By Dr. Bill Jenaway, Ph.D.
Vice President, VFIS Education, Training & Consulting
Each year, dozens of emergency service organization (ESO) facilities are rendered
useless. Those that have effective plans in place to deal with their own emergencies
may have less disruption to their operations, organization and personnel and can
hopefully get back to serving the public quicker. Therefore, it’s important for the whole
emergency service community to make sure a business continuity plan is in place.
Why be concerned? Because it can happen to you! Or maybe it already happened to
you or one of your nearby ESOs.
A simple power outage or computer crash may be enough to disrupt operations or it
may be a fire, flood or windstorm that disrupts normal operations. If any of these would
occur, are you prepared to continue to operate?
Various studies through the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have revealed that a majority of fire
departments in the United States do not have a plan to implement in the event of a
Three plan phases
Preparedness occurs prior to an event, during an event and after an event has passed.
It’s important to prepare by:
- Assessing risks before the event occurs
- Be ready to mitigate risks during the event
- Plan for actions after the event, assuming the worst
Look at the process as a business, rather than
an emergency service provider. Doing so may
mean that priorities change.
Take a moment and ask these questions:
- Has the organization had such an incident?
- Was it prepared?
- What could have been done to be better
Assign a team to conduct an assessment and
identify potential threats that could impact the
organization. The threats are wide and varied
- Fires from electrical, heating, cooking and
- Smoking materials fires
- Roof leaks, overloads and plumbing leaks
- Windstorms and tornadoes
Routinely complete an inventory every year so
the focus can be on inventory confirmation at
the time of loss. Also, inspect properties and the
infrastructure systems regularly.
If necessary, have agreements between
neighboring agencies to help fulfill service
needs. If a fire apparatus is involved in an
accident, there is damage to a facility or a case
of influenza depletes staffing, it’s important to
have back up. Service continuity is key.
Think about the data and backup systems
currently in place. If something happened to
the data – theft, accidental or intentional
destruction, computer crash or virus, how
would the data be recreated?
Meet with the organization’s insurance provider
annually to review insurance coverages and
levels of protection.
During the Event
During the event, assign a team to conduct an
assessment and identify damage. The damage
may be wide and varied, including:
- Property damage
- Equipment damage
- Service interruption
- Member/employee injury, death or inability to
When a disaster strikes, it’s important that
someone is level-headed and calm in order to
implement a process to get back to a normal
state. While someone is managing the
organization’s internal situation, it’s important
for someone to oversee service to the
Just like a business, it’s essential that
emergency service organizations have a
strategic plan and a business recovery plan.
Considerations may include:
- Required Skills
- Vital Records
- Customer database
- Vendor agreements
- Off-site locations
- Backup sites
- Restoration sites
Dealing with the media is another task to consider.
Have a public information officer assigned (either a
member of the department or the local
government) who will act as a spokesperson for
Assign a team to conduct an assessment and
identify damage once the event is over. This
analysis is important to help with a quick and
efficient recovery process.
Next to the loss of a firefighter, the loss of a station
or apparatus to a natural or manmade disaster can
be the most devastating situation affecting an
emergency service organization. Similar to a
traumatic death or injury, there is a potential for
significant stress to organization members and
there is a need to help relieve grief. As a result,
there may be a need for a critical incident stress
team to be assigned and counseling available to
members regarding the loss.
The purpose of business continuity is to develop
a plan to restore the organization to normalcy and
plan for service continuity. Remember, it takes
time to repair a damaged building, destroyed
truck and people’s emotions. Additional details
can be found in the VFIS program on Disaster
Planning and Business Continuity available online
Now is the time to use the organization’s local
insurance provider to the greatest degree possible.
They have the knowledge on what is insured, what
limits are insured and how to document loss and
obtain replacement or repairs. The insurance
provider is skilled in this process and may help
relieve an immense amount of stress on the
organization’s officers by being intimately
involved in the claim and settlement process and
consultation on the next steps of recovery.
A final thought
Emergency responders have been trained to use
the National Incident Management System (NIMS)
to manage large or serious events and even to preplan
significant activities. The NIMS provides a
systematic process to record situations, their
impact and results. When the time comes to
submit for funding, reimbursement or resource
replacement, the data gathering documents used
by NIMS are logical choices to use for any
emergency incident. Use it as a regular course of
For additional information, VFIS offers a training
program, various manuals and an
online program at VFIS University
Reference: VFIS Disaster Planning & Business Continuity Program