By creating a crisis management plan, security managers can help ensure that employees know what to do when danger strikes. (Online Exclusive)
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.
During any incident, the evacuation plan should have an established assembly area outside of the building. As people make their way outside, this is where floor wardens should begin to account for everyone who was in the building. The best way to do this is to first create rows in the assembly area by floor. If the facility contains a large number of occupants, several rows may be necessary to accommodate all the personnel on the floor. Separate the various floors with enough distance so people can distinguish which row or group of rows represents their floor. A simple cardboard sign placed on the ground with something to weigh it down can identify the floor number and reduce confusion. Once people are separated by floor, supervisors or representatives of a particular office can begin to account for their employees. This will be impossible if all facility occupants are left to simply gather at the assembly point because employees from the same companies will be scattered throughout the crowd of confused and frightened people.
By reducing the amount of time necessary to identify which employees are missing, rescue workers can prioritize their rescue effort. This reduces the time it takes to find trapped victims while greatly increasing the chances of their survival. Although it is no guarantee that everyone can be accounted for at the assembly area, the chances of saving lives greatly increases.
Once all the uninjured or slightly injured personnel have moved to the assembly area, it is important to establish a casualty-collection area. Although this area will be run by professional medical personnel and first responders, the location of the casualty-collection area should be identified when drawing up evacuation plans. This area should be large enough to hold at least 10 percent of the daily average number of building occupants. The location can be any open space around the building like a field or a parking lot. If a parking lot is used, there must be a plan in place to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the casualty area during an incident. Generally police officers will control access; however, coordinating with police during the planning phase will insure support for such tasks. Orange marker panels should be used for marking the casualty collection area during the day. At night, red chemlights or red strobe lights should be used to advertise the casualty area. Competent medical personnel will determine which victims have priority for transport. The sooner a casualty collection area is established, the faster critically injured personnel can be moved to a hospital.
A helicopter landing area should also be established and written into the evacuation plan. The best way to identify a suitable location for the helicopter landing area is to coordinate with the local air ambulance pilots. They can identify hazards and obstacles near the landing area that would endanger the aircraft or its ability to land. Once a suitable site has been established, the location should be determined using a global positioning system (GPS). The location should be recorded using the latitude and longitude coordinates, the most common type of coordinate.
Coordination regarding the marking of the helicopter landing site should also be discussed with the pilots. There should be a signal for day and one for night and this information can be passed to the air ambulance personnel. Keep in mind, the pilot who observes the location may not be the same pilot that comes to the crisis. Once again, first responders will establish the landing site should a crisis occur, but prior planning and coordination can greatly speed the process of aerial medical evacuation. And considering the high number of medical aircraft crashes in recent years, it’s a good idea to have an established landing site. A coordinated site, in which obstacles and hazards have been identified or removed, will greatly reduce the chance of an accident.
With a solid crisis management plan, a little training, and a minimal budget, security managers can greatly reduce the casualty rate when an act of God occurs or people snap violently. Security managers may be considered doomsayers, but a well planned crisis management plan with employee and first-responder buy-in can assure they won’t be modern-day Cassandras.
Will Gunther is a former military special operations member. He is currently a product design consultant and trainer for World Prep Inc firstname.lastname@example.org