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Why Your Business Needs a Strategic Emergency Plan

SEMP Strategic Emergency Management Plan

The good news is that your company is ready to create a Strategic Emergency Management Plan (SEMP). The less-amazing news is that these plans can be daunting, especially for those new to the industry. The super news is that Total Prepare is here to help!

Businesses, especially large corporations, will often require a document or binder outlining all the aspects of the company’s plan for dealing with emergencies. If your business is growing (congratulations!) and you feel it’s time for a strategy of your own, or if you’re overhauling an old plan, we’ve got some tips, tricks, and guidance to help out.

What is a Strategic Emergency Management Plan?

A SEMP is a written and (hopefully) well thought out plan for what a business has done, is doing, and will do to maximize the resiliency of their operations and employees during an emergency situation. These plans should cover all of the most likely disaster scenarios, including man-made disasters and potential outbreaks.

The most important thing to know about a SEMP is that it is not your only emergency plan. It is a much shorter document then will likely be needed to provide a full, comprehensive risk assessment and full outline of all actions and duties. The SEMP is meant to be a complimentary document. It provides a unifying concept and strategy for all other emergency management efforts.

SEMPs can save lives, save businesses, and minimize negative impacts on the environment through good planning. The plan should outline objectives, organizational structure of the emergency management team, and processes. Remember, the SEMP doesn’t have to be long to be comprehensive.

The Emergency Management Continuum

Emergency Management Continuum from Public Safety Canada

From Public Safety Canada

There are four sides to emergency preparedness that are important to consider for any emergency plan, corporate or otherwise. Each flows into the next to create a continuum of best practices. Keep these areas in mind throughout all of your planning process:

I. Prevention and Mitigation – Reduce the risk to your organization, people, and infrastructure.

II. Preparedness – Create a plan, train your team, and have what you need on hand.

III. Response – How should you and your team react when the emergency happens?

IV. Recovery – Business Continuity Planning and Restoration.

Within these four areas there are many ways to maximize performance and ensure your operation is as emergency-proof as it can be:

  •  Regular risk assessments
  •  Engage your leaders
  •  Regular training
  •  Exercises and practice
  •  Improvement processes / check ins
  •  Performance evaluations

Before You Write

Assemble Your Team

The first thing to do once you’ve decided to build a SEMP is to assemble your team. Whether they’re X-Men, Avengers,  Justice League, or their very own unique mix, your team will be the heroes of the office during an emergency.

Team fist bumping

Try to gather people from all of the major areas of the business. For example, have staff from the assembly floor, warehouse, office, and management included in your team. This variety of outlooks and departments will maximize the business knowledge involved and ensure that no details fall through the cracks. A team of entirely office staff, for example, might not realize that there are chemicals that need to be secured in the warehouse.

Involving someone in a management or senior position is a great idea too, as it will help to keep the SEMP and other emergency plans in line with the organizations ‘big picture.’ High-level strategy should not be overlooked, even in an emergency. Management should also ensure that the SEMP aligns with the company’s mission and values as much as possible.

Training & Responsibilities

Once you know who’s on your team, you’ll need to know what they can do. First aid training, logistics management, or light urban search and rescue skills are all valuable assets to any emergency preparedness team.  Assess what skills you’ll need, and what skills your team already has. Identify any gaps and organize training as required.

Developing a reference for which personnel is in charge of certain responsibilities is the next step. It should be accompanied by a list of what that person will need (skills, maintenance, resources) to keep their area running smoothly.

Look to the Law

Police officers doing research on a smartphone

Be sure to check in with your provincial authorities to discover what the legal requirements for your organization are. Some organizations might be mandated to prepare (care homes for example) while others may have provincial recommendations in place. In BC for example, PreparedBC recommends tourism businesses prepare to provide support for their staff and their guests for at least 72 hours in an emergency.

You can also reference any existing emergency plans for your business or other locations (if you’re operation has multiple branches.) These are great places to look, not only for inspiration, but to ensure that any new initiatives operate in harmony with existing policies. Existing plans may include:

-Operational Plans

-Regional Plans

-Security Plans

-Business Continuity Plans

-Inter-agency Plans

Assess the Risks

So – you’re ready to get planning, right? Nope! We still don’t know what we’re planning for. Next we get to analyze and assess what kind of emergency the company is likely to face.

There are two types of threats when it comes to creating an emergency plan: Internal threats, and external ones. Assess your risks and how likely they are to occur and keep them in mind as you write your SEMP.

Someone looking down at their feet on a skywalk

An external threat is anything coming from (you guessed it!) outside the business. This includes civil emergencies, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. Internal threats are often related to data or operations. Things like chemical spills, computer viruses, and unstable shelving are good to consider for this category.

Think through how each of these risks might effect business, staff, customers, and infrastructure and add these to your notes. If you already have preparedness plans that address these things, look for gaps or inefficiencies. Once you have an idea of what you’re potentially facing, prioritize threats by likelihood and risk.

Develop a Plan

We’re finally ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and make your beautiful SEMP a reality. You should have an idea by now of what hazards your company may face, and what risk each of them poses, and know what resources are available for you to work with. You know what plans are already in place, and perhaps what plans you still need to implement.

There  will  be  a  link  to  a  template  further  down  that  will  help you to structure your SEMP, so we’re going to discuss the components here.

Binders in a row

Section 1: Introduction

As with most internal documents it’s important to orient future readers to the purpose of the document. Use this section to touch on the legislative requirements mentioned earlier, as well as scope of the project.

The template below also mentions ‘background’ as one of this section’s headings. While some of this will need to be re-written to fit your unique organization, I recommend copy/pasting the four pillars of effective emergency management. It will help to put the reader in the right mindset for emergency preparedness if they haven’t done as much or as thorough research as you (good job!)

Section 2: What could possibly go wrong?

This is where the risk assessment we did earlier comes into play. Define the risks the business might face in detail and don’t hold back. Mention what likelihood each has to occur and what their consequences would be. List them in order of priority.

This is also a good place to list any vulnerabilities your organization has. They might be general, like being located near a fault line, or more specific to you, like that giant and precarious stack of cast iron in the warehouse. Safeguards that are already in place, like fire alarms, should be mentioned as well.

Once you have addressed your risks, ruminate on how they could be prevented or mitigated.

Section 3 & 4: Who’s got the power?

We’ll begin with section 3.1 of the template: Emergency Management Governance Structure. I’ve chosen this template because it was the most thorough example I could find. It was written as a guide to help Canadian government organizations to create their own SEMPs and as a result it has some sections that won’t translate perfectly to corporate preparedness.

That being said, it is still important to decide on a command structure for an emergency, though yours probably won’t involve the department Minister. Create a clear hierarchy for your organization with notes on who has decision making power in what areas. Disasters can create havoc so don’t lose time quibbling over who can and can’t make critical decisions.

Layout the duties and responsibilities held by each authority figure. Any tasks that will need doing in an emergency should be assigned to someone, with a backup listed in case of injury. Try to account for organizing evacuation, supply distribution, first aid, as well as activities like training new employees and maintaining kits and policies.

Section 5: Who doesn’t love a budget?

This section covers resource allocation and logistical support. Add annexes if things start to get complicated. Cover financial management and budgets, but also physical resources like emergency supplies and new fire sprinklers. If your organization is remote take time to think about how you’ll get your crew home safe and sound.

Section 6: Practice makes perfect

Outline how you’ll maintain this glorious plan and all its facets. Will there be annual training? Drills? Will the supplies be checked for expired product*? Is someone going through the SEMP regularly to ensure it’s up to date and reflects the current state of the business? Answering these questions will give you a solid idea of how your plan will be maintained and tested.

*Total Prepare will happily keep track of this for you and contact you when it’s time to replace. If preferred, we can contact you the year before too so the new supplies can be accounted for in the next budget year.

Seek Approval

You’re DONE! The document of your dreams lies complete before you, practically glowing with useful and life-saving information. Before you put it away however, it’s time to get it approved. Sorry – but there are budgets in it and those always need approval.

Hand signing a document

Meet with management and ensure to get their acceptance of the plan. If you ARE management, get some of your colleagues to read through it to look for short-comings, holes, and contradictions. The more eyes land on this document before it’s formally finalized, the better.

Everyone loved it? Perfect. You’re ready to implement your ideas and distribute copies of the plan to anyone who needs it. Paper copies are best – computers may be out of action in an emergency.

Emergency Management Planning Cycle / Timeline

Consider creating a timeline to help with regular quarterly maintenance of your plan. Making it a routine will help keep everyone on the same page and make sure that important maintenance actually gets done. Here’s how some branches of the Canadian government manage theirs:

Emergency Management Cycle/Timeline by Public Safety Canada

From Public Safety Canada

Thank Gosh for Templates!

What would we do without templates? The one detailed above comes directly from the source page for this article. You can find it here. If you’re looking for additional information on creating a SEMP I highly recommend reading the whole article. It goes into great detail and lays things out well.


Creating a SEMP encourages cohesion between existing emergency preparedness plans and strategies. They touch on important aspects like leadership roles and decision making structures, as well as more traditional details like risk assessments and mitigation.

Thank you for reading!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered and emergency preparedness professional.

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