An Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is a core preparedness document that describes in detail how an organization will respond to an emergency. Specifically, FEMA describes EOPs as:
“…plans which describe who will do what, as well as when, with what resources, and by what authority–before, during and immediately after an emergency.”
Unfortunately, having a plan on paper (or in a software program) doesn’t mean the plan will actually be effective in a real event. Beyond the data, there are key secrets to ensuring an EOP will really work when needed.
Secret 1: Ensure all Emergency Support Function (ESF) stakeholders are engaged when developing or updating an EOP.
Effective EOPs rely on Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). These are key functional areas, their associated coordinating, primary and support agencies/departments, and the actions that should be taken to support the function (pre-event, during the event and post-event).
A common mistake is for team members who represent various agencies/departments to be unavailable, distracted or excluded altogether during the development or update of the plan. As such, key elements are missing or do not reflect the realities that impact the effectiveness of the EOP.
All ESF stakeholders should be highly involved with plan development or revisions to ensure full understanding and comprehensive coverage.
Secret 2: Involve all levels of the organization when implementing the plan.
Implementing an effective EOP requires active involvement from all levels of the organization. A common mistake is to “delegate” participation to less experienced employees or personnel without the authority to set policy.
Emergency planning should not be an afterthought to “push” onto subordinate staff. Leadership should be engaged and visible. Employees should see the project as a high priority for senior management, with expectations of full accountability for participation.
Secret 3: Validate the EOP through testing and exercising.
Organizations should not assume an EOP plan will work as expected without proper testing and exercising. Testing can come in multiple forms. Generally, tabletop exercises are great starting points; stress levels are minimal and discussions around improvements can materialize more easily. Organizations should also conduct full-scale exercises (ideally on on an annual basis), which are geared towards emulating real-life situations and involve the entire organization.
Secret 4: Replace a “project” mentality with a “program” mentality.
It is rewarding and fulfilling to finish the implementation of a large planning project. However, a danger exists in moving on to the “next big thing.” Just don’t leave the EOP (or other preparedness plan) to gather dust until the next cycle begins.
Preparedness planning should be viewed as an ongoing program without an end date. There are always scenarios to discuss, exercises to hold, and adjustments to make. If it isn’t broken, break it in order to continuously improve organizational readiness.
While developing or updating a comprehensive EOP can be an involved and detailed process, keep these four high-level secrets in mind to help ensure your plan will be truly effective if an activation is ever required.