Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Managing Emergencies

A Three Part Series By Thomas Helmer, Senior Director, CS&A International Risk And Crisis Management

Welcome to my three part series on Emergency Management! Over the next couple of months I will be posting short blogs covering current best practices in emergency management:




Welcome to the second part of my three part series on Emergency Management!

Keeping in mind that different business sectors may require different response types, the overarching priority of any emergency response is to manage the People aspects first, then the impact on the Environment, followed by protecting Assets and last but not least, protecting Reputation. Often referred to as the P-E-A-R model, this is a good place to start.

Part Two


When tasked with managing emergencies in your company, the following steps will need to be in place to ensure that you have deployed proven best practice:

  1. Alert and Raise the Alarm

  2. Evacuate People

  3. Account for People

  4. Mobilise your Emergency Response Team and Resources

  5. Manage the Integrated Response Resources

  6. Manage Stakeholders and Public Response

To develop an effective emergency management capability, organisations must first define the three main levels of response and then establish clear escalation criteria from one to the next. So let’s begin by reviewing some definitions:

1. Incident – An incident is a non-routine event needing immediate attention that can be managed by the regular organisation at the premises.

Examples in incidents are non reportable/non-lost time minor events, minor vehicle accidents, short interruption to utilities and near misses. In such cases, the organisation can manage the situation with its own resources.

2. Emergency – An emergency is a sudden disruption of routine operations or a threat that causes injury/lost time to people, serious damage to property and/or products and/or non-achievement of business objectives. The situation requires assistance from external resources such as public emergency services, e.g. ambulances, fire brigade, etc.

Examples of emergencies are serious injuries hazardous material spills, fires, explosions, gas leaks or prolonged loss of utilities that would have a major impact on the ability to conduct normal business.

3. Crisis – A crisis occurs when an issue or emergency is out of control and begins to adversely affect the company’s ability to achieve its objectives, threatens its reputation and can impact its license to operate. Outside forces (often led by the media’s insistent demands for answers) can overwhelm management’s ability to cope. Note that emergencies can escalate into a crisis, but a crisis can also occur without starting as an emergency first.

Possible triggers for a crisis can include fatalities, civil disturbances, third party hostile actions, epidemics, serious spills, fires, explosions, natural disasters, but also commercial events and even rumours.

1. Alert and Raise The Alarm

When an emergency is discovered, it is critical that all people (staff, contractors and visitors) on your premises be alerted as quickly as possible and respond in a controlled fashion.

The key objective of safety briefings is to ensure that anyone on site receives and understand fundamental safety information about your premises. This includes how to raise an alarm upon discovering an emergency, the different types of alarm (sounds and visuals) and the immediate instructions to follow with details such as layout, escape routes and assembly points. Therefore it is necessary to establish a watertight system that provides safety briefs to staff, contractors and visitors when they arrive at your location(s).

Everyone must understand that the alarm must be raised as soon as the emergency is discovered, before anything else and definitely before attempting to contain the emergency. Once the alarm is raised, staff must go to their designated assembly point as quickly as possible taking the shortest route, and should never get involved in the emergency.

Call-points to raise the alarm must be clearly visible from a distance and available at strategic locations, e.g. near staircases and exits.

People must respond to the alarm immediately and NOT wait for instructions.

On September 11 when the Twin Towers in New York were struck by airplanes, many of those who started walking down the stairs immediately upon hearing the alarm managed to leave the building and survived. Including a number that were working above the impact zone.

More and more companies opt for a short video with a simple quiz at the end. Some provide the option for visitors to watch the video on-line before arriving on location. Such methods facilitate good record keeping.

Alarm and public address systems must be tested at least monthly. The response of people must be tested at least quarterly.


  • People did not receive a safety briefing upon arrival nor a refresher.

  • Alarm call points may meet legislative requirements, but may not be situated at obvious locations, are hard to find or obscured.

  • People do not respond to an alarm and “wait for instructions” before moving to their designated assembly points.

2. Evacuate People

In the event of an emergency, getting people away from the site is of paramount importance. A disorganised evacuation can result in confusion, injury, and property damage. When developing your evacuation plan, it is necessary to consider the following:

  • Determine which emergencies would require an evacuation;

  • Determine in which emergencies it may be better to shelter-in-place;

  • Establish a clear chain of command and designate the employee(s) in your business authorised to order an evacuation and/or shut down;

  • Develop specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits;

  • Develop procedures for assisting visitors and employees to evacuate, particularly those with disabilities or who do not speak your language;

  • Designate, if necessary, employees who will need to remain after the alarm has been raised to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating;

  • Verify that you have sufficient trained first-aiders on each floor/area;

  • Verify the need for provision of appropriate smoke hoods or respirators.

Designated Assembly Points, both inside and outside your premises, must be clearly signposted. These areas must provide sufficient space to accommodate the maximum number of people expected. Inside locations are often called refuges. Outside locations are often a parking lot or an open area away from busy streets, up-wind from prevailing wind conditions and located far enough away from the premises so that they do not restrict access for emergency response resources. Identify alternative locations should the primary area not be available.

An evacuation exercise must be held at least annually and more frequently at high-risk facilities, where a monthly or even a weekly drill may be prudent.


  • Floor wardens are not trained or not available during an emergency.

  • Exits may be locked to avoid uncontrolled access and pilferage.

  • Assembly Point locations may obstruct emergency response services access, e.g. car parks around the premises.

3. Account for People

To complete an evacuation, it is critical to confirm as quickly as possible that everyone has vacated the premises. This is to avoid committing rescuers to the emergency site to conduct search and rescue for someone who is not there.

In each area of the premises, e.g. a floor in a building or factory hall, groups of no more than 100, shall have a dedicated Assembly Point Checker (APC) taking charge of those gathered at the designated Assembly Point. Floor wardens report the result of their efforts to sweep the area before evacuation to the APC, including details about areas not checked and the reasons.

Accounting for people when they are standing outside the premises can be a daunting task unless it is well organised and practiced. Focus on getting a head count first and who is not accounted for next.

There should also be procedures to follow when people need to be redirected to a location further away and transport must be mobilised.

Many companies expect the security services to print out a list of all persons present in the building when the alarm goes off for use during the head count. Today, most premises use electronic security access systems to account for who is present in the building during normal conditions. Regrettably, this is not always used in an emergency situation. Some high-risk sites use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to establish the roll-call, which speeds up the process with accurate data.


  • Premises with security access systems often open the exit doors/gates to let all people out as quickly as possible thereby losing the ability to verify who is left inside.

  • Some people may take the opportunity to go home instead of going to their assembly point and therefore may end up being counted as missing.

4. Mobilise Emergency Response

When an alarm is raised the appropriate emergency response resources must be mobilised whether the emergency is confirmed or not. This avoids wasting precious time and allows emergency response resources to practice their readiness even when it is a false alarm.

The person in charge at the emergency site, often called the On-site/On-scene Commander (OSC), is responsible to mobilise the appropriate resources without delay based on an assessment of what support may be required to deal with the emergency. Prudent over-reaction is considered best practice. E.g. valuable time is lost if the OSC waits to find out if a fire cannot be extinguished with hand-held units.

The OSC will also mobilise the Emergency Management Team at a location away from the emergency.

Aligned with the three levels outlined above – Incident, Emergency, Crisis – a three-tiered response model is advocated:

1. On Scene Commander (OSC) – Manages the Operational Response

  • Is the most competent person at or near the emergency.

  • Monitors the situation and leads the response on site.

  • Rescues any persons on site and provides first-aid.

  • Controls the emergency on site to prevent escalation.

2. Emergency Management Team (EMT) – Manages the Tactical Response

  • Is lead by the Emergency Management Team Leader (EMTL)

  • Maintains contact with the OSC.

  • Establishes the head count and identify missing persons.

  • Identifies and mobilises additional resources. e.g. police, fire brigades, ambulances, hospitals.

  • Manages the interfaces between different resource providers and local stakeholders.

  • Informs the Crisis Management Team.

3. Crisis Management Team (CMT) – Manages Strategic Response

  • Is lead by the Crisis Management Team Leader (CMTL)

  • Protects the company’s reputation.

  • Manages primary business and the broader implications of the crisis

  • Manages interface with higher levels in the organisation, including the company board, shareholders, etc.

  • Manages national and regional stakeholders, including media.