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Patrick Hardy


Transform Employees to Emergency Responders in Three Easy Steps

Employees must go beyond being just bystanders who are told what to do

Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 11:01

Responding to disasters is one of the most important activities that employees can be asked to grapple with. From natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes to technological situations such as power outages, chemical spills, and transportation accidents, as well as security emergencies like acts of terrorism and mass shootings, a property should be prepared for any of these events.

The metric for success in a disaster response isn’t the detail of the plans or the usefulness of the equipment; it’s the level of employee empowerment that makes all the difference. Employees must go beyond being just bystanders who are told what to do. They must be transformed into emergency responders capable of activating themselves and leading in the instant a disaster strikes.

Step 1: Rewrite your disaster plans

Currently, most property disaster plans expressly hand off leadership responsibility in a disaster to management. This would seem the most logical way of handling it. However, in practice, this leaves a property underprepared. Disasters can be sudden events that either leave managers injured or unavailable through traditional communication devices. When disaster plans require a manager to approve a certain immediate disaster activity, such as initiating a basic evacuation or crisis communication method—or explicitly state that managers must perform it—they immediately convert employees into useless bystanders.

Disaster plans should be rewritten so that regular employees are able to conduct any immediate response activity surrounding evacuation/shelter-in-place/lockdown without a manager. All manager titles and proper names should be removed from disaster protocols so any employee can perform any action without any kind of permission required.

Step 2: Reevaluate your disaster equipment, supplies, and technology

Disaster equipment, supplies, and technology (EST) have long been considered a critical element in any property preparedness program. However, in most instances, EST have actually made properties less prepared. This is because employees either aren’t authorized to use EST without management’s permission or they are inaccessible to employees. EST go way beyond first-aid kits or automated external defibrillators (AEDs). They also include disaster equipment such as search and rescue tools, emergency food and water, and critical-use supplies like flashlights, rope, and PPE masks.

Many properties also rely on specialized, emergency-communication mobile apps and expensive technology. Ironically, this is what makes these companies unprepared because it creates a dependency on equipment to do activities that, if the equipment wasn’t available, couldn’t be performed by staff or management.

To be effective, disaster EST must be specifically tailored to your employees. They should sync up perfectly with your disaster plan. For instance, if your plan doesn’t include search and rescue, then don’t put those supplies in your bags. Technology should also be used sparingly in a disaster. But when it is used, employees should have complete access to it, know the passwords, and be able to effectively perform the process of sending messages or otherwise activating it.

Step 3: Redesign your training and drills

Training and drills are the most important elements of a disaster program. They are more important than disaster plans and EST combined. This is because the way a workforce is trained and drilled will not only reinforce the behaviors necessary in a disaster, but also expose the strengths and weaknesses of your program overall.

The problem is that most training is too detailed. Going through earthquake or wildfire procedures point by point is boring and unnecessary. No one is going to remember it, and it detracts from information that’s really necessary for employees to act during a disaster. Drills are equally as useless because most times employees are converted into bystanders while managers do everything and simply bark instructions at staff. This isn’t conducive to real situations where employees can be incredibly valuable members of a disaster team.

Redesign training and drills so line employees are the stars. Training should focus on leadership ability, the basic steps in a disaster response, and where to find the information for more in-depth procedures. In fact, this should be reinforced with drills where managers are made to stand on the side and employees are instructed to perform an entire disaster drill without management participation. This will give an accurate way to assess their readiness. This will also reinforce individual initiative and responsibility so anyone can put together an impromptu emergency team. That’s how you turn bystander employees into emergency team members who can work for you in any disaster.


Whether you run a large or small property with five or 500 employees, it’s critical that each team member be prepared not to respond to a disaster but to actually organize a disaster team. It’s more than just red binders, written plans, fancy equipment, and an expensive communication mobile app. It’s about empowering employees to act with authority and lead during a disaster. If you don’t, you will turn them into bystanders who not only are excluded from the solution but also become part of the problem.


About The Author

Patrick Hardy’s picture

Patrick Hardy

Patrick Hardy is founder and CEO of Hytropy Disaster Management, the largest full-service small business disaster management company in the U.S. A certified emergency manager and a master business continuity professional, he was selected in 2012 as the national private sector representative to FEMA. His book, Design Any Disaster, will be published in March 2023 by Benbella Books.