half life

A cliché in emergency management is that emergency plans are living documents. The meaning behind this saying is that emergency preparedness efforts require maintenance; they have a half-life.


Halflife (t): is the time required for the amount of  something to fall to half its initial value.


Determining the half-life of an emergency plan or training program is not an exact science; the half-life depends upon variables like changes to hazards and improvements to best practices. Your emergency plan, training program and security measures all have a half-life and the time to find out they have expired is not during an emergency.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in response to the terrorist attacks on 9-11. However, DHS can trace its roots back past FEMA to the Civil Defense days of World War II.

One constant that has remained is the emphasis on preparedness. 

Presidential Policy Directive 8 outlines emergency preparedness around five missions; Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery.  These mission areas are interdependent.

Prevention (Getting Before “X”) is vital but Preparedness must address each of these areas and these efforts must be maintained to prevent half-life failure.


Examples of How Half-Life Caused Emergency Plans to Fail

2009 Horizon Spill

BP’s 582-page regional spill emergency plan for the Gulf, and its 52-page, site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig are riddled with omissions and glaring errors, according to an Associated Press analysis.  For instance, Professor Peter Lutz was listed in the 2009 plan as a national wildlife expert.

He died in 2005.

2012 Sandy Hook

Despite installing a video intercom to help screen visitors prior to entry, there is no record of the school completing a security assessment to identify failure points; such as the glass windows surrounding the “secured” entrance. Additionally, the school’s outdated emergency plans did not address an active shooter-type attack and their drills focused on the outdated lockdown concept.

West Fertilizer Co. of West, Texas

West Fertilizer Company alerted a local emergency-planning committee in February 2012 that it stored potentially deadly chemicals at the plant. Firefighters and other responders never acted upon that information to train for the kind of devastating explosion that happened 14 months later; a failing that likely cost lives.



Emergency Planning Software can Prevent Plan Half-Life

Preparedness technology like SafePlans’ Emergency Response Information Portal (ERIP) and the ERIP Mobile App can help prevent these types of failures by preserving the potency of emergency preparedness efforts. No one plans to fail. We may, however, sometimes fail to plan.


About the author:

Brad Spicer is the founder of SafePlans, a leading provider of all-hazards preparedness solutions including a DHS designated anti-terrorism technology and national active shooter prevention and survival program.

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