Emergency Preparedness

Be Prepared: It’s Not Just for Boy Scouts

As you and your company consider preparing for emergencies, don’t be overwhelmed by preparing for everything. Prepare for “any old thing” and you will find plenty of opportunity to make a difference one emergency at a time.

Al Blencoe

The Boy Scouts have a motto: “Be prepared”. Their founder Robert Baden-Powell, was once asked; “Prepared for what?” His response; “Why, for any old thing.” So it is with the Boy Scouts, so it should be with the modern waste hauler in an era where “any old thing” can range from improperly discarded radioactive and bio-hazardous waste to signs of terrorist or criminal activity to being caught by extreme weather or other natural disasters while out on the route.

Because the scope is so broad, and in many cases the threat seems so remote, it is difficult to maintain interest and enthusiasm for the work that is required to prepare for a large event. It takes time, cooperation, documentation and practice. Even then it is apparent that what you are doing is preparing the best you can with the resources you have for something that cannot be clearly defined. But, all of this big event planning is extremely valuable and you will especially think so if you have an opportunity to implement your plan. There is a confidence that comes from knowing there is a plan in place that is understood by many, allowing organizations and communities to face the reality of a devastating event with calm and resolve.

This article will plant the seeds of preparation for those companies and organizations that have not already taken steps to prepare for catastrophe. Let’s start by considering the wisdom of Baden-Powell, to be prepared “for any old thing.”

Being Prepared is Nothing New

Most of us have had the experience of improved outcomes because of being prepared with knowledge and/or having appropriate tools. Give it some thought. Perhaps it was as simple as Dad or Grandpa making sure you had an appropriate pair of gloves before setting out to rid the garden of weeds. Is there a good set of socket wrenches in your toolbox, because you learned they work better than using pliers for everything? How many sore hands and damaged knuckles have been spared over the years with this simple preparation? Even if you did insist on learning the hard way, acquiring blisters and bruised knuckles until you decided these were pretty good ideas.

What is an Emergency?

A common definition of the word emergency is “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action”. What are the most likely emergencies that you may come across on a given day? For many of us it is likely to have something to do with traffic, work, weather or home. And, following the definition provided, there are generally two things to consider; an unforeseen combination of circumstances, such as an accident on a busy highway or the resulting situation that calls for immediate attention—maybe people have been injured in the accident, or maybe you have?

Call 9-1-1

We are fortunate in the U.S. to have a nearly universal availability of 9-1-1. And the majority of the time, the first action that should be taken, in an emergency, is to call 9-1-1. This seems like a simple, no brainer piece of information. However, after nearly 30 years in the business of 9-1-1, I can tell you that the folks that answer the phones appreciate someone that understands what information is important, are able to provide it and be calm enough to be understood. The emotion of an emergency situation almost always has an impact on voice quality, pitch and speed as well as thought process. Ask your local 9-1-1 department for information, a speaker or a tour for your staff or organization. The simple things that you learn, and practice, may save a life.

Location Awareness

As an example, thousands of calls are made to 9-1-1 every year for accidents or hazards on interstate highways. One of the first two or three questions the 9-1-1 operator will ask is; “What is your location?”1 It is amazing how many people do not know what road they are on or where on that road. “I left North Dakota this morning and I think I am still in Minnesota” is not as helpful as it may seem. It is not always better for local people because they drive the roads so often, they do not think about what road they are on. “This is the road I take to my orthodontist.” It sounds unlikely. But, I am not making this up.

There are other questions the 9-1-1 operator will ask depending on the initial information you provide. Location awareness is an important part of any 9-1-1 call and is offered here as an example of why being prepared to make a 9-1-1 call is important in handling an emergency. When you contact your local 9-1-1 folks, they are likely to provide additional guidance, some of which may be specific for your area.

What Can I Do?

Going back to our definition of an emergency, there are circumstances that create a danger and the results often produce injury. If you individually or as a corporate entity have made an effort to expose yourself to information on how to safely assess and secure an accident, provide first aid, comfort those affected but not injured, participated in discussion, practiced or gone to the point of being certified in some area you will find a certain shift in your confidence when faced with the daily emergencies of life. Instead of saying, “What can I do?” You may find yourself saying, “I know what to do!”

You know your company, community and employees and I am not going to tell you what to do. However, I am going to encourage you to do something. There are numerous organizations like the Red Cross or the CERT program that offer classes and various methods to learn more about knowing what to do in an emergency. Contact your local Emergency Management to learn about CERT. Often, hospitals and technical colleges have information and classes available as well.

As an employer with equipment on the road every day, if you have not done it already, consider installing emergency kits in your trucks or enhancing the emergency kits you have and the training that goes with them. Give some thought to what should be in your kits for the kind of business you do or the common potential emergencies your team may face. A simple search of the Internet will find many examples for you to consider and sources to purchase from. It is likely you are already working with a vendor that can help you determine and find what is right for you. It makes sense to provide people with the knowledge and also the tools to put the knowledge into action.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One thing that any emergency preparedness professional will tell you is that all of the preparation and planning on paper will not prepare you for the real thing. Your organization should, at the very minimum provide training for employees on how to properly use any emergency tools and supplies in their trucks but could go beyond that. Your company can do your own training drills, often with the supervision of local emergency preparedness agencies, or you can participate in local drills and exercises they have planned. Examples of topics to consider and organizations that are likely to help are:

  • The local Fire Department to provide instruction on recognizing and understanding fire danger as well as how to properly use a fire extinguisher
  • The Red Cross for classes on CPR and First Aid
  • The local Emergency Management office will provide CERT classes and is experienced in helping to design and facilitate plans and exercises

Training can start with classroom, hands-on experience, tabletop exercises and elaborate full dress rehearsals complete with makeup and “casualties”. Each level of investment in training and equipment has a corresponding level of reward and you decide how much and how far your preparation will go.

Rewards and Awards

Whether you are reading this piece as an employer or employee, give some consideration to the concept that a little investment of your time and perhaps money may save a significant amount of anxiety or pain for you or someone else in the future. For every big event disaster you and your company will face, if any, there will be dozens of events occurring in and around your organization that have the making of an emergency. Not a disaster, but a potential emergency with serious ramifications for someone. By providing some training, leadership and equipment your team will be positioned to make a difference for co-workers and others when a situation occurs that may be an emergency.

As with any situation encountered in the work environment, there will be some employees who have more interest, experience, skill or aptitude than others. Consider getting them more involved in preparedness and safety. Maybe give them time off to take Red Cross CPR training or give them an incentive or purchase the special equipment needed for them to participate in the local Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) or the volunteer fire department. All of this can help your organization’s image in the community and the emergency preparedness of your community and your organization. It also wouldn’t hurt to provide some sort of recognition or financial incentive for employees willing to go above and beyond the requirements of their job. For many organizations participation in this type of program adds an additional facet to the employee’s job and contributes positively to retention.

Prepare for “Any Old Thing”

I once heard the story of a businessman who worked near the ocean. Often he would look out at the ocean and think about all of the big problems in the world. Wars, starvation, poverty and he felt helpless because the problems of the world were too big for him to solve. As he looked out of his office window he noticed that there were thousands of starfish washed up on the beach, and he could see a young boy near the surf, frantically picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea to save them. The man went and talked to the boy telling him there were too many starfish to save. The boy would never make a difference. And, as the boy picked up another and tossed it back to the safety of the water he said: “I made a difference for that one!” As you and your company consider preparing for emergencies, don’t be overwhelmed by preparing for everything. Prepare for “any old thing” and you will find plenty of opportunity to make a difference one emergency at a time.

Al Blencoe has 27 years of Public Safety experience in Emergency Services and is the Publication Coordinator for LEAPS.TV. He can be reached at (404) 424-9172 or [email protected].


  1. This scenario implies the call is coming from a cellular phone and while many of these calls can be located through technology, you will find nearly all 9-1-1 centers asking the question to verify the location. Because it is important they know for sure where you are.


The Enhanced Emergency Kit

Maybe you’ve got an emergency kit or at least a first aid kit. There are many suppliers that will customize a kit for your needs, including how and where it mounts in your fleet of vehicles and offering everything from a quick first aid reference guide, burn supplies like gauze, creams and gels, survival blankets, splints, eye wash, insect repellant, water bag and hat brim light. There is no limit to what you could have in your kit. You might also consider extra tools, such as weather radio, biohazard detectors, fire extinguishers, AEDs and the training that goes with them. Don’t forget regular maintenance, checkups and refreshes for the equipment.


Citizen’s Emergency Response Team (CERT)

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.



A Good 9-1-1 Call
No good cop show would be complete without a 9-1-1 call or two during the season. A distraught caller screams into the phone “He’s been shot!” or “She’s been robbed” and the next thing you see is the crime scene. Most people know intuitively that there is more to a 9-1-1 call than is usually portrayed in the media. Consider how you can be prepared to make a call to 9-1-1 faster and more successful. The first and most important questions you will be asked by a 9-1-1 operator are:

  • What is the emergency? (Car accident, fire, fight)
  • What is the location? (The more specific, the better; landmarks and businesses are good)
  • Is anyone injured? (If yes, there will be more questions)

Knowing what to do when making a 9-1-1 call may have a big impact on the resolution of the emergency you are calling about.