Mar 14, 2024
Apr 9, 2024

What’s an emergency notification plan, and why do you need one?

In this blog post, we explore the importance of an emergency notification plan, including potential risks, tips, and more!
Envoy logoGiulianno Lopez
Content Marketing Manager
Marketing Specialist
What’s an emergency notification plan, and why do you need one?

Emergency preparedness has taken on increased importance in recent years. As workers return to the office in large numbers, the frequency of security threats continues to escalate. Over 50% of companies have seen an uptick in the volume and severity of security threats. Adding to the complexity is the rise of distributed office models. Having multiple offices introduces its own set of complications. For one, it makes it more difficult to effectively manage who comes in and out. Secondly, each location may present its own set of security needs and vulnerabilities, requiring tailored processes and solutions to address them.

The other aspect is the costs associated with unauthorized individuals accessing restricted areas. This has direct implications for data breaches. In 2023, the worldwide average cost for a data breach rose to $4.45 million, a 15% increase over the past three years.

Given these challenges, companies must be able to identify and communicate with everyone present during a critical situation. Having an emergency notification plan in place can make all the difference, especially in moments when every second counts. 

What is an emergency notification plan?

An emergency notification plan is a process for alerting employees and visitors of any imminent threats or crises. These plans help companies facilitate coordinated responses to situations that could cause harm or disrupt operations.

For example, Cleveland State University's plan outlines how various departments notify everyone on campus via multiple channels, including SMS, emails, social media, and building speaker systems. This approach ensures prompt communication for all types of emergencies, from natural disasters to active security attacks.

Consequences of not having a plan in place

Not having a plan can open a can of worms, impacting not only the safety of the folks onsite but also a company's legal and financial status. Below are some specific drawbacks of not having a plan in place.

Compliance issues with OSHA and California Senate Bill 553

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers maintain a safe working environment. This includes implementing emergency notification plans. Per their requirements, companies "must inform all affected employees that an emergency exists and what their immediate response should be." Failure to adhere to these requirements can result in inspections, citations, and penalties. OSHA enforces its regulations strictly. Any non-compliance can result in significant fines—from $16,131 per violation to $161,323 for repeated offenses.

In California, Senate Bill 553 requires employers to develop workplace violence prevention plans. These measures must include "effective means to alert employees of the presence, location, and nature of workplace violence emergencies." The bill pushes for more stringent regulations, with fines starting at $18,000 per violation and rising as high as $25,000. If a company also operates in other states, it may need to implement similar or comparable plans across all their locations—even those outside California—to ensure compliance.

Safety and security concerns

Scattered communication during an emergency can create more confusion and panic. And that's the last thing you need when any misstep can exacerbate the situation. More specifically, having no plan can lead to:

  • Employees and visitors being in the dark. An emergency notification plan serves as a guide for decimating vital information to affected individuals. Without one, folks may not know the quickest evacuation routes or how to access medical help. Worse yet, they can be completely unaware that an emergency is even taking place. 
  • Longer response times. Communication can stagnate without a clear and defined process. Companies may find themselves unprepared to respond swiftly. This can significantly increase the response time if an employee or visitor is injured. According to OSHA, "treatment of a serious injury should begin within 3 to 4 minutes of the accident."
  • Compromised emergency response. First responders rely on accurate and timely information. An emergency notification plan can help provide essential details about the nature of the emergency, the number of people involved, specific hazards present (e.g., chemicals, electrical dangers), and access points to the workplace. For first responders, this information is essential for managing an emergency.

Financial liability

Implementing and maintaining an emergency notification plan is not just a regulatory requirement. It's a critical investment in a company's financial stability and long-term viability. Let's go over some of the potential financial pitfalls:

  • Compliance fines. As noted above, not adhering to compliance standards can result in significant penalties. Fines can vary depending on the severity and nature of the violation. But they can still amount to tens of thousands of dollars for each instance. Repeated or willful violations can lead to even greater financial penalties.
  • Data breaches. Strong data management and security are crucial to prevent financial losses from data breaches. For instance, payment card information (PCI) compliance requires financial companies to log all individuals accessing sensitive areas to protect non-public personal information. Failing to do so can lead to audits and heavy fines if a breach occurs. There's also the "technical debt" accrued when companies fail to update and maintain their data management systems over time. This can manifest in the need for additional hardware, increased manpower for maintenance, and the potential for security vulnerabilities that could lead to future breaches.
  • Legal action from employees. If an employee injures themselves during an emergency, they could pursue legal action against their employer for failing to provide safe working conditions. That might be a likely outcome given that one in seven employees do not feel safe at the workplace. While direct lawsuits for OSHA violations are generally not permissible, employees can seek compensation for injuries through workers' compensation claims and, in some cases, personal injury lawsuits if negligence can be established.
  • Higher insurance premiums. Insurers assess a company's risk level based on past incidents and safety measures in place. A poor safety record can lead to being deemed a higher risk, which in turn can increase insurance costs. An emergency notification plan can help mitigate this risk and make insurance premiums more manageable.
  • Reputational costs. The reputational damage from perceived negligence can have long-term financial impacts. A company known for failing to protect its employees may struggle with employee retention and recruitment, face customer backlash, and suffer from decreased investor confidence.

Tips for setting up your emergency notification plan

If you're in the middle of developing a plan, there are solutions that can help. A visitor management system (VMS) should be part of your core tech stack, and the best come with built-in emergency notification capabilities. By integrating with your existing workplace tools, these tools can help you establish a more cohesive—and less manual—process. They can automate tedious, error-prone tasks while also surfacing key, in-the-moment information. 

Below are a few tips to keep in mind and how a VMS can help you along the way:

  1. Track visitors and employees in real time. Knowing who's onsite at all times is fundamental to a successful emergency response. Real-time tracking allows you to identify and account for everyone in a few clicks. For example, Envoy facilitates this by maintaining a live log of visitors and employees. This capability is invaluable for actual situations where quick evacuation is necessary.
  2. Keep up-to-date contact details. Having accurate contact information can make all the difference during an emergency. It's needed for sending alerts and instructions to the right folks and confirming the safety of everyone onsite after the incident.
  3. Reach out on the right channels. It's crucial to use the channels that employees are most likely to see and respond to. With Envoy's emergency notifications feature, for instance, you can send mass messages to signed-in visitors and employees via the Envoy mobile app and through frequently-used channels, such as SMS, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or email.
  4. Test out your plan. Regularly testing your emergency notification system is key to ensuring it's working correctly. This includes making sure messages reach all intended devices and channels. Envoy lets admins test alerts with specific groups, like the safety team. You also have to make sure to train employees on how to react to alerts, including understanding and following the required actions. Running drills simulating various emergencies helps employees get used to the procedures and tests the system's efficiency.
  5. Share current data with the authorities. Providing first responders with accurate, live data about who's in the building can ensure a swifter response. A visitor management system, like Envoy, can surface this info, allowing emergency services to locate and assist those in need of medical attention.

Future-proofing your emergency preparedness with Envoy

The future of workplace security is heavily reliant on integrated systems. By implementing an emergency notification plan with a VMS, you address today's safety concerns while also embracing a forward-looking approach to security. Envoy integrates with a myriad of workplace tools and systems, including security and communication platforms. This interconnectedness helps streamline communications and create more responsive and proactive security measures.​ Solutions like Envoy can help you establish a safer, more secure environment equipped to handle emergencies effectively.

Are you interested in finding out how a VMS can help you with emergency preparedness? Check out our eBook, "Your ultimate guide to choosing a visitor management system," to learn more.

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Giulianno LopezEnvoy logo
Giulianno Lopez

Giulianno Lopez is a Content Marketing Manager here at Envoy, where he specializes in crafting content centered around workplace management.
When he's not working, you can find him at Golden Gate Park training for his next race.

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