Emergency Response Plan: A Guide to Getting Ready for Anything

Learn everything about the emergency response plan and fully equip yourself to take the appropriate actions when disaster strikes.

What is an Emergency Response Plan (ERP)?

An emergency response plan is a document that outlines the crucial steps in the first few minutes of a disaster, whether it be man-made or natural, or in any dire situation that threatens life and the environment. The initial response to any emergency is critical to containing the threat, minimizing further damage, and saving lives.

Why is it Important?

Serious and life-threatening emergencies are incredibly hard to predict or prevent.  Organizations have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers. One important aspect of an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) program is an emergency response plan. The set of measures stated therein aims to provide guidance during a crisis and outlines the roles and responsibilities of each individual in the organization and the resources available to them. An emergency preparedness and response plan is the most effective way to deal with any emergency.


  • Prevent fatalities and injuriesDisaster planning means saving lives. Deaths from natural disasters have decreased significantly in the past century because of disaster preparedness.
  • Mitigate damage – Destruction of buildings, breakdown of equipment, and contamination of stocks mean financial losses. Companies can prevent extensive damage with an immediate and proper response.
  • Protect the surrounding environment – Proactive and protective actions aim to localize threats. Doing this will prevent or lessen the spread of the impact to nearby communities.
  • Resume normal operations as soon as possible – Catastrophes, natural or man-made, can cripple the whole organization. A well-designed and properly implemented emergency preparedness and response program can help companies get back on their feet quickly and safely.

Types and Examples

Although there is a basic template for what this document for emergency response looks like, it can be customized to counter a specific threat or suit a particular industry. Here are the types of emergency response plans, along with their examples:

General Preparedness and Emergency Response

This covers the fundamental aspects of disaster preparedness, such as risk assessment, basic emergency procedures, and proper communication.

Small or medium enterprises opt to use this type when they deem their operations to be relatively low-risk. However, the system must be deeply ingrained within the workforce. Knowing evacuation procedures, understanding fire safety, and learning basic life support like first aid and CPR are just some crucial actions that can prevent injuries, eradicate fatalities, and minimize damage.

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Specialized Emergency Response

This type is tailored to address specific emergencies or specific risks in an organization. It should have detailed information about the threat, its consequences, the ways to contain it, and the people assigned to the job. Below are different kinds of situations that require technical action plans:

  • Severe weather conditions (hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms)
  • Natural calamities (earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfire)
  • Vehicular crashes (cars, trains, aircraft, etc.)
  • Hazardous materials accidents like fuel or oil spills)
  • Chemical, biological, or radiological disasters
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Civil disorder
  • Active shooter

Whether a company goes for the general type or a more specialized emergency response plan, OSHA and other government agencies are prepared to provide technical assistance when the situation overwhelms the organization’s capabilities.

What to Include in an Emergency Response Plan

Designing an emergency response plan can be challenging because there are many risks to consider. On top of that, it should include detailed instructions for execution. If you’re unsure where to start, below is a list of the essential elements of an emergency response plan:

  • Type of emergency,
  • Consequences of the emergency,
  • Required step-by-step action to take,
  • Detailed list of EMS leads with their contact details and specific duties,
  • Floor plans of your organization, and
  • Large scale maps showing service conduits and evacuation routes

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Check out websites like OSHA (US), CCOHS (Canada), or Safe Work Australia for general emergency response plan PDFs and documents. You can develop your own based on their recommendations and familiarize yourself with related health and safety regulations applicable to your location.

Developing an Emergency Response Plan

Disaster preparedness and response plans are not just handbooks left in office bookshelves to collect dust just because nothing bad happened. They should be revisited regularly to ensure that they still meet the current needs of the organization and conform to new guidelines.

  • Formulation – As aforementioned, the plan should include specific procedures to address the situation. This includes considering the availability of resources (e.g, equipment and supplies). Your stakeholders—your workforce, the community you serve, and the regulatory offices—must also be involved for a better understanding of their roles and a more coordinated response.
  • Implementation – This covers information dissemination, such as sending emergency response plan PDFs to all employees or posting evacuation plans all over the workplace. It also includes personnel training on must-have skills like basic life support or handling hazardous materials.
  • Evaluation – Conducting drills (e.g., fire, earthquake, active shooter) is a good way to see if the plan works. Organizations should not wait for a catastrophe to test the developed system.
  • Maintenance – There is no perfect plan when it comes to emergencies. Maintenance is all about continuously reviewing it and keeping it up-to-date.

FAQs about Emergency Response Plan

The organization’s health and safety committee are responsible for this undertaking. They are also tasked to implement the plan, often with support from OSHA experts and the local authorities (e.g., police, firemen, paramedics, etc.).

It depends on the size of your organization and your location. OSHA released an emergency response plan PDF specifying the general requirements for emergency response and preparedness for different sectors. Do review the document to see if it applies to your workplace.

Lack of communication or the failure to exchange relevant information is the biggest problem in this situation. This can be eradicated if stakeholders are informed of the command and control structures, as well as their roles and responsibilities should anything arise, at the onset.

An ERP refers to a set of measures in place set by facilities and organizations with first-responding capabilities. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP), on the other hand, can be used by facilities and organizations where only defensive measures are applicable. Such emergency actions include evacuation plans and communicating with responders from external emergency services providers. To help streamline the process of creating an effective EAP, using an emergency action plan template is also a must.

If certain workplace safety laws and regulations don’t state specific guidelines on creating ERPs, the general duty clause of respective legal requirements per state, country, or region must apply. This is where employers are obligated to take reasonable steps to uphold workplace safety at all times.

For quick reference, the following are the regulatory bodies and OHS agencies responsible for enforcing emergency planning and response laws in various states and countries:

Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Article by
Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Eunice is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, Eunice has written a multitude of topics for over a decade now.