The 7 Deadly Sins of Emergency Management Planning

1). Photocopied Emergency Plans

In emergency management, we often avoid reinventing the wheel to help us get many jobs done while being short on staff. It is helpful to view and model emergency operations plans (EOP) or specified annex plans from jurisdictions who have already completed a plan. However, plans received from other jurisdictions should ALWAYS be edited to fit your unique community design!

2). Planning in a Silo

One of the most common planning mistakes is to write a plan alone without a planning committee, stakeholder review, or the external approval of those granted responsibilities in the plan. Similar to #1, the best type of planning is in a teamwork environment where issues and pitfalls can be brought up to a group and solved jointly, just like they would be during an emergency operations center (EOC) activation during a disaster. Also, emergency planners are often writing plans in which they do not have the subject matter expertise (SME) on the subject (hazardous materials, radiological, mass care, etc.). Bringing SMEs into the planning team allows for the complicated details to be brought up by the experts, and realistic solutions and expectations to be discovered.

3). The “No Edits” Re-Adoption of a Plan

It is best practice (and sometimes a formal requirement) that plans are reviewed, rewritten, edited, and readopted every 3–5 years. This rule is in place for many reasons. For one, hazards and community design are constantly changing in our world. Response plans are not effective if they do not cover evolving modern hazards. Plans are also not effective if a community is changing, such as population growth/decline, resident demographics, local economics, and government funding and resources. Every few years, hazards must be reassessed and ranked through THIRAs and other hazard assessments. Resources and partnership agreements should also be reassessed. A huge issue in emergency planning is the re-approval of the plan to meet the 3–5 review requirement, but without ANY changes to the plan. Planning teams and committees were not created. No discussions took place. A plan is just being formally resigned without making the plan more ready. Plans should be updated after every exercise, EOC activation, and disaster as well. Exercises and responses test the plan in place and always find flaws, holes, or issues not thought of during planning. I am not aware of a perfect plan in emergency management. If you are — send it to me!

4). No Education of Plan Content with Partners Annually

To be able to act on a plan, all agencies and stakeholders mentioned with responsibilities in the plan must know their role. Outside of emergency management, our partners have busy jobs not related to disaster. It is important to take the time to hold seminars or disseminate short plan review materials to each agency on a regular basis for familiarity. This could look like a seminar or tabletop of the hurricane mass evacuation plan every May, or perhaps it is a review of the winter response plan every September. Reviewing in a group setting is also valued because it promotes partnership and teambuilding. It allows agencies to understand each other’s role to better coordinate and work together. Lastly, in person reviews allow for last minute plan clarification, correction, or explanation. Don’t let the plan sit on the shelf before you need it. Everyone should be familiar with the contents on an annual basis!

5). Lack of Plan-Driven Exercises After Plan Creation or Revision

Training and exercise programs go hand in hand with a multi-year planning cycle. After a plan is completed or revised, it is essential to conduct exercises based on the new plan to test the plan. It is always better to test an emergency plan during practice to find the mistakes, rather than during a real disaster. Therefore, a solid T/E program will revolve around what plans have been written and updated and will include objectives and scenarios geared towards the specific plan. Untested plans should be considered unfinished, despite plan adoption or approval by agencies and elected officials.

6). Lack of Whole Community Planning

Similar to #1 and #2, effective emergency planning does not occur if an emergency planner is guessing how to best plan for a specific population group in the community. It is essential to engage the “Whole Community” and bring representatives of each community to the planning table for input and guidance. While we can read research and watch webinars on how to write more inclusive planning for populations of different race, religion, access and functional needs, language, and gender — nothing is better than speaking to each of these people through representation to better understand their challenges, concerns, and struggles. We do not know what it is like to walk in the shoes of every resident we serve. Giving them a voice in our processes will ensure we provide better disaster solutions that are more inclusive to the needs of the community.

7). Having No Paper Plan at All

Just like we preach to residents, taking the time to write an emergency plan down is important. Not only does it require more thought and work, but it also allows us to critically think and carefully plan better than a generalized mental plan would. The same is true for emergency plans in jurisdictions.

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Ashley Morris

Ashley Morris

CEM | MD Emergency Management | Preparedness & Alerts & Plans | IMT | Social Media | VOST | SVI | Weather Forecasting | Geoscientist | GIS | ♥️🚒 #EMGTwitter