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May 12, 2020 | Insights

Creating an Emergency Response Team

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, one of the first steps TSNE took was to create an emergency response team. This team was responsible for tackling COVID-specific policies, procedures, and communications during the course of the crisis. By creating this team, we now have an infrastructure for emergency responses that can be used in a post-COVID world. 

The Purpose of Your Team

Creating an Emergency Response Team allows your organization to address important issues and concerns during a time of crisis. By including several key players on the team, you are sharing leadership and ensuring that the team is providing a holistic approach to crisis management. This will make your staff more likely to trust the decisions made by the team.

When your staff and stakeholders are all on the same page, it will ensure trust in your organizational leadership and create buy-in from all involved.

Building Your Team

Your Emergency Response Team will be different depending on the size and makeup of your organization, but consider the presence of the following areas:

  • Leadership (CEO, COO, Executive Director): to provide operational and values-based perspectives on the decisions that the organization makes
  • Human Resources: to understand your HR policies and ensure adherence to HIPPA, OSHA, and other standards
  • Finance: to predict the impact of the crisis on your financial status and help you adjust your budget
  • Property Management: for guidance on health and safety procedures for your staff and workplace
  • Communications: to keep your staff and your external audiences informed about how you are responding and what your needs might be
  • Legal: to understand the legal obligations that your grants and business contracts place on you, and the liabilities you are responsible for
  • Programming: to explain how your decisions will affect your programs and to assess how programming might change to meet new situational needs
  • IT: to understand and meet the technology needs of your staff

You want your team to be small and nimble, so limit the number of people on the team to the decision-maker of their department.

Setting Your Team Up for Success

You want to set up a consistent structure and time for your Emergency Response Team meetings.

  1. Create a schedule for standing meetings and ensure that all members of your Emergency Response Team have that time blocked off.
  2. Determine the best way to hold your meetings: video chat, conference calls, etc.
  3. Task someone with creating and facilitating the agendas and assign another team member with taking notes. If you have an administrative staff member who can be your designated note taker, add them to your team.
  4. Check in with members of the team to see if their department has issues or concerns that need to be addressed.
  5. Stay focused. Your Emergency Response Team should be addressing issues regarding the emergency at hand. If other organizational issues arise in your meeting that are not related to the emergency, table it for a separate meeting.
  6. Make decisions. Acknowledge that in unprecedented situations, you will not have all of the information you would like to have in order to make decisions. Responding to emergencies requires quick decision-making using the best available information you have. If needed, you can revise decisions when you get more information.
  7. Revisit your meeting schedule as needed. You may need to meet more frequently at the beginning of a crisis while you are reacting to constant changes, but as time moves forward, the need to meet might become less frequent.

Our Experience

TSNE’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team consisted of our Chief Executive Office, Chief Operating Officer, Director of Human Resources, Director of Finance, In-house Counsel, Communications, Property Managemer, and Head of IT. The Special Assistant to the CEO was also included on the team to provide note taking, scheduling, and operational support to the entire team.

When COVID-19 hit, the Emergency Response Team met for daily, hour-long video conference calls. The immediate issues we addressed in the beginning days of the crisis included understanding how to transition staff to working remotely, figuring out how in-person operations like the mail would be handled, and deciding on a schedule of regular communications for internal and external audiences.

The team also discussed specific issues related to the crisis that needed to be considered such as sanitation of the workspace, health and safety measures, applying for federal relief aid, and planning for a reopening of the office.

Once we passed the “reactive” phase of the response and moved toward planning for the future and a return to the workplace, we felt the need to meet less and moved toward half-hour meetings held every other day.

The Emergency Response Team created a variety of policies and procedures during the COVID-19 crisis meant to guide staff and stakeholders. Many of the best practices we devised are included in this guide, meant to be a useful resource to you, your team, and your organization.