Emergency Preparedness Toolkit: Employer Emergency Preparedness

Disasters and unplanned emergencies affect not only where we live but also where we work. Most school districts, hospitals, state agencies and other AFT employers do have emergency preparedness and response plans in place, but far too few develop and implement these plans with input from our members. In many cases, local leaders never even see their employer’s plan until a disaster strikes.

When it comes to emergency preparedness, every employee should know what role he or she is expected to play. Our voices are needed and must be included in all levels of planning to protect our members and ensure employer policies, such as how “essential personnel” are defined during an emergency, do not violate our contract.

The union can play an active role in employer emergency preparedness and response plans by:

  • Designating union representatives to be part of any employer emergency preparedness and response committees.
  • Proposing contract language on emergency preparedness and response.
  • Making sure the employer alerts the union, first responders, parents and other stakeholders as soon as an emergency event is declared or has occurred. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognize that commitment and support from employees are critical to the plan’s success.

Please note: These plans can be challenging to obtain from the employer if the union does not directly have members serving on a joint planning committee. Without a committee in place, an employer may say the information is “confidential” or may decide not to develop a plan. If either of these are the case, you can use the documents below to demonstrate that the employer should have a plan in place and that the union should play an active role in its development, practice and revisions.

How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations (Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2001).

This document is designed to help the employer plan for emergencies through the development of a well-thought-out emergency action plan. It stresses the importance of having a plan in place and worker participation in the development of the plan.

Emergency Planning—K-12 and Higher Education

In 2013, the Obama administration released guides for developing high-quality emergency plans for schools and institutions of higher education. These guides align and build on years of emergency planning work by the departments of Education, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services. They are customized to different types of communities, incorporate lessons learned from recent incidents, and respond to the needs and concerns voiced by stakeholders following school shootings and natural disasters. School districts and institutes of higher education can use them to create new plans or to revise and update existing plans and align their emergency planning practices with those at the national, state and local levels.

K-12 Schools

Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans

This is a comprehensive guide on how schools can develop emergency plans that are most effective. The guide is organized in four sections:

  1. The principles of school emergency management planning.
  2. A process for developing, implementing and continually refining the plan with community partners (e.g., first responders and emergency management personnel) at the school building level.
  3. A discussion of the form, function and content of the plan.
  4. “A Closer Look,” which considers key topics that support school emergency planning, including school climate and information sharing.

The guide recommends that the core planning team should include representatives from a wide range of school personnel, including administrators, educators, school psychologists, nurses, facilities managers, transportation managers, food personnel and family services representatives.

K-12 Annexes: Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools

To help schools in their planning efforts, the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center released four sample annexes that represent parts of fictional school emergency operations plans: three functional annexes for sheltering-in-place, lockdowns and family reunification, and one hazard-specific annex to address earthquakes. These resources serve as examples of components that a planning team may develop as it works through the plan development process.

Developing a Continuity of Operations (COOP) Annex for K-12 Schools and School Districts

This document explains how to create a continuity of operations annex to a school’s or district’s emergency operations plan, which covers how to ensure the continuation of essential functions during and after an emergency.

Higher Education

Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education

Emergency planning at institutions of higher education can be challenging in terms of geography, environment, governance and the population served. This comprehensive guide recognizes those challenges and is organized in four sections:

  1. The principles of emergency management planning for institutions of higher education.
  2. A process for developing, implementing and continually refining a higher ed emergency operations plan with community partners.
  3. A discussion of the content of higher ed emergency operations plans.
  4. “A Closer Look,” which considers key topics that support emergency management for institutions of higher education, including the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, information sharing, international students, psychological first aid, campus climate, campus law enforcement officers and active shooter situations.

Higher Education Annexes: Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools

Healthcare Resources

OSHA Best Practices for Hospital-Based First Receivers of Victims from Mass Casualty Incidents Involving the Release of Hazardous Substances (Occupational Safety and Health Administration 2005)

In this best practices document, OSHA provides practical information to help hospitals address employee protection and training as part of emergency planning for mass casualty incidents involving hazardous substances. OSHA considers sound planning the first line of defense in all types of emergencies (including emergencies involving chemical, biological or radiological substances).

Adapting Standard of Care under Extreme Conditions: Guidance for Professionals during Disasters, Pandemics, and Other Extreme Emergencies (American Nurses Association, 2008)

This document speaks primarily to the individual professional in a caregiver or service provider role, whether:

  • at the immediate site of a disastrous event when it happens,
  • at the usual place of work when it is affected by the disaster, or
  • at some other site because of relocation of usual place of work or work in a volunteer program or unit.

Beyond individual practitioners, this document can provide valuable guidance to a wide range of health professionals, including employees of health organizations (e.g., hospitals, community-based clinics, public health agencies), emergency planners, other public health partners (public health advisers, public health educators) and health profession educators.

Kaiser Permanente’s hazard vulnerability analysis risk assessment tool is a good instrument to assess the risk of certain emergency events and disasters that may have an impact on healthcare delivery.

Public Employees Draft Policy

Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s 2013 Emergency Action Plan

This is a sample policy for public employees from the state of New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The plan details what to do during an evacuation of a building, contains the fire prevention plan and provides specific responses to a variety of other possible hazards, including explosions, threats of violence, power failures, flooding/water damage and weather emergencies. 

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