Create Emergency Response Manual to Prepare Staff for Crisis

A definite plan to deal with major emergencies at your site is an important element of providing a safe environment for your staff and residents. An emergency—such as a fire, flood, act of violence, earthquake, hurricane, or environmental disaster—can occur at your site at any time. Whatever the cause of the emergency, it’s important that your staff members be prepared and know what to do when one occurs.

A definite plan to deal with major emergencies at your site is an important element of providing a safe environment for your staff and residents. An emergency—such as a fire, flood, act of violence, earthquake, hurricane, or environmental disaster—can occur at your site at any time. Whatever the cause of the emergency, it’s important that your staff members be prepared and know what to do when one occurs.

Your staff members will be able to handle emergencies more effectively if you create an emergency response manual for them to follow. To help you create an emergency response manual for your site, we’ll give you the basics on what to include in the manual and how you should use it.

Benefits of Manual

Since emergencies will occur, preplanning is necessary. The need for rapid decisions, shortage of time, and lack of resources and trained personnel could lead to chaos during an emergency. Time and circumstances in an emergency mean that normal channels of authority and communication cannot be relied upon to function routinely. The stress of the situation can lead to poor judgment resulting in severe losses.

Emergency planning deserves your staff’s attention. Taking the time and effort to examine any potential problem initially may save lives and minimize damage to assets in the future. Here are the benefits that having an emergency response manual may provide:

Staff will have set procedures to follow. With written procedures in place before an emergency occurs, your staff will have a frame of reference to respond to emergencies.

Staff won’t have to make important decisions while under pressure. Typically, emergencies cause panic, which makes it difficult for those involved to think clearly and act efficiently. By having an emergency response manual, your staff members will be able to anticipate many of the decisions they’ll have to make during an emergency, making it easier for them to respond well under pressure.

Staff will be able to find information easily during an emergency. Having in one place all the information your staff members will need in the event of an emergency will make it easier for them to find out what they need to do when an emergency occurs. This can help save valuable time that could make a difference during an emergency.

Staff may be able to limit property damage and personal injuries. Having an emergency response manual in place before an emergency occurs may help limit property damage and personal injuries at your site. For example, information in your manual’s “Fire and Explosions” section may help your staff members get emergency crews to board up and clean up the affected area quickly to prevent excessive water damage to your building.

You may avoid or reduce liability. You can use your emergency procedures manual to help defend yourself in a lawsuit. If a victim of an emergency sues you for negligence, you can use your manual as proof that you took reasonable steps to ensure that your staff handles emergencies as effectively as possible. If your staff followed the procedures in the manual, the court may rule that the victim’s injuries weren’t caused by your negligence.

Besides these benefits, the process of developing the plan has other advantages. You may discover unrecognized hazardous conditions that would aggravate an emergency situation and you can work to eliminate them. The planning process may bring to light deficiencies, such as the lack of resources (equipment, trained personnel, supplies), or items that can be rectified before an emergency occurs.


You’ll get the benefits of an emergency response manual only if your manual is created and used the right way. Here are seven guidelines you can follow to create an effective manual and make sure it’s used the right way.

1. Cover Key Topics

Every site’s emergency response manual should have sections covering the following key topics, in addition to other relevant information:

Crime and violent behavior. This section should set procedures for handling all crimes and acts of violence that may occur at your site, such as intruders breaking into units, resident-on-resident violence, and bomb threats.

And don’t forget to describe your site’s security features and indicate where they’re located. For example, if your site has a video surveillance system, say so, and include a map showing where the cameras are located.

Medical emergencies. In this section, outline your procedures for handling situations that require medical assistance, such as when an elderly person suffers a heart attack or a child breaks her leg. Also, include the location of your site’s medical equipment, such as first-aid kits or automated external defibrillators.

Utility outages and equipment failures. Every site must have a plan for handling power outages and other equipment failures. For example, make sure your manual includes procedures for handling an elevator stoppage during an emergency. And if your site has an emergency backup generator, say where it’s located and how it works.

Fire and explosions. This section should list your procedures for responding to reports of smoke, fire, gas leaks, and explosions at your site. And it should include a site map that shows the locations of all gas valves, main electricity sources, sprinkler standpipes, and fire hydrants, to allow for immediate access.

Natural disasters. You should refer to Chapter 38 of HUD Handbook 4350.1 to help prepare your site’s response to natural disasters. This chapter is intended to help owners better prepare for disasters, and it applies only to presidentially declared disasters, which are major disasters or emergencies that either shut down large areas or cause extensive damage. All HUD-insured or HUD-assisted sites must abide by the chapter’s rules and regulations.

This section of your emergency response manual should include your procedures for handling natural disasters that your site may experience because of its geographic location. While most emergencies cannot be anticipated, some areas of the country are more prone to emergencies than others. For example, the gulf states are prone to hurricane damage, the Midwest states are prone to flooding, and some states have a history of earthquakes or tornadoes.

Here are the requirements owners must follow once a presidentially declared disaster that affects your site is announced [HUD Handbook 4350.1, par. 6-11]:

  • Owners have a responsibility to ensure that the site is secured and that residents’ possessions and valuables are secured and protected to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Residents have a right to return to the unit from which they were displaced once their residence is repaired, so owners must make a concerted effort to track displaced residents by phone, mail, family, friends, by contacting FEMA, or some other method. 
  • An owner may offer, and a resident may accept, an alternate unit acceptable to all parties if that will facilitate a displaced resident’s returning to a permanent residence. However, once a resident accepts any permanent housing, he no longer has a right to return to the unit from which he was displaced.
  • Owners must inform all displaced residents in writing at least 60 days prior to the expected date that the unit will be ready for re-occupancy. The notice must be issued via regular and certified mail to the resident’s last known address. Owners have a duty to ensure that this information is provided in accessible formats for persons with disabilities and in the appropriate language for persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). 
  • Displaced residents must respond within 30 days of the notice and inform the owner of their intention to return or not, and provide contact information. The response must be in writing, although the resident may also call the owner’s contact representative to indicate her decision and to ask any questions she may have about returning. If the resident doesn’t respond within 30 days from the date of the notice, the owner must send a second notice notifying the resident that she no longer has a right of return to the unit that the resident occupied prior to the presidentially declared disaster. Those residents indicating an intention to return must be given a minimum of 60 days from the date the unit is ready for re-occupancy to re-occupy the unit. An owner has the option to give a displaced resident a longer period to return to the property.
  • An owner may offer an available comparable unit to a displaced resident if the unit that the resident occupied before the presidentially declared disaster cannot be repaired or if the repairs require a long period of time to complete. If a returning resident accepts an alternate unit, the resident(s) is considered re-housed and not eligible for additional unit transfer except in accordance with HUD Handbook 4350.3. If the displaced resident(s) resided in a Section 8 HAP unit and was over- or under-housed, as defined in the handbook, prior to the disaster, an appropriate size must be offered as a replacement, if available.
  • If a displaced resident fails to return after notifying the owner of his intention to return during the right-to-return period and there was no agreement between the displaced resident and the owner to extend the time period, the owner may take action to terminate the lease in accordance with local law and rent the unit. In this case the resident no longer has a right to return to the unit and will be treated as a new applicant and will have no priority as a presidentially declared disaster displaced resident on the waiting list.

Emergency telephone numbers. List all relevant emergency telephone numbers so they’ll be readily available when an emergency occurs. In addition to 911, include the numbers of your local hospitals, poison control center, utility companies, key personnel from your central management office (home and office numbers), and any other important phone numbers that may be needed during an emergency. Also include phone numbers that may be needed after an emergency, such as the phone numbers of emergency repair contractors, security guard services (to prevent looting), and charitable relief organizations (to assist displaced residents).

Media response plan. If a fire, explosion, or crime occurs at your site, it may attract the attention of the media. If reporters visit your site, they’re likely to approach the first staff member they see to get information. Many staff members think that they can express their personal opinions without adverse consequences. But if they say the wrong thing—which may well happen under the pressure of an emergency—they may create liability or negative publicity for you. To protect yourself, give your staff members a plan for handling the media that tells them what to say or to whom to refer inquiries.

2. Tailor Manual to Your Site’s Needs

When creating your emergency response manual, keep in mind that you must tailor the information you include in it to the particulars of your site. The procedures you include will depend on many factors, such as:

Your site’s size and layout. Generally, procedures for mid- and high-rise buildings will be more complex than procedures for one- and two-story buildings.

Your geographic area. The geographic area in which your site is located will affect which types of natural disasters you address in your manual.

3. Design Manual for Easy Use During Emergency

Design your manual in such a way that your staff members will be able to find the information they need quickly in an emergency. Keep your manual in a red three-ring binder so that it’s easy to find on a shelf and so that you can easily replace pages when you must update a section. Use medium and large typefaces only; separate each section of your manual with a tab that clearly identifies the name of the section; include a table of contents at the beginning of your manual for easy reference; and for sections that have many subsections, include a more detailed table of contents of those subsections.

4. Use Resources/Reference Material in Creating Manual

Meet with your local police and fire departments, representatives from your utility companies, and even the service contractors in charge of your major systems, such as your heating system, to come up with an effective emergency response plan.

In August 2015, HUD, in collaboration with Enterprise Community Partners Inc., released a national emergency preparedness staffing toolkit for multifamily housing. To bolster your natural disaster section, you can refer to this toolkit. The toolkit incorporates videos, guides, worksheets, and checklists to help organizations assign staff to disaster response roles, engage in vital planning tasks, test the strength of their plan with a simulated disaster scenario and perform ongoing maintenance. Developed in partnership with 12 leading community development corporations from around New York and New Jersey as part of the Enterprise Recovery and Rebuilding program, the toolkit is based on the Incident Command System (ICS), a planning framework used by federal, state, and local first responder agencies to help structure command, control, and coordination of emergency responses. The toolkit can be found at

5. Make Manual Available to Staff

Keep a copy of your emergency response manual in a central location in your management office and your security office, if you have one. And make sure every on-site manager has a copy. You needn’t provide all other employees with their own copies of the manual, but you should let them know where they can find one in case of an emergency.

Also keep at least one copy of your manual off-site. That way, if an emergency prevents you from getting to the manuals you keep at your site, you’ll still have access to a copy. Also tell your staff members that the information in your emergency response manual is confidential. That way, they’ll keep private any sensitive information that you include—such as telephone numbers, security system information, and insurance information.

6. Require Staff to Read Manual

Your entire staff should be familiar with how your emergency response manual is organized and which procedures it contains. You should require your entire management staff and any security staff to read all the procedures in your manual. And you should require other employees—even after-hours custodial workers—to read at least the sections on “Fire and Explosions” and “Media Response.”

It’s important that your staff members know your site’s emergency procedures. If they don’t follow your procedures, they could actually increase your liability.

7. Update Manual as Necessary

If your procedures change or any other information in your manual changes, make sure you update the manual promptly. For instance, if you’ve increased your security recently because of higher crime in your neighborhood, make sure you update the “Crime and Violent Behavior” section of your manual to reflect any new procedures. Or if you change personnel or emergency contractors, update the names and phone numbers in the “Emergency Telephone Numbers” section.