Is Your Team Prepared for a Safety Emergency?

I was about to start my presentation, and was told that we couldn’t begin until we had “the safety briefing.” I was intrigued. The team went into a well-orchestrated checklist delegating contingency emergency assignments and ensuring that everyone knew where the nearest exits and fire extinguishers were.

  • “Okay, if anyone has a medical condition that could need attention, please write that down and put it into your right pocket.”
  • “Raise your hand if you are CPR certified. Okay John you are on CPR.”
  • “Who will be our runner?” Meaning doing whatever it took to deliver information.
  • “Who will call 911?”

Now I had taught in that room for three semesters before this executive retreat. Not once had I given a thought to the location of the fire extinguisher. I looked to the right of the podium–they had brought their own defibrillator.

Now this may seem extreme, but this company’s number one mission is safety. And if I told you who they were, you would be darn glad that was their priority. Their safety impacts ours.

Making a Safety Plan

A month later I was visiting their corporate headquarters for some follow-up consulting. I entered the conference room and noticed the safety cards you see pictured above in the center of the table. I asked, “Are these part of the visual aids for your action learning project presentation?” Nope. Every single conference room has them. Whenever two or more people are gathered in a conference room, they are required to make their safety plan before they begin their work.


No one expects to come to work and face a 911 emergency.  But turn on the news, and the need for a contingency plan feels a bit more pressing.

We prepare for what-ifs in our strategic planning, and if you work in a big company you likely have a formalized disaster recover plan, with an annual drill. When I worked at Verizon, I was listed as mission critical in the safety execution plan, but the truth is if a bomb went off, I’m not sure I would have had the wits to remember to grab that binder. Yes, yes, plan for the big stuff. I would encourage you to also consider having more regular discussions to keep safety top-of-mind and making a plan to keep your team safe in case of emergencies.

Posted in Communication.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. When I used to teach, I realized that in the classroom, the number one responsibility of the teacher is the safety of the students. And this should be true anywhere. More than learning, more than growth, more than engaging activities. The teacher has to get those kids home in as good of shape as when they arrived. Otherwise something is wrong with the system.

    The same is true in the work place. As the Captain said in the 80’s cop drama, “Let’s be safe out there!”

  2. What an interesting topic.

    I recently took a flight and realized how many of us take the safety instructions before departure for granted.

    It’s prudent to have a contingency plan when things go south.

    • Steve, I think about that every time I am on a plane. My friend who is a stewardess shares how frustrating that is to see people who talk right through it.

  3. Many people may be even less prepared when they are NOT at work. I’ve read that if you ever need to find an escape route in a hospital, a doctor may not be the best person to follow — even though we look to them as leaders. A janitor is more likely to be familiar with a hospital’s lay out and different exits than a doctor who is focused on X-rays all day.

    Even if a company does’t make emergency planning a priority, you don’t need the CEO or HR to feed you a plan, just give a few minutes of thought to how you’d get out of a building or where you could shelter in place. People who have lived through horrendous events will tell you they look for exits signs whenever they enter a room that’s new to them.

    • Major Giese,
      Thanks so much for extending the conversation in such a meaningful way. I agree, no need to wait for someone to tell you how, just do what you can to keep your team and yourself safe. What an important point that it’s not just at work. Consistent awareness could save lives.

  4. Excellent topic Karin and one that many of us never get to discuss in a deep way! I am very impressed with your client’s plans for emergency.

    When I worked in healthcare, safety was number one concern and each department always knew the closest staircases in case of emergency and we would have periodic drills.

    You really got me thinking about emergency plans and when I make my next client visit I am going to ask.

    Thanks for all your wisdom!

    • Terri, Thanks so much. This would truly never have occurred to me if I hadn’t met this group. That’s why I love what I do so much. I learn everywhere I go.

  5. Our first customer was the CDC. We started our meetings with them with a safety presentation. Since then, whenever we do large customer meetings (that are off-site for that customer), we always go through a safety briefing at the start of the meeting. Not only is it important, it gets the audience’s attention immediately. We usually preface it by saying that we worked with the CDC who taught us how important safety is. The briefing actually came in handy once when a fire alarm went off during a meeting.

  6. Karen, What an excellent topic. We at Weber start every meeting with a Safety Topic but this goes way beyond that. It’s interesting that new people are told where the nearest bathroom is but they aren’t told how to get out in an emergency. We also have a process for educating our visitors. Because we work with hot metal, have our safety specialist come in and give them an orientation. It is the safety dos and don’ts for the plant tour. We also have a visitor sponsor who is responsible for the safety of their visitors. However, what I like about the process above is it takes safety to the next level. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Woody, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I agree, this takes preparation to a whole new level.

  7. Another simple thing to look out for and point out before face to face meetings and presentations are trip hazards from projector or telephone cables and the like.

    I’ve chaired a couple of safety conferences and found a way to lift peoples’s heads from their devices or conversations when going over emergency procedures was to tell them right now, one side of the room was going to make the ‘beep beep’ Alert Tone sound and the other side was then going to make the ‘whop whoop’ Evacuate tone. (not sure if the tone system is the same outside of Australia)

    Of course we weren’t going to make the sounds, but it got their attention, lightened the mood a little and thus helped them absorb the safety information.

    A variation of this may work for your flight attendant friend 🙂

    • Dallas, LOVE that! So creative. Safety isn’t sexy, but it’s so important.

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