Your front desk staff plays such a unique and important role in your office.
As we mentioned in our article on the history of the office receptionist, the role has always required a variety of aptitudes: people skills, organizational abilities, and attention to detail are just a few of them.
And it’s possible that today’s front desk staff and administrators are expected to do more than ever.
One of their modern roles is that of brand ambassador, as we explained in our post Why Your Office Might Need a Director of First Impressions. Administrative professionals also tend to take on plenty of other essential office work in addition to their crucial visitor management role.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem quite fair that in addition to all of these jobs, your front desk staff should also be expected to take a lead role in emergency planning and preparedness for the office. They are, however, often uniquely suited for this important role.
Training your front desk staff to play a pivotal role in office emergency response makes them safer, makes the rest of the office more secure, and gives them more credit for the unique role they play as office gatekeeper.
The Unique Role the Front Desk Staff Can Play in Emergency Planning
Office receptionists and front desk administrators are often the best choice to head up emergency preparations, especially in smaller companies without a security staff.
That’s because being positioned at the office entrance gives the front desk staff more insight into the building’s comings and goings than any other employee would have.
They have the best idea of who comes into the office regularly. This knowledge makes them uniquely suited to notice changes to routine that could be important in an emergency, as well as suspicious behavior that could escalate into an emergency situation if left unattended.
Also, because receptionists have a better idea of who is in the office at any time, they’ll have a better idea of where to look for employees to account for their safety in an emergency.
Compared to other employees, they also tend to be the most well-versed on how to reach important stakeholders in the emergency communication chain.
Emergency Response Basics
If you’re new to emergency response training, a good place to start is Ready.gov, which has an entire section devoted to business readiness for emergencies.
In general, all good emergency planning should begin with a threat assessment to help identify the risks that present the greatest danger to your employees and your property.
But regardless of which type of emergencies you might face, front desk staff should be trained on the following:
- What conditions necessitate emergency procedures (such as an evacuation) and who can authorize them
- Where to find special emergency equipment, such as respirators and fire extinguishers, and how to use this equipment
- How to alert the rest of the office to an emergency, including specific tools to use (such as a panic button or alarm)
- How to alert other, off-site stakeholders of the emergency (for more information on this topic, read How to
- Develop a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Office)
- The plans, procedures and routes for getting building occupants to safe spaces
- How to account for employees and other building occupants (such as visitors and contractors) after an evacuation or a move to a shelter
- How the front desk staff will be expected to practice and improve upon emergency plans over time, if they’re taking a leadership role
Types of Emergencies to Plan and Train For
Again, a thorough threat assessment can help you to decide exactly which emergency scenarios to prepare for.
And your local jurisdiction might even mandate certain workplace emergency drills and the frequency of those drills, based on your office type or industry type.
However, in general, there are several basic types of emergencies that all front desk office workers should be trained to handle.
Emergencies that call for shelter-in-place are often a response to an outside threat, such as severe weather or an environmental disaster, during which the safest place is indoors.
A good shelter-in-place plan will make sure that employees get to the safest places in the building as quickly and effectively as possible, and then verify that everyone is accounted for.
You’ll have to identify the safest areas ahead of time depending on the threats you’ve identified. For example, if the threat is a tornado, the safest places in the office will be away from windows and potential flying debris, such as in a bathroom or even a closet.
Lockdown (or “Secure-in-Place”)
Somewhat similar to shelter-in-place, a lockdown is the emergency response to a direct threat of violence inside the facility.
In lockdown mode, employees are instructed to barricade entrances, shut down outside access to the building, and take whatever cover they can.
The most secure rooms or areas of the facility (for example, the ones without windows) should be identified in advance.
Lockdown drills also instruct employees to stay quiet and avoid alerting intruders to their presence.
The other main type of emergency to prepare for is one in which all employees have to be safely evacuated out of a building because of a threat coming from inside, such as a fire, hazardous chemical spill, gas leak, or bomb threat.
Evacuation plans require safe, clearly marked routes to exits and clearly designated meeting spaces outside of the office.
Administrators should designate these safe meeting places and make sure everyone gets there safely, accounting for everyone who was in the building at the time.
This is a little different than the other types of emergencies, but the front desk staff may also be great candidates for getting training on how to handle medical emergencies, such as those that require CPR or a defibrillator.
In fact, getting all of the workforce trained in first aid and CPR is a great way to improve the overall safety of your workplace.
Taking the Work Seriously
Office emergency planning is an important job.
As we mentioned in our post about how receptionists can recognize suspicious behavior in an office lobby, the front desk staff should understand that their job duties include being observant and attentive to the potential for danger or threats, both to employees and to the business in general.
If you do put your admin staff in charge of emergency preparation efforts, make sure that they are given full credit for the work they do. Put emergency planning in their job description and review their efforts in their annual evaluations.Office emergency planning is an important job. Make sure your employees are given full credit and recognition for their work. Click To Tweet
And make sure they have the tools that allow them to run emergency procedures as smoothly as possible.
For example, a sign-in app like The Receptionist for iPad gives your front desk staff easy access to a real-time list of office visitors, which makes it much easier to account for everyone in the building in the case of an emergency. It also boosts office efficiency and safety in many other ways, from auto-printing visitor badges to auto-notifications for the staff when visitors check in. Click here to learn more about The Receptionist or start a free trial.
What to Read Next: Best Practices for Conducting Emergency Drills at Work
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