The arrival of hurricane season suggests it is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of having in place an emergency management plan (EMP). A successful EMP must have clear, established channels of communication to help organizations prepare before a crisis for the predictable — and the unexpected. Is your agency adequately prepared for an emergency? What are the critical elements of an emergency management system? What is the role of purchasing in emergency management?

Purchasing as strategic planning leader

Supporting the daily operational needs of all government departments, purchasing holds a unique vantage point within a government organization. The resulting broad visibility into the needs of each agency enables purchasing to work as a facilitator and collaborator with all departments through the emergency management plan. In the process, purchasing can demonstrate its innate value as an organizational leader in times of emergency.

Purchasing should establish a funding authority and develop an Emergency Purchasing Manual including policies and procedures and identifying appropriate purchasing methods. Necessary commodities and services or disciplines should be identified, along with vendor partners and contact information. The manual should also provide a directory of key purchasing staff information, a quotation form and a purchaser's log. Purchasing should train with the incident commander, who is the person responsible for all aspects of emergency response. All of these systems and the necessary supporting contracts and contact information need to be in place to expedite matters during an emergency. (Source: NIGP Webinar: Emergency Management Series, available at www.nigp.org)

There are four elements of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Planning for each phase involves a specific focus, a collaborative effort involving many participants and a unique role for purchasing. Let's take a look at each of the four elements:

Mitigation: Keeping hazards from becoming disasters

Mitigation and prevention involve activities to keep hazards from occurring and to reduce the effects when they do occur. These efforts include focusing on long-term measures to reduce or eliminate risk; planning collaboratively among various agencies; continuously reviewing physical structures; and implementing an ongoing plan of testing, orientation and holding drills.

Unlike the other phases, the mitigation aspect focuses on long-term measures to reduce or eliminate risk. It requires collaboration involving the agency, the community, law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services and emergency management. Agencies have a responsibility to take necessary preparatory actions; failure to do so creates vulnerability and could lead to allegations of negligence.

The eventual physical impact of a crisis can often be minimized by regularly examining the building structure, windows, HVAC system and exterior safety and security equipment. A security and safety audit should be conducted to ensure that employees and visitors are identified and their access controlled. Mechanical components specific to an agency's location — such as security cameras, lights and alarms — should also be audited. Mitigation and prevention also include enforcement of agency policies regarding weapons, drugs, harassment or threats.

Drills should be scheduled to address potential hazards, and crisis plans should be kept simple and include job descriptions for crisis team members and other agency staff. A plan should provide the management structure, key responsibilities, emergency assignments and general procedures to follow during and immediately after an emergency.

Preparedness: Get ready for the worst, expect the unexpected

"You can't learn to dance the night of the ball," says Fred Ellis, director, Fairfax County Public Schools, Office of Safety and Security, in Fairfax, Va. Planning ahead should include hazard analysis inspections, fire prevention inspections, insurance inspections, key contract inspections and vendor redundancy. Preparedness also includes developing clear communication and coordination plans, creating emergency communication contracts, preparing facility security plans and establishing an emergency operations center.

Creating coordination plans should include easily understandable terminology and chain of command. Emergency communication contracts and local media relationships should be developed to enable communication with internal staff and the public. Multiagency coordination and incident command should also be developed and practiced.

Related to facility security, it is important to prepare for immediate response with an evacuation location and an additional backup location. Alternatively, a plan should be in place for "reverse evacuation" in which the building is secured, locked-down and inhabitants are prepared to shelter-in-place. Maps should be created to include facility information such as office locations, meeting rooms, exits, stairwells, utility shutoffs and potential staging areas.

Proper training and maintenance of emergency services include developing and exercising warning methods for the emergency population, emergency shelters and evacuation plans. An emergency operations center (EOC) should be established as the physical location where an organization can come together during an emergency to coordinate response and recovery actions and resources. Inventories of supplies and equipment should be stockpiled and maintained.

Ellis emphasizes: "An emergency plan is meant to be practiced. It cannot sit on a shelf. There are some things you can expect in an emergency by definition; however, Murphy's Law will always happen — something unexpected will come up. There will be misinformation — first reports are not accurate, this should be expected. Also, other people's decisions will impact you. You must think fast and on your feet."

In spite of best-laid plans, a surprising, new challenge may suddenly emerge. What happens if key staff is unable to report, if cell phones get jammed, if several jurisdictions are competing for limited resources? The fact is, no single solution, no matter how well planned, will satisfy the reality of the moment. There must be a backup plan … and a backup for the backup.

Response: Maintain calm while mobilizing emergency services

Response involves mobilizing emergency services and first responders to a disaster area. Initial responders will include agency leadership, firefighters, police and ambulance crews, which may be supported by secondary emergency services such as specialty rescue teams. Maintaining calm is important while determining the threat of imminent danger.

Key components of response include activating the communication plan, beginning search-and-rescue efforts and employing first responders. Effective emergency response requires activating key leadership and determining accountability and organization of tasks. It requires 24/7 staffing, usually involving two teams with 12-hour shifts.

"Communication and coordination are key and should be worked out beforehand," Ellis says. Fairfax County government has an emergency operations plan with various agencies broken down from school systems to transportation to shelter to food to debris removal.

Critical to an EMP's success is purchasing's ability to work closely with the incident commander and communicate effectively with suppliers. Purchasers must make, track and reconcile purchases and maintain final reports and documentation.

Recovery: Take time to reflect after normalcy is restored

The aim of recovery is to restore the affected area, workplace or community to its previous state. Recovery efforts primarily focus on actions that rebuild destroyed property, reemploy displaced workers and repair essential infrastructure.

During recovery, both human casualties and property losses are identified. As Ellis points out, there is also a very real "psychological piece" that must be planned for. Post-traumatic stress and depression are normal responses to a catastrophe. It is important to identify and communicate with available support resources and to understand that the psychological impact of trauma can last long after physical normalcy has been restored.

After allowing for a period of reflection, representatives from all agencies, suppliers and aid recipients must come together to discuss their experiences and to review and refine the emergency plan. It is imperative to conduct this debriefing with all constituents to ensure the continuing improvement of Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery plans.

Read about how NIMS and NIGP are preparing for emergencies.

NIMS and NIGP prepare

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a system used in the United States to coordinate emergency preparedness and incident management across federal, state and local agencies. NIMS assists federal, state, local and private sector organizations to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from any emergency, regardless of cause, size, location or complexity.

Whereas NIMS provides a process and structure for requesting support, NIMS does not help locate resources when systems are down during an emergency. Picking up where NIMS leaves off, NIGP's Procurement Response and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) community provides an emergency logistical support network and a partnership database to help local governments experiencing an emergency obtain operational support from pre-identified partners outside the impacted area and quickly identify sources of supplies.

Through NIGP's PREP community, participating member agencies provide a reliable source of goods and services from one entity to another, including, but not limited to, cities, counties and other public agencies. PREP grew out of the heightened awareness of the need to prepare effectively for emergency response to natural disasters, technological hazards, man-made disasters, civil emergencies, community disorders, insurgency or terrorist attacks.

Participating agencies partner with other willing PREP members who identify suppliers of key items common to emergencies. Partner entities sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and agree on delivery methods of materials and services to each other when an emergency occurs. PREP partners must be of similar population, have the means to transport emergency supplies and be located outside the impacted area.

Participating in PREP involves selecting one of three "Levels of Support"

Level One — Minimum Support

Provides access to the PREP network and to information shared by the PREP knowledge community. There is also the ability to broadcast a message requesting assistance to the PREP network in the event of an emergency. Participants also get access to information on business continuity and sample bid documents for resources frequently needed during and after an event.

Level Two — Intermediate Support

In addition to Level One support, participants receive communications and support protocols with one or more out-of-region entities, access to a list of suppliers and resources, and assistance in connecting with suppliers in the event of an emergency. They also contact other entities on behalf of the affected entity to locate sources and supplies.

Level Three — Advanced Support

In addition to Level One and Level Two support, participants provide assistance in executing supply agreements on behalf of the PREP entity and possible temporary duty assignments for staff augmentation.

To enroll in this program, visit www.nigp.org and click "Communities," or call 800-367-6447, ×223, for more information.