Most organization leaders believe their company emergency plans are the state-of-the-art. In fact, their plans are dangerously flawed.

They don’t comply with federal and state regulations. They ignore many classes of personnel and rarely consider visitors. Coordination with local emergency services is nonexistent. Personnel training is haphazard and illegal. And they could never withstand the scrutiny of a jury.

The risks to the organization are many, the exposures titanic.

You need to create an emergency plan that complies with regulations – and protects your people, your organization and your posterior.


Why Plan?

Risk never sleeps.

Emergencies can strike any organization with a direct hit, or clobber anything within a wide path. In the past year, organizations were vulnerable to these reported emergencies:

  • 4.1 million workplace injuries,
  • 2 million incidents of workplace violence,
  • $2.6 billion of property loss from non-residential structure fires,
  • 349,500 fire department responses to hazardous material spills,
  • 45,000 natural and manmade disasters,
  • 10,000 incidents of sudden cardiac arrest at work, and
  • 4,690 accidental workplace deaths.


Risk always multiplies.

What’s the fallout for an unprepared organization?

  • 78% of businesses who suffer a catastrophe without a contingency plan go out of business within two years.
  • 90% of companies unable to resume business operations within five days of a disaster go out of business within one year.


Compliance Issues: The Law

OSHA is not a town in Wisconsin. These OSHA regulations apply to every employer in the United States, without exception:

  • All Employers Covered 29 CFR 1910.34(a)
  • Emergency Action Plan 29 CFR 1910.38
  • Fire Prevention Plan 29 CFR 1910.39
  • First Aid 29 CFR 1910.151
  • Bloodborne Pathogens (OSHA)

Your state fire code also applies to your organization.


Compliance Issues: The National Standard that will Torpedo Any Defense

Finally, there is NFPA 1600. This National Fire Protection Association standard spells out requirements for emergency preparedness, disaster recovery and business continuity, along with drills, exercises and training (go to

NFPA 1600 is recognized in law as the standard by the U.S. Congress [PL 108–458,§7305(a),(b)]. In actuality, NFPA 1600 is a standard that consists of “shoulds” and not “shalls.” But any litigator will convince jurors that those “shoulds” are expected to be “shalls.” Jurors will assume that you a) knew the regulations and standards, b) gambled with the Life Safety of your personnel, c) have deep pockets and d) need to learn a lesson that sends a message to all organizations.

Consider that when you are sued for failure to plan and failure to train, you will be asked during your deposition and at the trial, “Is it your testimony that NFPA 1600 is good enough for the United States Congress but not good enough for you?”

Organization leaders must plan accordingly.


All-Hazards Planning

            One critical feature of NFPA 1600 is the need for all-hazards planning. This is not your father’s emergency plan! No longer can your plan simply address fire. All-hazards planning means that you must address at least these requirements and foreseeable circumstances:

  1. Emergency response team
  2. Team training
  3. All-employee training
  4. Drills
  5. Evacuation procedure
  6. Fire risk assessment
  7. Fire prevention strategies
  8. Headcount procedure
  9. Assembly area
  10. Flood
  11. Pipe burst
  12. Shelter in place
  13. Chemical spills
  14. Workplace violence
  15. Active shooter
  16. Hostage
  17. Bomb threat
  18. Severe weather/tornado/hurricane
  19. Explosion
  20. Structural failure
  21. Emergency shutdown
  22. Earthquake
  23. Power failure
  24. Mandatory evacuation
  25. Suspicious package
  26. Terrorism
  27. Spill clean-up
  28. Visitors
  29. Contractors
  30. Disabled (any persons with special needs, including pregnancy, a temporary disability, many more)

Google any one of these, and you’ll find that there has been an incident in an organization like yours, somewhere in the U.S. in the last 12 months. None of these issues is aberrant or uncommon.

            In summary, your planning, training and drills must address:

  • OSHA
  • State Fire Code
  • NFPA 1600


Does Your Plan Include
Any of These 11 Mistakes?

We have reviewed more than 500 emergency plans nationwide created for corporations, campuses and medical facilities, all of which had 100+ employees. Of those 500 organizations, we found one that was OSHA-compliant. One!

Our review of organization emergency plans reveals 11 common mistakes:


1.         Plans Ignore Critical Business Audiences

It’s illegal to ignore emergency planning, training and drills for:

  • isitors
  • Contractors
  • 2nd/3rd shifts
  • Weekend employees


2.         Headcounts are not Planned or Conducted

Federal law requires that you account for all personnel [1910.39(c)(4)]. Therefore, you must conduct headcounts in any emergency for anyone and everyone.


3.         The Emergency Response Team is Flawed in Four Ways

First, the team is not large enough to command and control all occupants. Second, there is no clear chain of command to ensure that when the senior person is absent the next person takes command with full authority. Third, there are not enough commanders for a real crisis. Fourth, organization plans fail to assign anyone to command visitors, contractors, cleaning crew, weekends, 2nd/3rd shifts, etc.


4.         Guaranteed Failure of Cellphones, Power and IT is not Addressed

If you can’t communicate, you can’t respond.


5.         Training Fails to Comply with Federal Law

Great plans are a smart thing; training is everything. Training is mandatory for all personnel annually, at hire, in a classroom by a “qualified” trainer. On-screen training alone is illegal; it can supplement classroom training.


6.         Fire Extinguisher Training is Illegal

OSHA requires that you have a use policy. “Use” or “Don’t Use” are both legal policies. Declare your preference as the employer, then train your employees in that policy.

If you want employees to use, you must train employees in conference room training with a video. Then there must be a live burn outside. Training must be annual.


7.         Illegal Evacuation Maps

OSHA requires that every employer show every employee how to evacuate from every part of your space [1910.38(c)(2)] via two routes [1910.36(b)(1)]. So, a single map in the lobby or lunch/break room does not suffice under any circumstance.


8.         Medical Emergency Planning Lacks a Standard of Care

Medical emergencies are far more likely to occur in your workplace than a fire or workplace violence. Have you established a formal, written Standard of Care? Does it include employees, visitors and contractors?

9.         No First Aid & Bloodborne Pathogens Plan & Training

OSHA requires (29 CFR 1910.151) that if the employer can’t “guarantee” emergency response for medical treatment in less than four minutes, the employer shall train employees in first aid and CPR. No fire chief or EMS director in the U.S. will guarantee this. So, plan and train you must.


10. Disabled and Special Needs Personnel Are Ignored

Federal and state law require you have an emergency plan for all Special Needs Personnel.

Special Needs Personnel include all who are visibly disabled and those who are move slowly, are hard of hearing, pregnant, on crutches, etc.


11. “No one enforces this stuff. No business has plans. I’m willing to chance it without a real plan.”

OSHA only needs to mail you a letter demanding you produce you emergency plan and training logs of all your employees for the last three years. Anyone can complain. Federal law requires that all complaints be investigated.



All organization owners and managers should objectively and coldly examine their emergency plans. In the case of 99 percent of organizations, you should seek expert help to assess your current situation. The state of the art of emergency planning and the snarky attitude you will find with owners, stockholders, regulators and jurors demands that you get expert help either internally or outside. Then determine what it will take to get you prepared and compliant.

You need a site-specific, compliant plan that you train, drill and exercise to respond to foreseeable risks that threaten your people every day. You need a plan that you can share with emergency services, customers/clients and regulators, your board and jurors.

Only then will you be able to sleep at night knowing, that you have protected your people and your posterior.  



About the Author:

Bo Mitchell was Police Commissioner of Wilton, Conn., for 16 years. He retired in 2001 to found 911 Consulting, which creates emergency plans, provides training and conducts exercises for organizations like GE HQ, Hyatt HQ, MasterCard HQ, Goodrich, Western and Central Connecticut State Universities. He serves clients headquartered from Boston to Los Angeles, working in their facilities from London to San Francisco. Bo has earned 16 certifications in homeland security and organizational safety and security. He also serves as an expert in landmark court cases nationally.


Sources: OSHA, Department of Justice, National Fire Protection Association, American Red Cross, EPA, Agility Recovery Solutions, Continuity Insights Management Conference; London Chamber of Commerce Study


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