Creating an Emergency Response Plan

A community’s emergency response plan should be created with the goal of preventing or reducing threats to life, health, the economy, and property. When creating it, keep in mind the “do no harm” principle of No Adverse Impact and avoid approaches that protect one piece of property at the cost of another (for example, installing an emergency seawall on one piece of property that increases erosion to abutting properties).

Emergency response plans should be periodically updated, and drills should be regularly conducted. Each emergency response plan should be tailored to the needs and capacity of a particular community. To minimize confusion during chaotic events, plans should specify: 1) what is to be done, 2) in what order, and 3) who is responsible for doing it. While each community has its own organizational make-up, typical response plans include:

  • Activating the emergency operations center and securing communications (chief elected official or emergency manager).
  • Closing the openings in flood walls or barriers, where applicable (public works department).
  • Providing early warning to critical facilities (dispatcher or emergency manager).
  • Changing traffic flow on evacuation routes and closing hazardous streets and bridges (police, public works department, or MassHighway).
  • Providing early warnings to marinas and harbormasters to expedite hauling boats out of the water or relocating them to safer places (chief elected official or emergency manager).
  • Making evacuation decisions (chief elected official or emergency manager).
  • Providing people with directions to safe emergency evacuation routes away from coastal areas (emergency manager, Department of Public Works, and the media).
  • Providing and publicizing the availability of mass transit to evacuate people without vehicles (Department of Public Works, emergency manager, and the media).
  • Monitoring water levels (Department of Public Works or engineering department).
  • Holding children at school or releasing them from school (chief elected official, school district).
  • Opening evacuation centers (emergency manager, the Red Cross, or other relief organizations).
  • Providing security for evacuated areas (Department of Public Works or police).
  • Informing the public about health and safety precautions (chief elected official or health department).

Communities with beaches and dunes should have emergency response plans approved in advance to address erosion that threatens public infrastructure or facilities. (For example, since beach scraping is not allowed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), communities should have a contract in place with a sand and gravel pit to bring in compatible sediment to address critical erosion.) See MassDEP’s policy on their website.

To learn how to create a disaster response plan, see the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) detailed Guide for All-Hazards Emergency Operations Planning (PDF, 602 KB), and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s (MEMA) Local Emergency Management Program Guidebook (PDF, 24 MB). These guides offer FEMA’s and MEMA’s best recommendations on how to deal with the entire planning process—from forming a planning team to writing the plan. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management is also available to provide technical assistance with erosion response and beach and dune management planning.

* Your community needs only 500 points to qualify for reduced flood insurance premiums through the Community Rating System (CRS). For more information (including how to apply for the CRS program), see our Community Rating System (CRS) primer.

Notes from the folks at CRS:

“Disaster Response Plans may receive credit under Activity 610, Flood Warning Program. Prerequisites for the credit include the presence of a flood threat recognition system and emergency warning dissemination to the general public.”