Management Wise: How to Develop an Emergency Management Plan

Editor’sNote: This article is excerpted from the book Emergency Management for Records and Information Management Programs, published by ARMA International and available at

Virginia A. Jones, CRM, and Kris E. Keyes

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The purpose of emergency planning is to provide the basis for systematic responses to emergencies that threaten an organization and the records and information necessary for continuing operations. Survival is not defined solely as getting through the immediate emergency. Survival also means maintaining the competitive position and financial stability of an organization immediately following and continuing long after an emergency.

An emergency management plan is a unique, detailed guide for times of great stress and crisis. It does not replace the logic of decision-making or common sense. A plan cannot account for every action required nor provide solutions to all problems. However, if a plan is prepared well and maintained periodically, it should greatly enhance the organization’s ability to respond to most emergencies and reduce the potential loss.

The result of the planning process is a written records and information emergency management plan. Management approves this plan and provides the necessary authority, structure, policies, procedures, and resources to guide the organization through an emergency. Emergency management plans contain certain common components. Refer to the sample emergency management plan in the sidebar as you read the following sections.

The Components of an Emergency Management Plan

Policy Statement

Emergency plans should include the policy established in the development process. [The policy, communicated by the most senior officer in the organization, should clearly mandate the preparation and implementation of the emergency management plan.] List specific goals and objectives so everyone in the organization will know what the plan will accomplish.

Responsibilities and Authority

The policy statement will describe broad responsibilities of the key personnel. However, the plan must specifically list the positions designated to activate the plan as well as what conditions those designated positions are authorized to trigger the plan’s activation. The emergency response team and their responsibilities must also be defined in detail.

Task Organization

Organizational size may dictate that several teams be involved in plan activities. If several teams will be involved, each team and respective member responsibilities should be included in the plan. If citizen or corporate partners are included in the emergency process, list them in the plan.

Information Distribution Procedures

The emergency plan should explain the methods [by which] employees would communicate if an emergency event occurs. Define whether employees will use the telephone, cellular telephone, radio, or another method of communication. If the organization has a courier, define what information will be delivered,where it will be delivered, and how it will be delivered. For example, emergency or vital records and information may be transferred to the requestor via a special color-coded mail pouch.

Preparedness Checklist

The emergency plan must address specific emergencies and how to handle them. It must provide for both major and minor emergencies and should include both site-specific and community-wide events. Organizations should have a checklist covering each emergency and the steps necessary to prepare for and control the emergency.

Response Checklist

Include a response checklist for each emergency listed in the plan. These steps should be continuous or sequential from the preparedness phase to the response phase for each emergency addressed. Examples of checklists to include are the vital records schedule and records recovery priority lists. Additionally, disaster recovery procedures, disaster recovery services and resources, and salvage equipment and supply listings should be included. The plan should show when an emergency status is upgraded from one phase to the next phase.

Recovery Checklist

A recovery checklist should also show the continuing steps from the response phase to the recovery phase. The response checklist should indicate brief statements regarding particular activities that should be performed in the recovery phase.

Training Programs

Employees will not follow the plan properly if they have not been trained how to use it. As a minimum, response personnel should have annual training on plan contents. A training program outline should be included in the plan to document subjects in which employees have been trained and the frequency the training was administered. If the resources to conduct training do not exist in-house, training should be outsourced to professionals.

Testing Procedures

The plan must include goals, objectives, and schedules for conducting exercises or simulations. Specific types of exercises to be used for the most likely emergencies should also be in the plan. [See “Design the Type of Exercise”

Communications Directory

Information the planning team collected when developing the plan should be included as part of the plan, but as a separate annex or appendix. The information contains a variety of names (individual and company), telephone numbers, addresses (including e-mail), and inventories. [See “Sample Emergency Plan Components,” section below.]

Because this information changes frequently, the lists should remain separate from the rest of the plan, which will make it easier to update this information. Job titles are usually appropriate to reference in the plan itself when referring to individual positions.

Continuity or Succession of Authority

In the event the organization loses one or more of its leaders in a disaster, remaining executives should be prepared to assign temporary authority. The planning team should include a clear statement of the chain of authority and composition of a crisis team, including alternates, when key officers are unavailable.

Damage Assessment

Plans should include specific guidance for assessing damage and reporting it to the appropriate authority. Damage assessment includes assigning a team to assess the damage immediately following a disaster, documenting damage to organizational assets, and reporting the findings to the proper authority. Reports could be submitted to an insurance company, the local emergency management director, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Approve the Plan and Train Personnel

Once the emergency management plan development team completes a draft, they need to obtain management approval [according to Geoffery H. Wold in a Disaster Recovery Journal article]. The team should meet with the appropriate levels of management and present and discuss the draft plan. Although management has been involved from the start and knows the efforts that have gone into the plan, they need to approve and formalize it.

When the final plan is ready for distribution, employees should be trained or informed of the plan. Set up formal training sessions with appropriate groups of people and educate them on the various plan elements. Most likely, many of them have also been involved in the plan development. Participants who complete the training sign a training roster that provides proof of training for legal purposes.

Review and Update the Plan

Planning and response teams must constantly review and update the plan. [According to Robert B. Kelly in Industrial Emergency Preparedness], they must quickly integrate new elements of the total records and information program into the plan. Introduction of new computer hardware or software, the development of additional vital records for a new product or service, a change in accounting procedures, or the conversion to optical disk, all directly affect the plan.

Record any changes made to the plan. Include the change number, the date of the change, pages of the plan affected, and a description of the change. This information gives a history of plan development from its existence to the current time. The coordinator sends copies of all changes to each plan holder.

Test the Plan

Testing or exercising an emergency management plan takes place in two stages: (1) initial testing during plan development and (2) application and periodic testing after the plan is in place. The purpose of conducting exercises is to ensure that the plan is functional and to train employees.

Author Kelly describes the following goals and objectives for plan exercises:

  • To reveal weaknesses in the plan
  • To identify shortages in material and personnel
  • To improve coordination between various people and organizations
  • To gain confidence in the organization’s leadership and stability
  • To improve knowledge, skills, abilities, and confidence of employees
  • To ensure that personnel understand roles and responsibilities
  • To improve the relationship between the organization and the local government
  • To enhance overall emergency response capabilities

Coordinating exercise activities requires a great deal of planning. The coordinator will spend much time talking to various personnel and agencies, depending on the type of exercise. Exercises should be conducted at least annually. Coordinators can change the type of exercise and the type of emergency they simulate to provide broad training. For example, one year the coordinator can plan a tabletop exercise; the following year, a functional exercise; and the third year, a full-scale exercise. The cycle begins again every three to four years.

Response teams in geographic areas that are prone to emergencies may want to simulate the emergency event annually, before the season starts. For example, in Florida, hurricane exercises should be performed each year in the spring. Uncommon emergencies can be simulated using the three-year cycle described previously. Overall preparation is a primary consideration, and whatever exercise frequency or schedule will ensure that organization personnel are ready to handle emergencies is the one that should be used.

Design the Type of Exercise

Organizations can use several models of periodic testing. The three models discussed here are defined by FEMA [according to Guy Daines in Emergency Management: Principles and Practice for Local Government].

The first method is the tabletop exercise. A tabletop exercise is a simulation of an emergency event in which the exercise is conducted in narrative format as a means of reducing costs and time. In a tabletop exercise, the coordinator plays out selected key decisions with essential personnel or the primary emergency response team.

Using the tabletop exercise gives key personnel a broad, yet not time-consuming, understanding of decisions to make during times of emergencies. Personnel involved in this exercise can detect problems with the plan or with general training and make appropriate changes before an actual emergency occurs.

A functional exercise is the simulation of an emergency event in which only portions of an emergency management plan are tested. It is a higher level exercise that includes selected functions such as the information services or data processing functions. A functional exercise should include the direction, control, and activation of all activities associated with the four phases of emergency management. However, the exercise is limited to specific functions of an organization.

A full-scale exercise is the simulation of an emergency event in which all functions and all elements of the emergency management plan are tested. All types of emergencies are not tested in full-scale, but the major or most probable emergencies should be. Full-scale exercises typically use significant resources to test thoroughly. If the coordinator wants to reveal weaknesses of the existing emergency management plan, then a full-scale exercise should be conducted.

Plan and Develop the Exercise

A team, such as an exercise team, makes several decisions when planning an exercise. Assuming that the organization will use a team approach, the team should schedule several meetings to work out the details. Team members need to be very specific in their thought processes and document each decision. Some examples of exercise planning elements
the team should decide [according to author Kelly] include:

  • Type of emergency scenario (what, when, where, how, why)
  • What functions of the organization to affect (some, all, levels)
  • What resources to use (material and human)
  • Level of notification (complete surprise to full notification)
  • Level of outside involvement (local, state, federal)
  • Level of media involvement (scope, notifications, press releases)
  • Duration of the event (hours, days)
  • An evaluation team (who,how many)

Develop an Exercise Package

At this point, the exercise team packages its decisions. Having an exercise package is important so that another team, the evaluation team,will know what to expect. The exercise team should develop forms and include them in the package to aid in the evaluation process. They should deliver the package to only those few who will have prior notice of the exercise. Prior notification may only be made to management and the evaluation team.

Conduct a Pre-Exercise Briefing

Personnel who are involved in exercise evaluation should gather for a briefing. Participants should be fully trained in all exercise activities and review how the emergency management plan should work. Allow plenty of time for questions and last-minute exercise modifications.

Conduct the Exercise

Exercise day has arrived. The lead participant or chief coordinator must ensure that all personnel know the event is a simulation but that they should exercise according to plan. Evaluation team members should be in place and ready to document exercise activities as they happen. An exercise evaluator should be at the primary command center to monitor the chief emergency coordinator and overall exercise activities.

Evaluate and Critique the Exercise

No matter what method of exercise the organization undertakes, participants should conduct a post-exercise critique. Critiquing the exercise is a useful tool for understanding both strengths and weaknesses of the emergency management plan. Critiques should indicate lessons learned plus the extent of the exercise activities.

Surviving an emergency includes learning from mistakes. The most comprehensive plan will have gaps and deficiencies. After the plan has been successfully tested, incorporating needed modifications into the plan will improve its effectiveness.


Sample Emergency Plan Components Checklist

sample emergency plan


Virginia A. Jones, CRM, FAI, can be contacted at

Kris E. Keyes can be contacted at

 From March - April 2008