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What Went Hong: Emergency response

Look deeper to understand who should be in charge of your emergency response.


May 5, 2022
By James Hong

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Recently I took part in the National Fire Protection Leadership for Emergency Responders forum, which really made me think deeply about all the many, many ways in which we all need to be prepared in these times. The workplace is no exception. Today, let’s cover the human aspect of emergency response and what characteristics are best suited for leadership as well as emergency response in the workplace. 

Some characteristics demonstrated in highly effective emergency response leadership are volunteerism, a proactive approach and the desire and willingness to take care of the workplace and workforce. These are all innate qualities that are usually a natural part of an individual’s character. More often than not, these qualities cannot be taught. However, they can be encouraged.

Companies often refer to success in managing tasks or responses to problems as their measurement of success. However, there are leadership qualities that only come from within – characteristics such as passion, creativity and initiative. A supervisor’s role in defining worker’s qualities is limited to qualities that are displayed on the outside of the person, such as understanding direction, a concerted work effort each day and following rules. But testing well in an interview does not necessarily demonstrate our innate qualities, the qualities that are part of our inner essential nature. These are frequently the qualities that are most important in creating good leadership of all kinds, including and perhaps most importantly, emergency response.

Encouraging and training the workforce for emergency response leadership and preparedness is most effective when using a people-driven approach, based on engaging people directly in the process. This has been shown to enhance motivation and provide workers with the confidence to change behaviour and adopt changing or new routines and protocols. Solid methods for doing so include surveys to gauge worker knowledge and confidence; caring about the workforce; and making your appreciation apparent for work well done. And most importantly, extensively testing those in charge of emergencies with frequency and  budgeting properly for training and rewarding motivation. Management tours of worksites to specifically demonstrate emergency preparedness provides an important opportunity to answer worker questions and encourage open communication. 

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Other aspects of leadership effectiveness can be honed by awareness of your body language and voice characteristics. Ask yourself, how does my presence and instruction affect others in the workplace? How do workers respond to my participation in a leadership role? Do I have all the tools to prevent and address an emergency? Do I have an evacuation plan posted in clear sight? Do I have a roster of the workers onsite? Does the workforce have everything needed: equipment, instruction, knowledge and refresher training? Generally workplace emergencies include fires or explosions, medical emergencies, severe weather, earthquakes, major power failures and hazardous material spills. Emergency response for such occurrences requires assigning someone in charge who is invested in the role and training that person to the fullest extent of their duties and responsibilities. We need to ensure that muster stations and exits are posted in clear sight and overviewed at the start of any job and pointed out to all new incoming workers and departments.

Not everyone is well-suited for leadership when it comes to emergencies. That’s perfectly acceptable. So we need to have the best-suited person for the role in charge if and when an emergency arises. 

Be safe. Be well.  


James Hong is an OHS consultant, writer and journalist.