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What Emergency Response Plans Are (and Why You Need It)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Nov 14, 2019 5:50:00 AM

What an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) Is

What Emergency Response Plans Are and Why You Need It

The actions taken within the first 5 minutes of an emergency can largely dictate the severity of consequences. In this case, “severity of consequences” can involve catastrophic financial, environmental, or material damage, and/or major loss of life.

Employees need a plan of action to count on when emergencies strike in order to minimize damages.

An emergency response plan is a manual that companies use to address many different types of emergency situations.

The manuals include:

  • Who to contact;
  • How to act; and
  • Resources to use.

Related Articles on Emergency Response Plans

When to Use Emergency Response Plans

The priorities for any ERP are, in this order:

  1. Protection;
  2. Safe conduct;
  3. Mitigation/stabilization of the dangerous condition;
  4. Cleanup of incident, whether this be physical cleanup or conceptual;
  5. Resumption of normal operations.

ERPs should address only the highest risk situations. They are critical for a high quality, timely risk management response. You might call an “emergency response plan” a “catastrophic situation plan.”

Download emergency response plan checklist for aviation SMS

What Your Plan Should Include

Emergency response plans must be organized from the beginning. During an emergency or even when you are conducting emergency drills, there is little time to waste. Timely responses remain critical as your actions will be reviewed later by hyper-critical stakeholders.

When considering the organization of an ERP, I prefer to follow the advice from an ERP expert, Gordon Dupont of System Safety in Vancouver, British Columbia. Gordon suggests organizing the ERP logically into chapters and sub-chapters. Each chapter will categorize a particular type of emergency, such as:

  • Bomb threats;
  • Major aircraft accident;
  • Fire;
  • Environmental fuel spill; and
  • Hurricanes or typhoons.

Within each chapter of the ERP, there may be several sub-chapters, each of which will cover either:

  • a specific case or category of event that logically falls within this type of emergency; or
  • a separate task involved in managing the emergency.

For example, you might have a chapter for a Bomb Threat, with sub-chapters for various actions required in response to this threat. Or, you might have a chapter for a Bomb threat with sub-chapters for various types of bomb threats based on:

  • Where the bomb threat occurs (locally or in a foreign country); or
  • Assets in jeopardy (ground assets or aircraft).

You will choose which type of ERP manual structure that most closely aligns with your company's objectives. As you create or review your ERP documentation, consider which risk controls are currently implemented to mitigate the identified risk scenarios. When you identify shortcomings, enter each newly identified hazard into the hazard register and conduct an risk analysis. Whenever risk is unacceptable, additional control measures should be designed into the "system."

Related Articles on Controls Measures in Aviation SMS

Contact Lists in Emergency Response Plans

As said, emergency response plans need to include who to contact, how to act, and resources to use. In more detail, this means that each chapter should:

  • Have a list of people to contact, in which order to contact, and with contact numbers;
  • The list of contact people might be organized by their response category, such as Hangar Fire Contacts, Aircraft Fire Contacts, etc.
  • The safety duties and responsibilities of each role in the company for a given emergency, such as CEO responsibilities, safety manager responsibilities, etc.;
  • Actions required to maintain safety;
  • Actions required to mitigate the danger;
  • Actions required cleanup incident, if applicable; and
  • What resources are best used to mitigate the emergency.

This “manual” can be

  • an actual, physical, hard-copy of your ERP,
  • an electronic version documented in aviation safety software, or
  • one documented on the organizations shared file server.

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The Importance of Emergency Response

As discussed, the emergency response plan provides guidance for the critical actions needed in the initial minutes of an emergency. More subtly, ERPs are so important because:

  • You can test their quality with emergency drills;
  • You can ensure that all divisions of your organization can react similarly to emergency situations;
  • They facilitate organizing and categorizing reported safety issues further (i.e., KPIs, emergency issues, etc.);
  • Employees become empowered with prepared guidance;
  • Managers can be assured that emergencies can be treated effectively, despite the organization being severely affected by the emergency conditions.

With an ERP, your organization will be substantially better prepared for professionally managing high-risk hazards as they arise. An ERP is a proactive risk management strategy used to minimize both operational and financial risk. The way a company handles an emergency will also affect the public's sentiment toward the company. In short, an ERP serves as an insurance policy for the company's reputation.

Related Articles on Proactive Risk Management in Aviation SMS

How to Develop an Emergency Response Plan

The first thing you need to do before developing an emergency response plan is conduct risk assessments on identified risks in order to establish potential emergency situations. You are looking for risks that:

  • Have a very high degree of severity (i.e., “catastrophic”); and
  • Are incidents that are (at least) known in the industry.

There may be high severity risks that are not known in industry, and you can choose to include these in your ERP. However, you should be wary of including “too much” in your plan, as it can quickly become bloated.

As you identify and create a list of potential emergency situations, organize them into logical categories. These logical categories will be your ERP chapters. Next you need to actually create:

  • Your contact list;
  • Tasks needed for each emergency; and
  • Resources needed for safety.

Developing these items might be best managed by processing each chapter as a safety issue. This will ensure that your ERP is:

  • Documented;
  • Thoroughly processed through your Safety Risk Management process;
  • Reviewed through an investigatory/validation process; and
  • Thoroughly reviewed by management, signed off and ready to use in case of emergencies.

After chapters have been processed, you should have a complete response plan for emergencies. As new emergencies are identified, you can update your ERP.

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Final Thought: What to Do with Your Response Plan

Emergency response plan in hand, you will need to get it into the hands of your employees. ERP documentation should be made very accessible because, after all, how useful is an emergency response plan if nobody can access it?

So, the first step is to:

  • Distribute the plan to each employee involved in the ERP;
  • Put the plan in easy to access places, such as on a server, on aircraft, in hangars, etc.; and
  • Notify each employee of where they can access it.

Beyond that you should:

  • Set a review process to periodically amend your ERP;
  • Update your ERP with newly identified emergencies; and
  • Most importantly, test your ERP.

ERPs should be tested with emergency drills. Emergency drills allow you to ensure that your organization responds to emergencies as planned. You can then make notes, and process any needed changes as safety issues. An ERP without corresponding emergency drills is like flying an aircraft without checking the engine first.

Having an ERP generation tool in your aviation SMS database is a huge bonus. The benefit is that your ERP will be easily accessible to all employees and that employees can keep their contact information current. One of the major challenges of traditional ERPs that are stored as a hard copy is that they quickly become outdated as employees rotate in and out of the company and as employees' contact information changes.


A low-cost, commercially available SMS database offers additional advantages beyond managing ERP documentation. Learn how your company can benefit from a well-known aviation SMS database by watching these short demo videos:

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Last updated May 2021.

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Topics: Quality-Safety Management

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