Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors (part 2)

  • 07 Apr 2021
  • Jennifer

As we continue our battle against COVID-19, I decided to write a sequel post to my original article  about what I learned, observed, and experienced during Wave 1 of the response. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the vital, and ongoing, work of our many frontline workers, not only within the health system walls, but in our communities too. If you take anything from this article, it is a reminder to express gratitude and continue to support your fellow human beings in this trying time. The light is starting to peek through at the end of the tunnel, but we are not seeing the rays just yet. 
Here are some additional thoughts and considerations. I would love to hear what you have observed, implemented and learned from your response. It should be noted that opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer
1.    Create an environment of flexibility based on skillset, not just subject matter knowledge. When conducting emergency preparedness training, familiarize your staff with the concept that in an emergency, they may be asked to do something that is not part of their regular, day-to-day duties. Develop a skills matrix as part of your preparation measures, to not only identify skill sets, but also previous experience and leadership abilities. This will help ensure that you have the right people, the best people, in the right place, at the right time. Too many people, or not the right people, can hinder the response and deem it ineffective. It is important to continuously evaluate this process, as required skillsets and priorities might change.
2.    Continue to develop resiliency by being proactive about managing disaster stress management. Many employees have access to Employee Family Assistance Plans (EFAP) through their employer but additional, tangible ways to proactively manage stress should be considered. This could be in the form of drop-in rooms, therapy and crisis dogs, healthy eating options, transportation home, having access to and time for exercise or physical activity, gratitude huddles and additional communication of services available (not just through e-mail). Constantly monitor the health and safety of your staff and ensure they have the tools available to deal with any negative impacts, both short term and long term. 
3.    Reiterate the need to plan, even if you end up not needing those plans. Time is often one of your best friends in emergency response. As such, it is a good idea to look ahead as far as is reasonable so that you give yourself ample time to prepare. This may mean that you are looking ahead into the different seasons and considering what impact the current situation may have on your organization or business. Establish a plan and/or consider acquiring what you think you might need now. 
4.    In alignment with planning ahead, ensure your think about what you might need in the future from your suppliers. Ensure your supply chain is strong and ask your suppliers for their preparedness plans. Something that we have all witnessed is the impact of COVID on the supply chain. If you haven’t identified alternative supplier relationships, the time to do so is now. Ask them what their plan is if they are unable to provide you service or the product you require. Outline and document what your plan might be if the supply chain is impacted.  
5.    Develop a streamlined incident management structure and stay focused. It is important to develop an incident management structure (there are many versions available including the Incident Management System and Incident Command System), to manage your response, in an organized and effective way. This should be done in advance of any incident, along with the appropriate training, but if you find yourself in a pickle, there are resources out there to advise on the best way to manage the response. This not only helps you to stay organized and wraps some structure around chaos, but it contributes to grounding, clear roles and responsibilities and provides a baseline for considerations during the response. i.e., If you did not have someone in the Finance and Administration section, would you remember to track the hours of your staff or your costs associated with such a response?
6.    It is OK to say no. In times of crisis, you will be faced with many opportunities that appear to be good ideas at the time, but on a regular day they would not even be considered. Remember, it is OK to say no. Ask yourself if each opportunity is in the best interest of the response, if there is a better alternative, does it benefit the health and safety of others, and if it is going to set a troublesome precedent.
7.    Stay alert for other threats. How will you manage another incident or emergency during an ongoing threat like COVID-19? How will your response change? Often-times, especially in extended responses, you will be faced with multiple incidents that you have to respond to. What is your plan for this, given that your current incident management team might already be exhausted? Are you still dedicating resources to monitoring and scanning for additional threats?
8.    Empower your team and leaders to lead. Provide clarity and ensure understanding of the perimeters your leaders have during a crisis. What resources or funds do they have at their disposal? What is your approval process during a response? How are you removing barriers and empowering your leaders to make decisions in a crisis? Trust is an important aspect in times of crisis, it is important that you trust yourself and your team. 
9.    Constantly evaluate your processes and procedures to maintain effectiveness. We all know that evaluating our performance and looking at lessons learned is important, but how often have you learned something during an incident intended to formalize or input it into your plans later? Then, a few years later, you are faced with the same scenario and wish you had implemented the solution? Do not make the mistake of not acting on your “lessons learned”. 
10.    Take the time to identify potential threats and hazards to your organization and establish plans now. COVID-19 caught many organizations and businesses off-guard. This is a good opportunity to take the time to identify threats and develop plans that will help you mitigate, prevent and the effects of future emergencies or incidents. 

About the author

Jennifer Nelson

Senior Consultant

Emergency management and business continuity professional with experience in public and professional organizations within healthcare, association and arts and culture sectors.