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Emergency Preparedness Essentials
 

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Testing Your Business's Disaster Recovery Plan

Do tests to make sure that all employees know exactly what to do to follow your preparedness program. Look for any gaps. Here are some benefits to exercises:
  • Provides training to all personnel; clarifies what is expected
  • Helps overall organization and communication along with individual jobs
  • Makes the knowledge of systems, equipment, facilities, procedures, etc. stronger
  • Gets recognition for the business continuity program and emergency management
  • Helps to make sure you are complying with local codes, regulations, and laws
  • Shows any weaknesses or need for more resources
  • Determines the efficiency of plans, policies, and procedures as well as the skill and knowledge of the employees.

Testing the Plan

Surprisingly, some of your preparedness program won’t work in practice. For example, you might need to go to a different facility and work from there. You’ll want to make sure that the new equipment can be configured in a timely manner. It’s also imperative that the alarm system is adequate for everyone. What about if the emergency comes in the middle of the night? Can the response teams be alerted? Testing helps to make certain that all these components will work.

Tests are done to make sure that the recovery strategies won’t fail. They are also used to ensure that the equipment and systems won’t fail. Some tests are as follows:
  • Component – test all the parts of your software and hardware systems.

  • System – Make sure the system fits requirements. Examine each process.

  • Comprehensive – Both the components and system are tested. One example of this test is making sure IT operations can be restored.
When performing tests, make sure they resemble the actual workday environment as closely as possible. Try to test the actual systems or components that are used. If that is too disruptive however, perform tests on systems that mimic the real operational conditions.

Regulatory requirements require the inspection and testing of alarms, warnings, fire detection, communication, emergency power supplies, employee notification, life safety, pollution containment, fire suppression, etc. If any of these things fail, the impact could be substantial.

Make a test schedule that fits regulations and will meet performance objectives. Document everything.

Resources for Testing will include help for creating a test plan; deciding on the need for testing; and developing, designing, conducting, and evaluating the test.

Exercises

Performing routine drills and exercises helps to strengthen everyone’s performance. Different kinds of exercises are out there to help you determine if your emergence preparedness program is capable of protecting your facilities, employees, environment, and business operations.

After disasters it is often said that the exercises performed beforehand were the best preparation for the incident. The exercises need to get people working together to respond to the hypothetical threat. The exercises help employees gain more knowledge of the plans, improve their performance, and find places to improve.

Exercises are great for:
  • Increasing the awareness and knowledge of hazards and their impacts
  • Validating education and training
  • Improving the coordination of inside and outside teams
  • Measuring the improvement of the performance objectives
  • Getting feedback and recommendations for improvement
  • Clarifying responsibilities
  • Testing or validating changes to procedures
  • Determining gaps and deficiencies
  • Evaluating the entire preparedness program
  • Assessing the existing resources capabilities and determining the need for more resources
Types of Excercises

Different exercises can evaluate plans and capabilities
  • Full-scale exercises
  • Functional exercises
  • Tabletop exercises
  • Workshops, walkthroughs, or orientation seminars
Full-scale exercises are as close as you can get to the real thing. It uses resources, personnel, etc. at the real location. These exercises are done by public agencies and will often include local business participation.

A functional exercise helps validate plans by performing the roles in a simulated environment. These are scenario-driven. These exercises are made to exercise certain team members, resources, and procedures (e.g. equipment set up, notifications, warnings, communications, etc.)

Tabletop exercises are the informal, classroom setting type of exercises where members meet to discuss roles and emergency responses. One person will guide the team members in discussing at least one scenario. The duration can vary based on audience and objectives. They are cost-effective evaluation plans because they can be done in a few hours.

Basic training includes workshops, walkthroughs, or seminars. Their purpose is to help team members become familiar with business continuity, emergency response, crisis communications plans, etc. as well as their own roles in those plans.

How to Develop an Exercise Program

Make an exercise program that addresses needs and current capabilities. Go over the objectives and risk assessment. Do a walkthrough for team members so they will be more comfortable with the preparedness plan. Go over the responsibilities and make sure everyone knows what to do. Think of possible scenarios and then use them for tabletop exercises. Then you can move up to a functional exercise. Get a hold of the local emergency officials to decide if the community can have the opportunity to perform a full-scale exercise.

Evaluate the exercises for program improvement. A “hot-wash” discussion following an exercise can provide great feedback. Another method would be to use evaluation forms. Create and distribute an after-action report documenting the suggestions for improvement. These suggestions can be addressed by the corrective action program of the organization.

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