WISDOM IN THE WORKPLACE
Make your workplace safer.
We often dedicate a great deal of consideration and discussion to post-apocalyptic survival scenarios—or, perhaps more reasonably, societal upheaval settings—as a result of which we need to bug out or bug in to endure. While one is a little more likely than the other, real threats face us every day in the place we spend 40 or more hours a week: the workplace.
Have you given much thought to workplace survival? Have you considered what threats truly await you? Sure, you probably figured out pretty quickly that Carl has halitosis, and Sarah loves to talk about her cats, but those traps are not truly life threatening. Have you done a risk assessment on your workplace?
Considering the amount of time we dedicate to working, we really should detect, analyze, mitigate and prepare for real threats there.
When approaching the work environment, it is often difficult to assess with a cool, analytical mind. You must divest yourself of your attachments and look at your workplace as you would a place that is not so familiar.
ONCE YOU HAVE A GOOD IDEA OF THE HIGHER-PROBABILITY THREATS YOU FACE, YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF WHAT MEASURES YOU CAN TAKE TO MINIMIZE THEIR IMPACT BEFORE THEY HAPPEN.
Take stock of your assets and liabilities; then, give some focus to the very real threats that could happen there. Label these with your best guess of probability, and then mitigate what you can. Sometimes, you can affect change for the entire office; other times, you must rely and focus solely on yourself.
Take a look at these threats with the concepts of maximum protection of life and self-preservation in mind.
When conducting a threat analysis, we can divide our categories into man-made and natural. While the “natural” category usually includes weather events, earthquakes, fires and the like, man-made events can be a bit more complex and require different responses.
Take a look at the real natural threats in your area. Research when they last happened and seek any data concerning when they might happen again. For instance, a tsunami is highly improbable in Colorado, but wildfire is definitely a consideration. If you work in Hawaii, a blizzard is a minimal risk, but volcanoes will be on your list if one is nearby.
You must give an honest assessment to each of the threats relevant to your area and have a planned response for each of them. Speak with someone who has worked at your workplace for a long time and find out what has historically occurred. Then, find out how leadership responded. There are likely valuable lessons for you to discover. Learn from the failures and successes of your predecessors.
My office has historically high-profile risks from floods, tornadoes, blizzards and wildfires. On the other end of the scale, there are minimal risks for earthquakes.
This category is as complex as the human mind. Essentially, there two categories of risk: external and internal. External and/or internal threats could involve workplace violence, including active killer scenarios. They could also include bombings, arson and a category of incidents such as deliberate power outages and hazmat threats.
External risks represent all the individuals outside the employ of your agency or business. These could be customers or complete strangers. If you work at a textile plant, and the customers you serve are dealers who push the final product on to consumers, you can likely relegate this to minimal risk. However, if you work for a company or government agency
for which you might have a hand in affecting major life changes for your customers—say, the Department of Human Services—this could very likely become a high-risk scenario. If you’re making or communicating decisions for people that have very real, life-altering consequences, it would be wise to equate high emotion with higher potential risk.
Internal threats are either your co-workers or people related to them. If one of your peers has an abusive spouse and they come to the workplace to settle some personal score, this could create ramifications for everyone at work. Likewise, workplace bullying, affairs and terminations are also potential triggers for health hazards. Keep in mind that people do not “snap,” as we often hear. Workplace
IF YOU CANNOT IMPRESS UPON LEADERSHIP THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARATION, YOU HAVE THE SOLE RESPONSIBILITY TO SAVE YOURSELF IN TIMES OF CRISIS.
violence studies have revealed that approximately 85 percent of people broadcast their intentions before they act. They either tell someone close to them or often post things on social media. That’s a huge clue ... if you can catch wind of it.
In 2004, a man in Granby, Colorado, terrorized an entire town when he began mowing down buildings with an armored bulldozer he’d welded up in his shop. This took a lot of planning and effort. Some townspeople were aware of his displeasure with the town board regarding a zoning dispute for some time. The attack stymied the local constabulary—until the bulldozer got stuck and the driver shot himself.
Remember that the primary objective of law enforcement in any type of active killer scenario is to immediately engage and stop the threat. Therefore, do not present yourself in a threatening manner. Evacuate with hands up, and provide any details about the shooter’s whereabouts and description if you can. Do not expect police to stop and attend to your wounds if the killer is still active. Move quickly away from danger, hopefully to a prearranged muster point.
My workplace is high risk because of the nature of the job, along with the fact that there is a railroad line immediately outside that transports hazardous materials on a daily basis. For me, both external and internal threats are always a consideration.
Once you have a good idea of the higher-probability threats you face, you need to ask yourself what measures you can take to minimize their impact before they happen.
For instance, creating a culture of collective safety can pay major dividends. By rewarding behaviors that improve the safekeeping of everyone at the workplace, you increase your effective outreach and detection. When everyone realizes security is their responsibility, they chip in and report things, thereby improving leadership’s awareness and giving them more time to react. Keep in mind that security is always at odds with convenience, and there can be an office culture or co-workers who will resist these initiatives.
Physical security measures can be assessed and updated to reflect evolving threats. Consider how airport security changed after 9/11. A locked door or keycard access system might just make the difference in deterring an external threat. Perhaps a camera system might give you the reaction time you need to save lives.
Stock your workplace with first aid and survival supplies. This might seem odd at first blush, but if you have to shelter in place for any period of time, it’s a great investment.
RESPONSES TO THREATS
Regardless of the category, there are three general responses: evacuation, sheltering in place and active killer.
Evacuation is pretty clear-cut and should be practiced at least once annually. Have a muster or reunification point at which attendance can be checked against a continually updated list of employees. Make sure employees understand the endgame so they can deviate from a specific plan if need be, as long as they reach the reunification point or communicate with a supervisor by contingency.
Sheltering in place minimizes risk from external threats such as tornadoes or earthquakes. Have a plan to gather in internal rooms or other appropriate spaces that are clear of glass windows and other potential hazards. Have these rooms stocked with emergency supplies. The greatest threat of earthquakes in First World countries is to people fleeing buildings and being struck by falling debris such as bricks or broken glass, so do what you can to reduce exposure to these hazards.
The active killer category is pretty straightforward. You need only look at the world news any given week to find reference to this growing threat.
The U.S. government has suggested “Run, Hide, Fight” as a response priority list in these scenarios. While this is a great plan, it is not a training method. “ALICE,” which stands for Alert, Lockdown,
EXTERNAL RISKS REPRESENT ALL THE INDIVIDUALS OUTSIDE THE EMPLOY OF YOUR AGENCY OR BUSINESS. THESE COULD BE CUSTOMERS OR COMPLETE STRANGERS.
Inform, Counter and Evacuate, is a comprehensive system that teaches people option-based responses to active killer threats. By training in ALICE, employees learn to prioritize avoidance by fleeing a life-threatening scenario. Only when this possibility is exhausted do we need to hide or fight; and, if forced into this scenario, we set the battleground to our advantage and arm ourselves with anything available.
“Training” first refers to practicing your best procedures within your workplace, whether this is an evacuation, sheltering in place or an active killer response. It can also include how to handle security systems (such as key-coded doors) and procedures (such as challenging people who try to ride your coattails through a secure entry).
Employees who practice established responses to various threats will know how to act without wasting precious time. In active killer scenarios, I cannot stress enough that you need to evacuate the building. When we consider that the response for threats such as fire, hazmat and flooding is to move away from them, it’s ridiculous to think that we should react differently for an active killer scenario. Lockdown and fighting should be choices of last resort, so strive to get out of, and away from, the situation.
In my workplace, we have trained many of the employees in first aid and CPR. We also have trained in ALICE, sheltering in place and evacuations.
WORKPLACE VIOLENCE STUDIES HAVE REVEALED THAT APPROXIMATELY 85 PERCENT OF PEOPLE BROADCAST THEIR INTENTIONS BEFORE THEY ACT. THEY EITHER TELL SOMEONE CLOSE TO THEM OR OFTEN POST THINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. THAT’S A HUGE CLUE ... IF YOU CAN CATCH WIND OF IT.
Comms usually fail in emergencies; it’s "Murphy’s Law" at its best. Whether the cellular system
becomes overwhelmed or electrical service fails, you should strive for redundancy.
A PA (public address) system is extremely effective and can be used to communicate live data to responders and evacuees. Sometimes, a bullhorn or good, old-fashioned yelling can get the job done. Regardless, have primary, secondary and tertiary backup plans.
Training can often override the need for communication, but if a train derailment suddenly requires you to evacuate via different routes than those you previously trained with, you need to be able to notify employees of the deviation of plan.
My office has access to a program called Everbridge. All employees are signed up, and emergency communiqués can be sent out via cellphone or computer should the need arise. Having the capability to call an audible during a crisis outside your trained procedures is paramount.
COMMS USUALLY FAIL IN EMERGENCIES; IT’S "MURPHY’S LAW" AT ITS BEST. WHETHER THE CELLULAR SYSTEM BECOMES OVERWHELMED OR ELECTRICAL SERVICE FAILS, YOU SHOULD STRIVE FOR REDUNDANCY.
LONE WOLF OR ALPHA
Depending on the receptivity of leadership to your threat assessment, you might find yourself making survival decisions in a vacuum.
If you can promote this idea without an attached stigma, run with it. More leaders are willing to consider emergency planning as a result of the prevalent threat of active shooters providing ample examples in so many workplaces. No leader wants to appear unprepared—even if the preparatory efforts only appear to mitigate liability.
Use this to your advantage. Look for training and support resources within your local government and utilize any allocated funds wisely to net the greatest benefit to your threat paradigm. An armed guard might be a great resource, but simple controlled points of entry, accompanied by strict training and enforcement on procedures, might be a wiser investment.
If you cannot impress upon leadership the importance of preparation, you have the sole responsibility to save yourself in times of crisis. Study your work environment and consider how best to escape it; get creative!
Evaluate what threats you might actually face, and think about what you can do to personally mitigate them. Keep supplies in your office or vehicle that will enable you to get home. Think about what routes you might take to get home and what supplies you might need to get there. Think about contingencies and complicated incidents. Then, lay out some basic plans. Any effort you invest now will save you time in a true emergency.
Right: Chances are, if you can see the threat, they can see you. You should have secure and discreet hiding locations planned before a deranged attacker comes walking into your building.
Below: Consider how you might deal with long hallways in your workplace. You are statistically better off running from an active killer than hiding from one.
Above: This tanker car is carrying 33,700 gallons of propane. Note the proximity to buildings. Have a plan for this. It doesn’t have to explode; a simple leak could force an evacuation outside your normal planned route.
Above: Some situations, such as small office fires, can be addressed by staff until first responders arrive. Know where fire extinguishers and hoses are located—and how to use them.
Above: Workplace invasions often develop into hostage situations. Reduce the chances of this happening to you by knowing nearby hiding places and escape routes.
Architectural structures, such as this faux wall, can sometimes hide exits and other assets needed in emergencies.
Double doors with panic bars are pretty standard in many offices and public buildings. These are also equipped with magnetic releases that allow them to close at the push of a remote button.
While this is a strong deterrent for unauthorized access, it must be implemented with training so that “tailgaters” do not follow authorized personnel through an entry point.
While the exit sign pointed out this escape route, there is no indication on the other side of this wall for the fire extinguisher.
Key card or fob access can help prevent a great deal of unwanted access, as well as provide the ability to track comings and goings.
How does your workplace interface with the public? Higher-risk locations should consider implementing deterrents and safeguards.
Many people in the author’s office did not know about exits on the opposite side of the building from where they worked. Get familiar with all your exits, including windows.
A peep hole is sometimes a great solution to seeing who’s on the other side of the door. That would compromise the fire rating of the doors shown here, however, so a camera/monitor system was installed.
Not only will these mirrors help you keep your coffee in your cup, they can provide critical information before you commit to a turn when making an escape during an active killer or fire scenario.
Near left: First aid boxes such as this one are often installed in common employee areas. Make sure they are kept stocked and updated so they are ready in case of an emergency.
Above: With this simple system installed, no employees need answer the door blindly.
Left: Each employee in their work area needs at least a primary and secondary route to escape the building, depending on the threat.
Bottom: Consider what kind of weather your access control devices might be exposed to, and choose accordingly.
Below: Elevators are almost always a bad plan in emergencies. They are not fast enough and could be disabled in fire or extreme weather situations.