Three Steps to Follow When Preparing for an Emergency Incident

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In a previous article we discussed the four barriers to physical security: cost, aesthetics, convenience and belief – or disaster denial. An organization must overcome these barriers to create a safe environment for employees and/or students. Once the barriers are broken, preparation for emergencies can begin.

Preparation for a deadly weapon or targeted violence incident within an organization comes as a result of a specific process. The process should be followed when preparing for any emergency or critical incident and includes three key steps: a site vulnerability assessment, emergency planning, and critical incident training.

Site Vulnerability Assessment

A site vulnerability assessment involves an in-depth examination of the facilities and surroundings. A site assessment is a crucial step to determine any weaknesses or gaps not only in physical security, but also in policies and procedures as they relate to critical incident response and security.

The site assessment is a critical view of current operations and preparedness. It is recommended that every organization consider seeking professional assistance when assessing their emergency plans and security. A site assessment should include areas adjacent to the property. Attempt to look at the site from the viewpoint of an attacker. Once the weaknesses are discovered, determine the approach to mitigate the risk when possible.

The main focus of the site assessment should not be to merely add more physical security features. When conducted properly, the majority of findings in a site vulnerability will be in the policy and procedure area and not in the physical security realm. Be careful of physical security vendors who offer site vulnerability assessments as they will often discover “findings” that will include their products as part of the mitigation strategies. Use professional security consultants that do not sell features or accept referral fees from security product vendors.

Emergency Planning

Emergency planning involves the development of comprehensive emergency plans that focus on concepts for response. No two emergencies are the same, therefore, overly complex emergency plans that have narrowly detailed responses for each emergency should be avoided. The tendency to think more is better with emergency plans is pervasive. The simpler the concepts in the plan, the more likely staff will be to read the plan and retain the information necessary to aid them in response. The structure of an emergency plan is critical to ensure that command and control of an incident is handled.

The two most common issues with emergency response are:

  • Determining who is in charge
  • Determining how everyone involved in the response is communicating

The site assessment will assist in determining which risks and hazards should be included in the emergency plan. Emergency plans should be customized to each location. Avoid the temptation of downloading a generic emergency plan.

Critical Incident Training

A saying attributed to the United States Navy Seals states that “under pressure, we do not rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training.” Unfortunately, training for critical incidents is the most overlooked step in creating a comprehensive preparedness strategy. A robust training regimen for any organization should include both live and table talk exercises that are done with a consistent level of frequency, variety, and intensity. After-action assessments of the training exercises should also be included as part of the regimen. Training participants should include all internal entities who will have a responsibility in responding to an incident. Whenever possible, external entities such as police, fire, and medical first responders should also be trained.

Prior to introducing a critical incident training regimen to an organization, consideration should be given to enlisting the assistance of experts to help create the training scenarios, as well as develop appropriate response protocols.

The goal of an active shooter is generally to find as many victims as possible; therefore, shooters tend to select locations that have large concentrations of people in a confined area. A venue that can host larger events, such as concerts, can become a prime target for an active violence or terrorist style attack. The following are additional actions organizations should consider to reduce the likelihood and impact of such an attack.

  • Establish security perimeters at events and consider implementing magnetometers and bag checks for larger events.
  • Consider making announcements to attendees that identify the exits that can be used in an event. Under stress, people tend to try to evacuate the same way they entered, and this can cause people to be trampled. Ensure you have multiple evacuation routes in each direction.
  • The riskiest areas for attacks are the areas directly adjacent to a secure area but just outside of the secure perimeter. This would include lines outside the security area of other gathering areas outside the secure perimeter. Ensure you have security observation in these areas.
  • Ensure security personnel are easily identified and encourage visitors to report suspicious behavior or unattended bags to security as soon as possible.
  • Consider having the local police department and tactical elements conduct a walk through of the site and encourage a police presence at the site when possible. Consider inviting them to conduct training onsite if possible.
  • Ensure you are prepared with supplies for a mass casualty event. This includes medical supplies beyond a basic band-aid kit to include clotting agents and multiple tourniquets.
  • Establish an alert system that does not include code words. Use plain language alerts to describe emergencies when possible. In addition, ensure you have the ability to communicate across the entire property. This might include two-way radios and possibly a signal repeater to ensure the entire facility is covered.
  • When establishing a security perimeter, consider areas adjacent to the site that could be used as an attack area. These could be high ground areas, parking garages, or buildings that overlook the venue. The Las Vegas attack demonstrated the need to consider expanding our security beyond the physical borders of our sites.

The purpose of preparation is not to instill paranoia. When done properly, preparation should reduce the fear of an event and provide an organization with the confidence they will know how to effectively respond to and recover from any emergency.

Firestorm is always, and will remain, a resource in times of emergency. We encourage your organization to establish a plan prior to an event occurring. Not sure where to start? We can help with that. Contact us and we’ll set you on the right path.

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