February 26, 2018 0

What businesses should learn from Hawaii’s emergency management incident

Posted by:Alice Cresswell onFebruary 26, 2018

On January 13 2018, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s (HEMA) emergency response plan went entirely wrong.

A notification, sent to all people on the island, urged people to find shelter as a ballistic missile was incoming. A major flaw in the emergency response system was then exposed: the agency had not prepared for a scenario in which they might have to retract an alert.

It took 38 minutes for an official alert to be sent that would let everyone know that there was no threat.

At this scale, the gravity of such an error was unprecedented. At least one man died of a heart attack directly related to the stress of the event.

hawaii emergency management - alerts - source CNN(Image source: CNN)

What went wrong?

It was found that the initial threat alert was sent by an employee who had previously (twice) confused a drill with a real incident or event. There were not sufficient barriers or access control mechanisms in place to prevent such an error from happening.

As a manufacturing, construction or production organization, how can learnings from the HEMA incident apply to our own emergency management planning and processes?

38 minutes is a long time to be in a state of panic and stress. It was later found that while HEMA had pre-set processes for sending out threat alerts, they did not have a process for retracting one.

The emergency alert process was designed for speed rather than accuracy (which is somewhat understandable due to the nature of the events for which they were preparing).

After the January 13 incident, HEMA reacted in a timely and well-considered manner. They conducted an efficient investigation and released findings publicly.

But most importantly, they took learnings from the incident and fed them back into their emergency management planning. They implemented new checkpoints to strengthen the process and ensure an incident like this would not happen again:

  1. Emergency alerts must now be approved by two employees;
  2. A “false alarm” message can now be sent immediately without having to go through the usual preparation process;
  3. In addition to these, the employee who sent the alert was let go.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires every industry employer to have an Emergency Action Plan.

According to OSHA, your emergency plan (at the bare minimum) must include:

  • A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies;
  • An evacuation policy and procedure;
  • Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas;
  • Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan;
  • Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating; and
  • Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them.

But effective emergency management is more than having a detailed plan. It’s about having processes in place to evaluate emergencies when they do happen and apply learnings effectively.

The Ultimate Guide To Emergency Management

There is no cookie-cutter approach to emergency management. However, this guide provides a framework for emergency management planning and process, offers tips and guidelines, and highlights a suite of cloud-based solutions which may help reduce the risk and impact of incidents.


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