Why Your Emergency Response Plan Needs a Trigger

Too many well-written emergency plans do not get activated in…
In September of 2017, my daughter and her family were living in Pensacola, Florida. Her husband, a non-commissioned officer in the US Army, was stationed there when Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida.
 
She grew up in a firefighting family and has a master’s degree in Emergency Management, so I wasn’t surprised that she was tracking the storm and had already lined up an evacuation plan for her family if the need arose.
 
I asked her, “What’s your trigger?” and she answered, “I think if the Navy decides to fly all their jets out of Pensacola, I’m packing the kids and we’re leaving, too. Flying the jets out is very expensive and disruptive, so that’s a sign that they are taking this threat very seriously.”
 

Every plan needs a trigger.

We have seen far too many well-written emergency plans that may not get activated in time because there is ambiguity about whether or not the conditions exist to activate them.
 
A fire alarm is an unambiguous signal to activate your fire plan. But… why did someone pull the fire alarm? Was it at the first smell of smoke, or did he spend time investigating the source? Did he try to fight the fire with an extinguisher first? That person needed a trigger that to them, made pulling the fire alarm the right choice at that moment.
 
We recently read a procedure for dealing with high heat and humidity for a long-term care facility in the southeastern US. The elderly and infirm are more vulnerable to heat and humidity than the young and strong. Deciding to limit outdoor activities based on weather conditions is smart.

However, as we read the procedure, we realized that there were no activation criteria. The administrator on duty, sitting in her air-conditioned office, might not realize that it’s time to limit activity. This creates vagueness and probably creates potential legal liability, should a resident succumb to the heat on a day when the plan was not activated. Lawyers could easily argue that the high heat procedure should have been activated.
 
So, we suggested that they discuss this with local health officials and the local National Weather Service station. Local health officials are probably best suited to define the conditions which should limit the activities of our client’s residents. Not only are they most likely to define the right conditions, but this takes the responsibility of determining those conditions out of the relatively untrained hands of facility staff, and places it in the highly qualified hands of “the proper authorities.”
 
Then, the local weather service, which reports current and forecast weather conditions continuously, becomes the unambiguous determining authority of when the trigger point has been met. Notice that the people in charge of the trigger are highly qualified at what they do (health officials determining unhealthy conditions, and the weather service determining when those conditions exist) and uninfluenced by undue pressures.
 
So, we recommended that the plan contain a phrase that said, “Upon receiving a forecast of a heat index greater than 90, this plan shall be activated by the administrator on duty.”

Is the trigger defined?

In fact, we believe every plan needs a trigger. Again, some are obvious, but many are subtler. Such as:
  • “Upon receipt of any credible threat of violence against a resident/patient, staff member, or visitor, a staff member will…”
  • “Upon the declaration of a ‘Tornado watch’ by the local National Weather Service station, the administrator on duty will…”
  • “Immediately upon the activation of the emergency generator, the administrator on duty will…”
 
These statements create uniformity of action; it identifies what staff needs to pay attention to, and it delivers authority to the right person to act.
 
If you need help clarifying your emergency plans, policies and procedures, or identifying the trigger, know that we can do it quickly and cost-effectively. Contact us today with any questions.
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