by David Martin, TSS Safety Coordinator
It is one thing for individuals and organizations to prepare an Emergency Action Plan for a physical event such as a fire or flood, tornado or active shooter. It is another thing entirely to develop an effective plan for something that can’t be seen such as a virus.
As we move forward through this difficult time, we can only put effective EAPs in place if we have clarity about our situation and what is mandated by our local authorities and the federal government.
Know your terms
First, we need to be consistent in our use of definitions so that we can all be on the same page about what needs to be done. The words “isolation” and “quarantine” have been used almost interchangeably in the media, etc. When that happens and people hear one or the other used by an agency or government, they have a preconceived idea of what that means, and it may not always be correct.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is our best source for accurate information. According to the CDC, isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.
- Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
- Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
- The goal of self-isolation is to try to keep ourselves separated from someone who is or may be sick.
Your Company EAP
Most companies already have some sort of EAP. Often, this is mandated by OSHA. Communication of such a plan can either be verbal or written depending on the number of employees.
The current crisis calls for an understanding of specific vocabulary, changing rules and regulations and increased flexibility for applying the EAP. However, some steps are consistent no matter what the emergency is, and the key is having a plan that can be modified to virtually any event.
Any EAP should include a communications strategy.
As an employer:
Consider how you will effectively communicate the plan to employees —
- In the event your business is closed for a period due to any reason, make sure that you communicate regularly with employees and help them understand the resources that may be available to them.
- Be clear about your expectations for employees who are working from home and what the process will be for returning to work.
As an employee:
- Understand the EAP and if you have questions, ask.
- If you have to leave or be away from your work for a period unexpectedly, make sure you know what your responsibilities are. Do you understand your employer’s directives?
The difficulty during this particular emergency situation is that there are so many unknowns. A business can plan for what to do in the event of a fire. But with COVID-19, we are learning on our feet and it is almost impossible to predict what the future will bring and how long many businesses will have to stay shuttered. We are just now seeing the importance of having a business plan in place, making the most of our relationships with banks, CPAs, business and personal connections, etc. So, more than ever, the communication piece of the EAP is critical.
How about an EAP for your household?
It is incredibly hard to keep your mind focused on work when you are concerned about family. Having a plan in place that everyone in your family is familiar with can help to ease some of that worry.
Recommendations from the CDC include:
- Talk with the people who need to be included in your plan. Meet with household members, other relatives, and friends to discuss what to do if an emergency occurs in your community and what the needs of each person will be.
- Plan ways to care for those who might be at greater risk for serious complications. There is limited information about who may be at risk for severe complications from COVID-19 illness. From the data that are available for COVID-19 patients, and from data for related coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, older adults and persons who have underlying chronic medical conditions may be at risk for more serious complications. Early data suggest older people are more likely to have serious COVID-19 illness. If you or your household members are at increased risk for COVID-19 complications, please consult with your healthcare provider for more information.
- Get to know your neighbors. Talk with your neighbors about emergency planning. If your neighborhood has a website or social media page, consider joining it to maintain access to neighbors, information, and resources.
- Identify aid organizations in your community. Create a list of local organizations that you and your household can contact in the event you need access to information, health care services, support, and resources. Consider including organizations that provide mental health or counseling services, food, and other supplies.
- Create an emergency contact list. Ensure your household has a current list of emergency contacts for family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, health care providers, teachers, employers, the local public health department, and other community resources.
Every emergency is going to be different and every situation is going to be different, but with good planning, we can better deal with events outside our control.