The past few months should give any security manager pause who hasn’t developed and implemented a thorough crisis management plan for their facility. Earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, floods in Tennessee, and the botched terrorist attack in Times Square, New York, demonstrate the many hazards that could harm an organization’s employees. By creating a crisis management plan, security managers can help ensure employees know what to do when danger strikes while establishing the relationships with first responders necessary to minimize employee harm when things go wrong. Failure to do so creates a risky game of Russian Roulette that jeopardizes employee safety. Odds no security manager should feel comfortable taking.
While critically important, crisis management planning, however, doesn’t need to be an ordeal. Rather it’s a straightforward process that can be broken down into five major, but easily digestible, phases: notification, evacuation, rescue, accountability, and mass casualty. Addressing these five phases will increase the chances all occupants will get out of a building alive.
Corporations have spent large amounts of money on notification systems for good reason. These systems help prevent employees from coming to their workplace when dangerous situations occur, such as a violent spouse gone berserk. Many companies, however, have failed to develop a notification system for the individuals already in the building when tragedy strikes. Facility managers should establish an emergency word that can be used over the public address system but will be benign to the unwitting. It can be a strange name or a phrase used in a sentence. For example, if the stress word is “Bartholomew,” then an announcement such as “Mr. Bartholomew you have a visitor” would not seem unordinary. To the perpetrator it would appear normal but it becomes the code word to initiate lock down procedures. Notification for storms and other natural disasters is obviously much easier to report. Security managers can drop the code words because the subterfuge is unnecessary.
Once notification has been accomplished the next phase is evacuation. Many facilities conduct evacuation drills, but they fail to mimic the conditions of a real evacuation . Most drills are conducted with the lights on., without the smoke of a fire, or the thick dust and debris of an earthquake or an explosion. While liability concerns prevent training in the dark or with smoke and debris, there are some inexpensive items that can be used to increase the chances of survival. One smart decision involves keeping a flashlight in each work area. The lead person in the evacuation can then use the flashlight in dark areas for better visibility. While emergency lighting is available in all buildings, an inexpensive flashlight is a great backup to the emergency lights if they fail. Also keep in mind that most emergency lighting is positioned near the ceiling; smoke rises during a fire and can obscure the lighting. Organizations can also store masks in the work spaces to provide evacuees with the ability to filter some of the smoke or the dust and the debris, allowing employees to breathe better during evacuation.
During catastrophic situations, there is no guarantee that everyone will be able to evacuate. This is generally the case during earthquakes, explosions, and active-shooter situations. In these situations, trapped personnel must have the tools to help rescue workers find and rescue them. In the case of collapsed buildings, items as simple as a whistle can help rescuers find victims trapped in the rubble. During lockdown situations due to an active shooter, a grease pencil or other marking device that can write on windows can be used to communicate cell phone numbers. Law enforcement can then call locked-down victims directly as opposed to victims calling 9-1-1 and working through a dispatcher. This also allows medical personnel to contact victims directly and assist injured persons by phone.
Two common and inexpensive medical supplies can provide victims, whether alone or in groups, with basic life-saving first aid when combined with the advice of medical professionals over the phone. One necessary item is an athletic wrap. This can be used to splint broken limbs. While splinting limbs is often best left to professionals, sometimes splinting the limb immediately can alleviate some of the pain. This could become important if the situation lasts for several hours. Rolled gauze is also inexpensive and can be used to stop profuse bleeding in the case of a gunshot wound or other deep lacerations. By combining the use of the gauze, the athletic wrap, and the phone, many life threatening injuries can be stabilized while providing first responders with the necessary time to rescue those hurt during a disaster.
The possibility that first responders may need to rescue employees inside a facility means security managers would be wise to include law enforcement and fire department personnel in their crisis management planning as early as possible. Interaction with first responders should be conducted at the lowest level possible. In other words, managers should work with the local heads of the nearest fire stations and police precincts because it’s their personnel who will actually enter the structure under high-stress conditions. The same advice holds true for SWAT teams or other specialized law enforcement personnel. Security managers should invite these first responders to tour the facility. For first responders there is nothing better than the opportunity to see a building before they have to enter it in the midst of smoke, rubble, or gunfire.