Emergency Planning: Are you Prepared?

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This week we have a guest article from one of the many young up and coming security professionals in Ireland. From my perspective its great to see so many people in this country now beginning to see a career and a future in this industry. If I can play any small part in providing a platform for this I’m glad to help. Cúchulainn Morrissey is one of these people. He had kindly agreed to give some of his time to write this really great article on emergency planning for business and security professionals. Its a great read and I am really thankful to Cúchulainn for his time and expertise. I’ll chime in from time to time with my own opinion which you will see in these orange boxes.

Emergency planning and the security function share a fundamental purpose: peace of mind. Inextricably linked by shared ideals such as the preservation of life, protection of assets, and the prevention of catastrophe. The expectation arguably exists that they are facets of the same skill-set.

The initial response to an incident arguably plays the most vital role in its mitigation. In the event of an emergency, those responsible for protection are expected to execute effective emergency procedures, whether that be in response to fire safety concerns, the provision of first aid, or the first response to a hostile threat. The question is when and not if an emergency occurs, what truly separates effective mitigation from sheer disaster?

In this article I will delve into the role of security in emergency response along with analysing the elements which contribute to effective emergency planning with consideration for the potential challenges.

The Elements of Effective Emergency Planning

Emergency planning is a process and as with any process it consists of several steps, all of which require an iterative approach to evaluation to form a cohesive plan. Essentially, there exists no such thing as the perfect emergency plan, however, there are varying levels of competence in risk assessment/management, training, situational awareness, and emergency response which improve the effectiveness of the overall plan itself.

Preparation – Understanding Risk

The cornerstone of all effective emergency response begins with preparation. Preparation, however, begins with an understanding of risk and the potential catalysts of emergency situations. Risk in and of itself is the simple representation of uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds indecision, and with indecision comes the increased likelihood of poor decision making, a major contribution to catastrophe. Contrary to some commonly prevalent practices, risk cannot be pigeon-holed categorically, it is fluid, dynamic, and ever-present, however, it can be understood.

Phrased simply, an in-depth understanding of risk empowers decision making, thus decreasing the potential severity of an emergency situation, a key difference maker which cannot be overlooked in the emergency planning process.

TonyI’ve written before about the importance of developing a mindset of preparedness for emergencies. Never assuming that it wont happen and always planing for the fact that it might. I wrote an article about this mindset about a year ago covering this. You can read it here.

Risk Assessment/Management

Risk assessment, while a starting point in the mitigation process is simply that, a starting point. It must be understood that risk assessment is an excellent means by which to build a picture of potential risks, however, its effectiveness is dependent on the person/persons undertaking it. All too often an exercise in box-ticking, risk assessment should be reframed as an opportunity to better understand the various risk factors (geographical, societal, physical, operational, etc.) more so than a cure-all mandatory requirement. Only through a genuine investment in the risk assessment process (identify, analyse, evaluate/rank, control, monitor, review) can effective control measures be implemented. Ideally, risk assessments/emergency plans should be developed by a dedicated emergency response team.

From a security perspective, the issue persists that risk assessment is not always undertaken with considerable input from the security function, an avoidable oversight. As emergency responders responsible for the protection of life, assets, and the promotion of safety, security should be at least consulted in the risk assessment process (especially in relation to threat scenarios) if not overtly involved in its undertaking.

Understanding the site limitations and utilising available internal and external resources should be factored into any comprehensive risk management plan. Determining factors such as the availability of equipment, consulting with the emergency services (e.g., fire, police and ambulatory services) to determine their response time to the premises, knowledge of the facility, its potentially unique hazards, and their capabilities to stabilise an emergency all require consideration when putting controls in place.

TonyRisk assessment is not just a skill to be developed for work in the security industry. Its a life skill that can be used at home, while driving or even on a night out. I always encourage security operatives to build the skill of risk assessment wherever they are. If you want some this on how to do this then check out this article here

Training – 70/20/10

Training, while necessary and often mandatory for the provision of emergency response in certain situations (first aid, fire safety) is only effective if the knowledge and skills acquired are regularly refreshed and maintained. This particular type of training lends itself well to practical application over a theory based approach. Ideally, these skills should be applied and refreshed frequently in realistic, simulated environments to improve response time, increase situational awareness, and overall capability in the event of an actual emergency.

Learning and development/training practitioners often advocate for the 70/20/10 framework of learning. Phrased simply, 70/20/10 corresponds to the proportional division of how human beings learn and retain information effectively. As per this framework, 70% of competence is gained through job-related experience, 20% through peer interaction, and only 10% from traditional formal education.

Why is this relevant?

Without opportunities to apply new skills in a practical manner it has been proven that they will rapidly diminish. This theory is known as the “forgetting curve”. Research indicates that up to 50% is lost within only 1 hour, 70% in 24 hours ,and up to 90% of newly acquired knowledge can be lost within only 7 days; a harrowing prospect for managers and trainers alike.

The 70/20/10 framework is ideal, not only for the initial provision of emergency skills training, but also remains strongly relevant to security team leaders/managers in preparing their teams for emergency provision. Regular application of skills through immersive simulation is among the core 70% responsible for competent skill development and should be equally applied for skill maintenance. Ideally, regular briefs, drills, and exercises should be undertaken to refresh operatives’ skills, decision making, and awareness in the event of an emergency.

Peer interaction (20%) can be attained through the creation of internal networks or simply through regular team briefings. Holding monthly group workshops for workplace emergency responders to refresh skills or discuss areas of potential confusion allows for an opportunity to structure the peer interaction element of knowledge retention and re-emphasise the topic of emergency planning.

Formal training (10%), the most cost intensive element of the framework need not extend beyond the mandatory initial training and annual/biennial refresher unless required. As this factor is proven to be the least effective of the three, a focus on regular practice as opposed to formal training is decidedly more realistic and cost-efficient.

While 70/20/10 has undoubtedly achieved buzzword status in the past few years, I believe it still holds significance when applied to specific types of training, particularly those which are focused on practicality over theory, i.e. emergency response.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness consists of the amalgamation of perspective formed through past experience, expectation and preparation. Essentially applying active observation to develop a mental plan to be enacted in the event of a hostile situation. The aim of developing situational awareness is to override the innate fight or flight response that occurs in the body during hostile circumstances to instead react with actionable reasoning. Without reasonably developed situational awareness, no level of emergency planning can be truly effective.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (The OODA Loop) is an abbreviation originating from military strategy often applied to situational awareness. The OODA loop is a cyclical process designed to focus on providing an agile and proactive response to unfolding hostile situations. Its concept phrased simply, is to gain insight into the opponent’s decision cycle and mitigate the next step before they reach it, not dissimilar to a game of chess.

Security operatives beginning to develop their situational awareness are best to focus on applying it to the most practical measures. Fundamental awareness of the placement of the nearest fire exits, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, etc. at every point in the premises better enables an instinctive response to emergency situations, thus bettering response time.

Emergency Response – Incident Stabilisation

Dependant largely on the nature of the premises, client requirements, expectations, and budget, incident stabilisation may consist of little more than alarming the emergency services and potential evacuation. In the case that the emergency plan consists of the former, considerations must still be made to account for prompt notification of the emergency services, protective actions for life safety, and accounting of all employees/visitors in the premises at a minimum.

TonyI cannot state enough the importance of having a pre-prepared emergency response kit that is fit for purpose for your site. Every security person should now where it is and be familiar with its contents It doesn’t have to be big. If you want get started in building your own you can check out this article here


The security function, while crucial to emergency planning, should not be solely responsible for its formation, nor execution. Comprehensive risk assessment and effective emergency response is best achieved through integration with the location and its staff. Inevitably, these are the people tasked with effectively implying control measures once the risk assessment is completed, hence their buy-in to the process is crucial.


As alluded to at the beginning of this article, the perfect emergency plan does not and cannot exist. Risk is simply too fluid and will always remain despite the mitigation measures in place; it’s simply a fact. To combat risk, security must be equally as fluid and adaptive, equipped with an in-depth knowledge of the environment in which they operate and the potential risks which lay within. When next reviewing your organisation’s emergency plan ask yourself: are you prepared?

Tony – If you want to learn more about emergency planning in Ireland then check out some of these websites on the subject:

Emergency Planning Ireland : https://www.emergencyplanning.ie/en

Major Emergency Management Ireland : http://mem.ie/

National Risk Assessment Ireland  Download here

About the Author

Cúchulainn Morrissey is new to the area of industry blogging. Applying his security expertise on behalf of blue chip clients over the past half-decade and now training new entrants to the industry has granted him the experience and knowledge he wishes to share with others. An avid professional and founder of Cork Security Society, a social forum for security industry professionals in Southern Ireland, Cú strongly values personal and professional development and credits it as the key to his success thus far.

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