Post-emergency planning — the oft-forgot aspect of emergency response
By Wallace Eddy, Associate Director, Risk Management, and Carrie Tupper, Assistant Director, Aquatics, University of Maryland, College Park
As we plan for emergency response, there is one area we often neglect: the post emergency experience, which includes: (1) documenting the incident and our response to it, (2) communication (including dealing with reactions of staff and managing communication activity), and (3) evaluation - learning from our experience. Part of any emergency response plan should be a follow-up protocol that addresses these points.
Accident and Incident reports are the most common forms of documentation for events requiring emergency response in recreation. These forms of documentation may be used in combination to be sure that the details of the accident/incident are recorded correctly as well as making clear the response provided by staff. These documents should be completed as soon as possible post-accident/incident while the memory is still fresh, before time affects clarity. Because these documents may be used in any subsequent legal proceedings or internal investigations, it is critical that they be accurate, legible, and complete. Accuracy allows for more detailed analysis during post-accident/incident follow-up. If the documents are not legible, they are practically useless. If these documents are not complete, it begs the question: "What did you leave out, and why?" Ambiguity is not a good thing in accident/incident documentation.
Incidents requiring emergency response must have the communication activity surrounding them managed. Specifically:
- Providing emergency contact for those involved. In the university setting, we offer to make parental contact, and ask for a local contact. In the event of medical transportation to a hospital or health center, we do not want those who are transported to be "abandoned" at the medical facility.
- Ask the question: "Who needs to know?" about this incident. What are the expectations for communication about accidents/incidents up the chain of command? A communication protocol for keeping key staff apprised of any accidents/incidents should be worked out in advance and be part of the emergency response plan.
- We care about our students/participants; we show this when we follow up with them post-accident/incident to see how they are doing. Documentation of these follow-up calls is important to demonstrate completion of the communication loop.
- Immediate staff debriefing is critical for those staff members directly involved in the accident/incident. We must remember to take care of the mental health of our staff who are the first responders during such events. If no one on staff has training or experience in post-event debriefing from the mental health perspective, get professional assistance from the counseling center (if on a university campus), or request resources from the local law enforcement agency or fire department.
- Keeping other staff "in the loop" about what occurred during the accident/incident and the response of staff is also important. Doing so can help with rumor control, because if you give staff the facts, they are less likely to create fiction. (Of course, any private information or information that is protected by HIPAA must be kept confidential.)
This process provides an opportunity for staff to review its response to an emergency with a critical eye. Meeting with those staff members directly involved with responding to the situation will glean first-hand information about how well the emergency response plan worked. This event evaluation meeting will most likely be separate from the immediate follow-up listed above, as the purpose is different. The immediate follow-up is to check in with staff to be sure they are coping with what happened during the accident/incident. The purpose of the evaluation meeting is to understand what occurred during the accident/incident from the perspective of following protocol and understanding the effectiveness of the emergency response plan, rather than focusing on the well being of the responders. The department's or organization's leadership should also evaluate the accident/incident and the response provided by staff. The leadership team should be asking:
- What went well during response? (Remember to praise good performance!)
- Was the Emergency Response Plan (ERP) followed appropriately?
- What lessons could be learned from this accident/incident and the way in which staff responded to it?
- Do any aspects of the ERP or follow-up procedures need to be re-thought in light of this experience?
- Are there any other necessary changes? For example, are there any additions or modifications to facilities (e.g., more phones in facility, adding emergency numbers at phone stations)?
Planning for post-accident/incident follow-up is an important element of emergency response planning. The results of post-accident/incident evaluations may be used to prepare a refresher course for staff on responding to emergency incidents, as well as developing further training strategies for staff. Communication with staff immediately following an accident/incident demonstrates concern for their welfare and gathers potentially critical information about the emergency response. Managing communication protects those involved in the accident/incident, assists with maintaining smooth operations, and makes rumor control possible.