Whether it is man-made or natural, disaster can occur without notice and cause major disruptions to the operations of a business. If a disaster occurred, would your organization be prepared to appropriately respond? This is where an emergency response plan comes into play.

A required asset for general industry and construction industry businesses of 10 or more employees, an emergency response plan is a written outline of the proper response and actions that must go into effect during any kind of emergency that threatens workers, the public or the environment, whether it is man-made or natural.

For businesses with less than 10 employees, the response plan doesn’t need to be written, but needs to be established and available for review annually.

The essential elements of an emergency response plan must include:

  1. Procedure for reporting an emergency
  2. Evacuation procedures
  3. Operations for remaining personnel
  4. Accountability for all employees
  5. Procedure for rescue
  6. Additional Information

Building Your Emergency Response Plan

While an emergency response plan needs to able to be applied to disasters of all forms, former deputy fire chief and current Pearl Engineering safety consultant, Scott Burkart, stresses that your plan should not be specific on a case-by-case basis and should be left as general as possible.

Scott used an example given to him from his days training as a firefighter. Many years ago, a train caught fire and, following protocol, made an immediate stop on a wooden truss bridge. Worried about the spread of fire, the conductor requested to move the train off the truss, but was not allowed by his superiors as that would break the established protocol of keeping the train motionless in case of fire. In the end, both the train and the truss burned to the ground.

“In the face of so many variables and contingencies that come into play during any given disaster, your emergency response plan needs to allow for changes and adjustments to be made to respond to evolving situations,” he said. “Rigid policies can actually work against you. Your plan needs to act more as an ‘operating guideline’.”

Much like a hazardous communication plan, this plan needs to take every possible emergency into account and is therefore most effective when created in collaboration and allowed to be planned within a diverse group of people throughout the organization.


Your emergency plan must cover training and procedure for reporting an emergency to the proper authorities, whether it is calling the fire department in case of a fire, hazmat in case of a chemical spill or the police in case of an active shooter. All employees need to be able to identify the emergency, know who to call and have the ability to make the call.


Once the call has been put in, it is likely the building will need to be evacuated. The emergency response plan needs to designate such things as evacuation routes, any floor captains responsible for assisting the evacuation, evacuation areas such as shelters and what kind of evacuation (full evacuations, partial evacuations) need to be conducted in order to ensure a safe and thorough evacuation.

Remaining Personnel

In certain circumstances, certain employees or personnel may be designated to stay behind to assist in evacuation, clean up chemical spills, control fires or any other variety of roles. Your emergency response plan needs to account for any of these individuals and designate their role, where to access necessary materials and what they need to do to accomplish their role.


During an evacuation, it is the organization’s responsibility to account for all of its employees. The emergency response plan must account for this by training floor captains and issuing sign-in sheets to be used during an evacuation. Scott points out that this extends to all part-time and volunteer employees and is not limited to full-time employees.


All emergency response plans must account for how to execute a rescue or communicate the need for rescue of anyone unable to be evacuated to the proper authorities. Scott suggests establishing a liaison between the organization and emergency responders who can maintain contact and keep them up to date about situations such as these.


The final mandatory element of an emergency response plan is a section in place for contact information and resources in case of questions or inquiries about the plan. Scott also highly recommends listing the contact information for all emergency response teams such as EMS, hazmat, fire department, and so on to speed up the reporting process.


Scott notes that one thing that often causes confusion for those designing their plan. For instance, while it is not mandatory for businesses of under 10 employees to have an emergency response plan, there are exceptions where businesses of this size would be required to have a written plan in place. Here are a few notable exceptions that are required to have a plan no matter what:

  • Workplaces covered by a process management plan for chemical hazards
  • Workplaces with chemical sprinkler systems
  • Workplaces with fire detection systems
  • Grain handlers or grain mills
  • Workplaces with Ethylene Oxide

Scott Burkart is proficient in assisting in the developing of emergency response plans and training employees in the required areas. He can help your organization train employees, create your own emergency response plan, understand each element and avoid any unnecessary citations from OSHA.

For questions or inquiries, contact Scott at sjb@pearlengineering.com.