Does your organization provide an appropriate level of training needed for all employees? Remember that for each of us, our perception is our reality. The perception of employees who are not aware of our programs and plans for managing disasters is that these programs and plans do not exist, and for them that is the reality. All employees need to know what programs are in place and at a minimum, the purpose of each program.
For assigned team members training must go well beyond handing someone a plan document or checklist of actions and assuming there is complete understanding of the assigned duties. For those involved in carrying out plans, not only must they understand what to do, they should also have a firm understanding of why. Further, an in-depth understanding of how the actions an individual is to take fit in the overall picture, has been shown to be the largest factor contributing to employee compliance with established disaster-related policies and preparedness activities prior to an event and to follow established procedures following a disaster.
To ensure that all employees have the necessary knowledge, establish a comprehensive program that includes education and the necessary level of training for all employees.
Start with orientation and basic training for every employee. This should begin with new employee orientation and an annual review. Every employee should know what programs and plans exist, e.g., business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency preparedness and response, and how the programs relate and are integrated. For each of these programs they should be made aware of the mutual expectations – what they are to do and what the organization will do. In the case of a business continuity program, it is possible that when a disaster happens, some employees are simply to wait to hear from their supervisor with instructions for when and where to report to work. While it sounds simple, employees who do not know this is the case can create confusion and extra unnecessary work when a disaster strikes. For emergency preparedness and response, each employee should receive full emergency response procedures training. With regard to evacuations, include actual evacuation drills in which all employees participate.
Orientation and refresher training should also include a review of the organization’s disaster-related policies. For example, if there is a policy that employees are not to make statements to the media, make sure they know that is the case. Also provide them the name and contact information of the person(s) to whom media representatives are to be referred.
Staff assigned to emergency response teams, business continuity teams, and the disaster recovery team will need tailored, detailed training which focuses on their particular roles. This can be accomplished through tabletop and function exercises and specialized field tests (e.g., business continuity center exercises and hot site and alternate work site tests).
A basic first step in the training process is to assign responsibility for developing a comprehensive training program and the requisite goals and objectives for each component of the program. Good teamwork involving those who manage business continuity, disaster recovery, and emergency preparedness and response programs, and representatives from human resources and security will help insure that the necessary training is delivered without redundancies or overlaps.
Use a big picture approach. Put together an annual program of orientation sessions, drills, training, exercises, and tests. This all-inclusive approach gets these training opportunities on everyone’s “dance card” well ahead of scheduled dates, helping to ensure the availability of people and training facilities. Develop a curriculum outline for each training component ... to whom the training, exercise, or test is directed; how often it is to be conducted and by whom; what is to be included; and the length of time required for the training.
Training recipients are adults, and research on how adults learn (e.g., Malcolm Knowles’s work on “andragogy”) has shown that there are some learning characteristics that are typical of most adult learners. Consider the following when developing your training program:
- While adults can learn by reading, listening to lectures, and watching, they learn more from interactive learning, being actively involved in the training process. (“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” – Chinese proverb)
- They want to know how the training will help them. When employees see the value the training has for them, particularly when it focuses on learning that they can apply in real-world situations, they are more motivated and committed to the training.
- Actual life experiences of those participating in the training (trainers and trainees) are a meaningful resource.
- While managing disasters is serious business, training need not always be grim and frightening. Used appropriately, humor is an excellent teaching tool.
- Keep training materials fresh and up-to-date; use examples that are current and relevant to the organization.
- Avoid using jargon and acronyms (e.g., BCP, DRP, BIA, ERT) that may seem like a foreign language for those who do not usually work with the terminology. Define special terms and provide a glossary.
Use certificated trainers when required (e.g., first aid, CPR). Consider using a train-the-trainer approach, perhaps having an outside trainer develop the training and present the first training session while preparing staff to present future training sessions.
Articles in organization newsletters and on the intranet and announcements at departmental and other work group meetings can help reinforce the training and provide an avenue to update employees on simple revisions to plans and procedures.
When you next review and update plan documents, be certain that the plans provide for an appropriate level of training for all employees...from the mailroom to the executive offices. Once there is adequate knowledge of the organization’s existing policies, plans, and procedures and a basic understanding of the overall approach to addressing emergencies, disasters, and safety threats, a more complete picture of the organization’s programs begins to emerge. All employees better understand their specific roles and responsibilities, no matter how large or small.
In today’s world, everyone in the organization has responsibility for their own safety and security and that of others, as well as a responsibility to help prevent and protect the organization from disasters. Through a training program that includes all employees, we can help insure that everyone is aware of the part they play and understand what the organization is prepared to do. The overall result is better-prepared organization and a stronger line of defense against future disasters.
Betty A. Kildow, CBCP, FBCI, has spent 15 years in emergency management and business continuity planning and is the author of “Front Desk Security and Safety: An On-the-Job Guide to Handling Emergencies, Threats, and Unexpected Situations” (AMACOM Publishing, 2003). Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.