BY MARK SZYPERSKIYou may be reading this with a sense of relief. Yesterday did not bring you a fire, tornado, disgruntled employee, or other disaster that could have turned your business upside down.
But what about today? Or tomorrow? Or six months from now?
Preparing for an emergency today will not prevent an unexpected business disaster from happening but may at least mitigate the damages and mistakes that could make the crisis worse.
Safety and security assessment programs are so important for businesses that the federal government requires them for most grant applications, as it will want to know that a business has updated its assessment. Many businesses believe that a security assessment is just looking about the property and deciding where to place security cameras, or if to put an electronic gate on the fence surrounding the property. A proper safety and security assessment is much more detailed; it may even prove to be vital for proper crisis management.
True, one good starting step is to take a moment and look at your company’s security systems. When were cameras updated, repaired, and installed in previously “blind” areas of the property? Are the systems using reliable backup recording devices? More than providing building and property security, these types of systems have been used to help find missing persons, provide vital evidence in other crimes, and bring criminals to justice. Additionally, if one of your employees is hurt in a crime on your property, the question will arise of what you did, or should have done, to protect your employees. There is the expectation that your business is a safe place to work. If any outsider can walk onto your property from any direction, the potential disaster goes well beyond unsightly graffiti or stolen items.
When was the last time your drivers were trained to look for suspicious packages tucked into vehicles’ wheel wells that could create a disaster at any of our nation’s airports? Terrorists don’t just attack big coastal cities, and increasing concern is directed to more landlocked cities. Annual trainings on proper searching of vehicles and proper pre-trip routines are important for the safety and security of your business, employees, and your community.
A good safety and security assessment also includes an up-to-date building draft that clearly shows more than just the exits. It should also indicate where fire extinguishers are located and both where and what possible chemicals are stored onsite. Fire and police agencies need this information, along with whether or not fuel is stored inside and where electrical panels are located. Any pits that could be open in maintenance facilities or where there are gas lines running are also tremendously important to identify.
With workplace violence on the rise, you need to assess the risks that potential reality poses to your team. Does your business have open access to the office area for anyone to just walk in, or do they have to be allowed in through a security system? If a disgruntled person enters and opens fire, is there an alert system with a code so all employees are aware of what may be taking place in another part of the building? Granted, the chances of this happening are so minor that business owners don’t take the time to discuss it; however, many police agencies will provide safety information for a business and its employees upon request. This training should be revisited annually.
Most schools hold tornado and fire drills roughly twice a year. As a business owner, you owe it to your employees to discuss where to go if a fire were to occur so that everyone can be accounted for. Panicked people will re-enter a compromised building because they forgot something they felt was important; however, if everyone meets at a specific location, the team generally will keep someone from taking that risk. Establish an assembly point by identifying a solid structure or basement location for life-threatening weather or a safe room in event of an active shooter situation.
One business I consulted told me how an employee had his hand pinched in a press. By the time word got to the front office to call for an ambulance, the receptionist was told the employee—not just his hand—had been crushed. She was so panicked that she could not remember that the emergency number was 9-1-1. In an onsite security assessment for another client, the local fire department informed me that the fastest way to reach any local emergency personnel was NOT to dial 9-1-1, as the area used a metropolitan-wide 9-1-1 dispatch system that frequently made dispatching mistakes. Their recommendation was that my client should directly contact their local community system and let them know what the emergency was so that the appropriate responder could be reached.
As part of a thorough safety and security assessment, you also need to discuss what happens after the crisis. If something happened to your business yesterday, would you be open today? Are your computer files backed up offsite so everyone’s information can be back online today? Do your employees take notes of important client information and put them into their computer where it all can be backed up, or are their desks filled with sticky notes reminding them of an important upcoming meeting? I had a client whose company had a “bible” where all booking information was kept—and whose employees and owners admitted they would be in trouble if a fire tore through the office and consumed everything inside it.
Does your organization have a clearly understood crisis plan if an incident puts the spotlight on your company? Do employees know who the media spokesperson is—and who’s their backup in case the designated media contact is unavailable? Remember when President Regan was shot and Secretary of State Al Haig stated that he was in charge? Even with the most detailed succession plans and preparedness programs in place, a crisis can wreak havoc on immediate responses from panicked personnel.
It’s not enough to write all of these procedures in one well-formatted safety and security assessment plan: Reinforce these precautionary measures with mandatory training for all of your employees. It is crucial to take the time to both create and become familiar with an effective plan. Although it can be done with your current staff, some companies find it easier and much faster to bring in a consultant who can expertly put everything together in actionable measures, outline training procedures, meet with local emergency responders, and provide the necessary, timely training for your staff.
But what’s most important is that you get it done today. You avoided emergencies and disasters yesterday, but no one can see tomorrow. [CD0717]
Mark Szyperski is president and CEO of passenger ground transportation consulting firm On Your Mark Transportation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.