Does Your Preparedness Plan Have the Proper Voice?

While evaluating a campus preparedness plan for a client recently, I noticed a common problem. The plan was painstakingly developed with superb detail. The planning team had addressed a wide range of crisis situations with detailed action steps and had addressed all appropriate functional protocols, and the plan had an extremely robust and detailed National Incident Management System protocol. But as I reviewed the action steps for each protocol, it became apparent that the voice of the plan changed periodically. While this plan focused on responsibilities for administrators, the voice often altered to action steps for a variety of other employees to perform. The problem is, these employees will never be issued this version of the plan, and thus, will not receive direction to perform those action steps during an actual crisis. This is a relatively common, yet fatal, flaw in many emergency preparedness plans.

A plan development team can easily fall into this trap. This problem surfaces for several reasons.

The planning team leader fails to provide clear instructions as to voice. One of the functions of the plan development team leader is to ensure all team members clearly understand what it is they are to produce. Anyone who is helping to develop, write, or edit actions steps must be given instructions regarding voice of the content. Since many members of planning teams have often never helped write a campus emergency preparedness plan, it is critical they are provided clear instruction on this important point.

Different planning team members write in different voices. Absent the type of clear instruction mentioned above, it is natural that some team members will write in different voices addressing different categories of employees based on their perspectives of how the campus operates.

Different plan sections are developed based on plans from other organizations. Many planning teams look at campus preparedness plans from other institutions of higher learning as they start the plan development process. While this can prove to be helpful to get ideas about possible formats, organizational structure, and specific topics to be covered by the plan, it can have pitfalls. One common hazard is when the voice of the plan being used as a sample is addressed to a different group of employees than the group your planning team is trying to address. For example, if you have an emergency ready-reference chart for campus administrators and your team is developing an emergency ready-reference chart for faculty members, the actions steps will not be well matched. What happens most frequently is that team members working on one plan section are using different plan components from another organization in their work, carrying over a different voice than other planning team members.

A key point here is to develop the primary plan first, and add role-specific plan sections using that plan component as a starting point.

Some plan section authors have never experienced a major crisis and have difficulty seeing the plan through the lens of a reader under extreme stress. It is easy for team members to operate from a mindset that the instructions they are developing for those in leadership positions during a crisis can easily instruct other employees to perform action steps relevant for their position in a crisis. Individuals who have not had to function in a major campus crisis event and do not have formal emergency management training can fall prey to this common trap because they do not realize how difficult it is to provide hundreds of different instructions in compressed time when the ability to communicate between crisis team members is strained by the reality of crisis conditions. Assuming that a crisis team member or leader will be able to provide step-by-step directions to dozens of campus employees in a timely fashion is a very dangerous assumption.


Conclusion
Evaluate your plans carefully for mistakes in voice. These mismatches can result in many employees not performing appropriate action steps in a crisis and overload of the incident command system. Fortunately, mistakes in voice are often easy to spot and correct. If you find a mistake in voice that involves an action step that must be performed by a category of employee that will not be issued the plan component you are working on, make sure the information is carried over to the emergency job aid for that category of employee. Taking the time to ensure the right voice is used can dramatically improve the quality and reliability of preparedness plans.

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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