National Preparedness Month and Emergency Preparedness

September is National Preparedness Month, and GAI Consultants (GAI) is taking time to focus on the importance of emergency preparedness. Several significant incidents have taken place recently in areas where GAI offices are located, from the disastrous flash floods in West Virginia to the tragic shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Emergencies like these cannot be predicted, so it’s important that organizations like ours are ready for anything.

In 2015, GAI’s Health and Safety (H&S) Department developed Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for all of our offices. Some locations already had plans, but they were outdated, and many offices had no plan at all. Now that the EAPs are developed, our goal for 2016 is to test them through evacuation drills in offices with more than 10 employees. In smaller offices, we are meeting with employees to talk through the emergency plan and make sure everyone understands how it works.

Emergency Preparedness at the Office

Drills aren’t conducted just to make sure everyone knows the way out, but to verify that the entire plan functions the way we designed it.

GAI’s H&S Department is often asked why we conduct office evacuation drills, because how to exit a building seems obvious. The answer is that drills aren’t conducted just to make sure everyone knows the way out, but to verify that the entire plan functions the way we designed it. For example, during recent drills, we learned that the “Rally Points” (meeting locations) we identified in GAI’s Murrysville, Pennsylvania (PA) and Cranberry, PA offices were “dead ends”—in other words, areas of no escape if we had to move far from the building. And in our Southpointe, PA office, we discovered the alarms were not audible in the far corner offices. In all scenarios, the drills afforded us the opportunity to correct issues before they could create a dangerous or even deadly situation. Also, because GAI is so geographically dispersed (25 offices in 11 states), emergency preparation for employees in one office means something entirely different to staff in another office. As we continue to sharpen our EAPs and practice drills, they will become more specific to each office location.

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Emergency Preparedness at Home

In addition to workplace preparedness, GAI’s H&S Department also recommends preparation at home. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers excellent resources to customize family plans. FEMA has a smartphone app that allows users to set alerts for up to five different geographic locations, submit photos to emergency responders to share disaster-related information, and find out where the closest emergency shelter is located. Ready.gov is also loaded with resources, including emergency kit supply lists and information about developing communication plans in the event that families are separated during an emergency. Lastly, the American Red Cross implemented a hurricane app that allows users to monitor developing storms and communicate with family and friends.

Emergency Preparedness during Travel

Many GAI employees travel all over the country for work. In particular, many of our field staff find themselves in remote locations where weather events and other emergencies can create difficult situations. GAI’s H&S Department encourages all GAI staff who travel to have our travel agency’s Traveler Support Number on hand. The representatives at this number answer 24/7 and can offer assistance with rebooking flights, finding hotel rooms, or providing other services to help a GAI staff member who may be stranded due to a local emergency. (Remember what happened when Delta Air Lines’ computer system went down in early August? Due to a computer outage, thousands of flights were cancelled and it took almost a week for operations to return to normal.) We urge employees to check with the individual who schedules their travel and obtain all detailed travel information. And even though GAI’s managers will have information about an employee’s location and itinerary, it’s a good idea to make sure that at least one other family member or friend has it, too. Staying in touch with both work and family on a regular basis while traveling helps confirm that employees are not only where they’re supposed to be, but are safe.

Emergencies happen all the time and often at the wrong time. Taking steps to prepare no matter where you are—at work, at home, or traveling—can make all the difference when it comes to personal safety. For questions or additional information on emergency preparedness, or GAI’s Health and Safety program, contact Director of Health and Safety Pam Walaski, CSP, CHMM at 412.399.5143, or follow her on Twitter at @safetypam.


For related information, check out the following articles and blog posts:

June is National Safety Month | June 21, 2016

The Cost of a Workplace Incident | May 3, 2016

Preparedness at Home: It Could Happen to You | September 29, 2015

Are You A Prepared Employer? Create an Emergency Action Plan for Your Workplace | September 23, 2015

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