types of risks that could potentially impact your area. Here are some common types of risks to consider:

  • Natural Disasters: This is often the first type of emergency that comes to mind when considering preparedness. These include hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and severe storms. The severity and frequency of these events can vary depending on your geographical location.
  • Physical Hazards: These types of emergency events include chemical spills, industrial accidents, transportation accidents (such as train derailments) and power outages. The chance of these happening may vary depending on whether you live in an industrial, suburban, or rural area. While rare, emergency events can pose significant risks to communities and may require evacuation or sheltering in place.
  • Pandemics and Health Emergencies: Most of us are now much more familiar with the impact of these types of events given our collective experience over the last four years. Health emergencies, including pandemics or the spread of infectious diseases, pose risks to public health and safety. Even with COVID fading from some people’s memories, It’s important to have plans in place for protecting yourself and loved ones, managing healthcare needs, preventing the spread of illness and accessing medical resources.
  • Physical Terrorism and Security Threats: Acts of terrorism can range from large-scale events like a terrorist attack, to an event-specific attack, like a shooting. Being situationally aware is critical in these types of events – knowing where exits are, and how you would hide or leave an area may provide some piece of mind and security when going to public events.
  • Cyberattacks and Infrastructure Breaches: Broadscale disruptions in infrastructure, such as a cyberattack, power grid collapses, or network outages, can be particularly disturbing, because they cut off our access to the very resources, we would generally rely on to address emergencies.  At a business level, cybersecurity threats, including hacking, data breaches and malware attacks, can disrupt communication networks and essential businesses services. Organizations need to have plans for responding to cyber incidents and safeguarding sensitive information.
  • Civil Unrest and Social Disruptions: Particularly for those in urban areas, civil unrest, riots, protests, or other social disruptions can occur unexpectedly. It is important to understand how to stay safe during these events and know when to evacuate or shelter in place.
  • Economic Disruptions: While we often don’t think of financial disruptions as emergencies, economic crises, such as financial market crashes, recession, or economic instability, can have real impacts. Having plans in place for managing financial emergencies can help mitigate these risks.


By systematically considering these different types of risks, you can better protect yourself and your family from potential threats and improve your resilience in the face of emergencies.

Getting Ready: Taking Emergency Preparedness Seriously

It is easy for concepts like an Emergency Plan and “Go Kit” to remain abstractions – taking the time to prepare for the unknown and unexpected can feel both daunting and like a waste of time. However, blocking a discrete time on your calendar to take actions that might make the biggest difference in an emergency. Here are some concrete actions you can take to get ready for an emergency.

  • Create an Emergency Kit: Assemble an emergency bag (or crate or drawer) containing essential supplies such as water, non-perishable food, a small first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, medications, personal hygiene items, extra phone chargers and important documents. Store the collection in a readily accessible location at home or know how to quickly assemble the items using a reference list if an emergency strikes.
  • Sign up for Notifications: If you are active on social media, consider identifying and following local official accounts that will post updates during emergencies. Also consider learning about whether local organizations have ways to get informed about potential emergencies and disaster warnings. Follow reliable sources of information – both local and national.
  • Develop a Communication Plan: Establish a communication plan with your family or household members to stay in touch during emergencies. Determine a designated meeting place, emergency contacts and alternative communication methods in case traditional channels are unavailable.
  • Know Where to Go and Evacuation Routes: Construct a mental model of how you would leave an area – this may include noticing exit areas in any public place you enter, and thinking though what roads you would take to leave town quickly. Think through escape routes from your home or workplace, and consider alternatives if roads are closed to cars.
  • Secure Your Home: Based on hazards that may hit your area, consider steps you can take to protect your home. This may include buying expandable sandbags to mitigate flooding, installing a security system, buying more external lights, testing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms and storing valuables at higher protected areas of the home.
  • Backup Important Documents: Make digital and printed copies of important documents such as identification, insurance cards, medical summaries and financial references (including photocopies of your credit cards). Store copies in a secure location or cloud storage accessible from anywhere. Keep your call phone close, as many of these sites now require two-level authentication, even to access your own information.
  • Maintain Emergency Contacts: Keep a list of emergency contacts, including family members, neighbors, medical providers and utility companies. Store contact information in your phone, bag, at work and in your car.
  • Schedule Regular Refreshes: Make emergency preparedness a regular activity – and connect it with another regular activity.  For example, consider refreshing your emergency kit during the same week you get your oil changed in your car.

By taking even basic steps to incorporate these practices into your everyday life, you can improve your readiness for emergencies and better protect yourself when disaster strikes.

Emergency Event Planning at Work

The steps above can have benefits for both home and work environments – but there are steps that organizations can take to effectively mitigate risks, protect employees and assets and maintain business continuity during emergencies.

  • Employee Location Management. Today’s workplaces often have people in states across the country. One organization we work with has 87 people located in 32 states!  With wildfires, flooding and hurricanes becoming increasingly common, it is important for organizations – and supervisors – to have an easy way of remembering where everyone is, and to have a systematic way to check in with people when an emergency hits.  For people working in an office, take the time to make sure people know where to go if an evacuation is needed.  Also, do you have an alternative way to reach people if a network is down?  Personal phone call trees and personal email directories are good back-up plans to implement.
  • Emergency Response Team and Communications Protocols: Many organizations have a central team that helps establish and execute an emergency response program – with representatives in local teams to have maximum flexibility to get information up, down and out. The team is also generally responsible for designing communication systems for disseminating emergency alerts, instructions and updates to employees, visitors and relevant stakeholders. Redundancy is good, so plan to have multiple ways to communicate.
  • Emergency Protocols and Supplies: In office environments, it is important to have emergency equipment and supplies, such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency lighting and personal protective equipment. Develop clear and concise procedures for responding to different types of emergencies that may occur in the area.
  • Business Continuity Planning: What would happen if your employees couldn’t access a work site for a week or more? What would you do if there was a massive network disruption?  Organizations need a business continuity plan to make sure critical business operations can continue during and after emergencies. Identify essential functions, key personnel, alternate work locations and recovery strategies to minimize disruptions and mitigate financial losses.
  • Training and Education: While all employees should get basic training in emergency response, supervisors should be a specific audience, as they are also the key people who will communicate with employees when an event occurs – they need to know the reporting protocols, processes and tools. Assess your needs, and if necessary, offer hands-on training, tabletop exercises and simulations to reinforce learning and improve preparedness.

Summary Framework: Considering Who and When

Preparedness requires different approaches, processes and tools depending on who is impacted when.  First, think about WHO. For your current activity, is your focus on the individual (like checking in with a remote employee when a localized event occurs or updating emergency contact forms), or the larger office or organization (like updating broad evacuation plans).  Then, think about WHEN.  Is your current activity or focus intended to address an immediate emergency or event, or is it a longer-term safety improvement or business continuity project?  Focusing on these dimensions provides a simpler but useful broader framework to organize your thinking.