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Emergency Management requires a unique blend of experience and education to get it right when its most needed.

Experience counts in Emergency Management

I was recently approached by a large event organiser to review documents from an event where a number of injuries had occurred to patrons and there were clearly serious safety issues. I was keen to conduct the review because I had a feeling much more could be done.

Their emergency management “plan”

One of the first things I reviewed was the emergency management plan. From the front cover I had concerns. The plan author listed qualifications, but none related to emergency management. The plan reviewer listed no qualifications at all, just their position title. Already I’m wondering what justification they have to develop/review the document at all.  

Within the plan itself, there were numerous typographical errors, unexplained acronyms, maps that were too small to show any detail to the reader and broad generalised statements. The table outlining the hierarchy during an emergency situation listed key roles in the emergency management plan as “to be advised” and lacked contact numbers for these roles – rendering this part of the plan virtually useless. In addition, there were no risk assessments or risk mitigation tables in the plan, it lacked other basic components that any emergency management plan for events should include. The authors had also attached appendices that included irrelevant pro-forma documents  The document sported a disclaimer that the plan was not an exhaustive list of emergency situations. The disclaimer went on to suggest that the author could not foresee all possible risks and provide for them and that they were in no way liable for any failure of the plan. This almost read as a “no care no responsibility” escape hatch for the authors.

A common problem with emergency management consulting

It was evident to me that the plan in general showed no evidence of development for this event at all. Its emergency controls would not cater for the issues experienced if an emergency occurred in such a large event and the details of managing the emergency were too general to be of use whatsoever. This document was a shining example of the problems encountered by the organisation who had contracted consultants in to provide this document.

This document was a cookie cutter response to a request by the client which to the uneducated showed an emergency management plan but to any professional proved itself to be inadequate for use in this event. In fact, upon further investigation, the only experience of the plan’s author was in traffic control and associated planning, while true to my suspicion, the reviewer had no relevant qualifications of any kind.

Perhaps this plan was born out of a desire to minimise overheads, but I ask you – and my clients – what price is a human life? What would the price differential be to have the plan done properly, by appropriately qualified consultants? I consider the ensuing law suits, lost productivity and damage to the brand alone would far surpass any financial cost of an appropriate plan.

The alternative of course is that the customer was duped by consultants that had neither the requisite qualifications or experience to provide a functional, well-considered emergency plan. In these cases, it becomes a question of due diligence.

What you need to know

If you are hiring a consultant, meet them in person. Seek qualifications and references from the consultant’s past customers or employers. In Emergency and Risk Management particularly, essential experience includes not just writing plans but implementing and adjusting them in frenetic environments. There is little that can match the insight that real life experience provides. The saying “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” is very apt in Emergency Management. Until you have lived and breathed the experience of ‘controlled anarchy’ there is little you can do to supplement that experience. The ability to keep a clear head in such a time or the ability to foresee the reality of people’s reactions and resources limits is invaluable to any client.

The lessons here are clear: do your homework, seek appropriately experienced contractors and consultants, and spend money now to save countless dollars and priceless lives later.

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