THE MAGAZINE

Are Evacuation Practices Flawed?

By Megan Gates

When Aaron Alexis entered the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard on September 16, 2013, and began a shooting rampage that ultimately left 13 dead, including the shooter, officials followed the usual protocol by calling for anyone who could safely leave the building to do so. Hundreds of government contractors and military personnel followed that advice. The evacuation probably saved lives. But then people who left the building were assembled and bused to Nationals Park, where they were interviewed by police and able to meet with family members. That could have put them at risk anew if they were targeted while waiting for the buses or if the assembly point was already known to the attacker.

While rallying points are accepted as a best practice, they probably shouldn’t be, according to Felix Nater, president of Nater Associates, Ltd., who spoke at a meeting of the Mid Atlantic Disaster Recovery Association (MADRA) in Arlington, Virginia. The problem is that the rallying point is typically a well-advertised location, often near the facility. Anyone with bad intentions could plant a bomb there ahead of time, then create an incident inside a facility, leading everyone to head to the rallying point, where the bomb awaits their arrival.

“Why do we have to rally the people at a centralized location?” Nater asked. “We’re all adults, so why can’t we just...go home?”

He suggests that companies could use mass communication and notification systems not only to send employees alerts about an emergency situation but also to allow employees to let the company know they are safe.

And it should be emphasized to employees that it’s their responsibility to use the system—whether it’s to call a number or send a text or e-mail—to indicate that they’re safe.

One system that Nater mentioned, talking with Security Management after his MADRA presentation, was Amerilert, which “sends out a message to any form of communication, or computer, including texts and e-mails,” he explained. “Personnel have the option to select the forms of contact and can update their own information.”

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