IT Documentation - The Blog

Contents of an Emergency Manual – Part 2

October 13, 2014

Continuing from the first part of this post, you will now learn what you have to keep in mind when creating an emergency manual.

While a certain event is just a minor operational disruption for some people, it constitutes an emergency for others. Thus, it is important that the terms of emergency management are clearly defined in the manual. The amount of damage that makes an operational disruption an emergency depends mainly on the company involved. For a corporate group, the loss of a few million may not be a major threat, but it will endanger the existence of a small or medium-sized company. The limit values must be defined by corporate management. It will not be helpful to make a mountain out of a molehill, as not every little problem should be treated as an emergency. Assessment thresholds must be defined involving the persons responsible and liable for the company. It cannot be not up to the emergency management officer to make these definitions.

The emergency manual is a controlled document

As with all controlled documents, an annual revision of the emergency manual is required. This revision must be communicated, overseen, and documented in the management report of the responsible officer. It is recommended to always perform the checks listed below. You can create a corresponding checklist for the responsible officer and add it e.g. to a process description. This facilitates the documentation and may serve as evidence of a periodic review.

– Check that the phone numbers in the staff list are up-to-date

– Check the responsibilities

– Assess if the plans are applicable

– Check that the emergency control centre and its equipment are in proper condition

– Check the update service for printed and electronic documents

– Update the version history of the manual

– Keep the contingency planning training schedule up-to-date

We recommend that you do not wait for the fixed date to revise or extend specific IT contingency plans after changes have been made to critical IT systems. Better perform these tasks immediately. This, however, is only possible if there is a smooth internal communication flow.

An emergency is no excuse for breaking any rules

It is obvious that, even in a case of emergency, IT security and data privacy must be maintained. Early integration of the responsible officers has proven to be very helpful. As they might be required to document the defined measures in their own manuals, be sure to integrate them into the process right from the start to avoid any objections on their part. This makes it easier to decide upon any measures and speeds up their successful implementation.

Is the IT recovery plan quickly at hand?

In many emergencies, the IT department will have to intervene. For this reason, it is essential that you have access to an updated IT documentation. This topic is also relevant to emergency management. Once some elementary events have occurred, the IT department must ensure an emergency operation of the corporate IT. Since many companies rely so much on a working IT, measures must be taken as soon as possible. Here, a recovery plan for the server room or data centre is required, which, in turn, requires an updated IT documentation! With this in mind, the emergency management officer should push for this documentation and oversee its creation.

Defining alarm sequences and reporting chains

Another important topic to be covered in the emergency manual is the description of reporting chains, i.e. define who must be informed on which events and measures and who may communicate which information to the outside world. Always remember that reporting an issue will relieve you and put the burden on other shoulders!

The correct way to alarm rescue forces must also be communicated and verified. How do the employees know what phone numbers to dial? Can they dial 112 directly, or do they have to dial an outside line first? It sounds trivial, but if there are many foreign workers in the affected building, they might try to dial the number they are used to at home, but will not reach anybody in your country. The manufacturers provide most telephone sets with labels that indicate the numbers of fire and rescue services. Use these labels instead of wasting time to figure out some other solution. Information must be available where it might be needed.

Also communicate the 5 crucial questions for an emergency call:

  1. What happened?
  2. Where did it happen?
  3. How many persons are injured?
  4. What kind of injuries / damage?
  5. Wait for questions from the call-taker!

Imagine you created an emergency manual and nobody knows about it

Let me come to a final aspect: communication of the contingency plans described in the manual. It is quite an art to communicate the existence of an emergency manual so that the plans can actually be used. The challenge is to let every member of staff know the workflows and the reporting chain. In an emergency, people should know what to do without having to look it up in the manual.

There are so many aspects to take account of and points to consider. Here comes a little “incentive” why you should deal with the emergency manual topic. The requirement for a working emergency management can be derived from most national laws where the right to life and physical integrity is stipulated. Of course, this also applies to workplaces. So every employer has to make sure that the employees will not be harmed. An emergency manual can support this endeavour, just because you really need to deal with this topic. Of course, the scope of emergency management varies with the company size. It must be adjusted both to the nature and size of the company. Obviously, you cannot wait until an emergency has occurred. At this moment, everybody should be familiar with the workflows.

So the recommendation is the same as always: simply get started. Then, over time, refine the descriptions and plans featuring the measures for the individual emergency scenarios. After all, the concept of continuous improvement process (CIP) has been invented for cases like this. After all, you want to improve the manual with the insights gained from training exercises and other contributions.

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