What Do I Do Before the Worst-Case Scenario?
By Gerald R. “Bob” Harkins
When most facility managers or parking department managers / directors think of facility safety and security, their thoughts turn to the physical aspect of safety.
Are the fire prevention systems functioning? Do they have valid current inspections stickers? Is the lighting sufficient and up to code? Are the elevators clean and current on inspection? Are there any cracks or structural areas of concern? Are the data, financial and video systems fully functioning? Then there is always the condition of the landscaping around the facility. Does it hide intruders?
But another aspect needs our attention. It is emergency preparedness. Yes, I know we usually pass that stuff to the guys in vests at the local Emergency Operations Center − you know, the ones who function during “real” emergencies such as floods, tornados or explosions.
So, how should emergency preparedness sync with parking and transportation?
Imagine it is a typical afternoon. Soon the day and the week will be done, and the weekend activities can begin. You have stopped at your favorite coffee shop for a cool drink before you climb in your car. You glance up at the screen above the counter. On the TV is a breaking story that there has been a shooting or an explosion in one of your parking facilities. You are finding out about this event watching news on TV. While you dial the onsite manager, your mind flashes to many questions.
Certainly, this is the worst-case scenario; but in today’s world, this type of event or some other emergency can erupt at one of your facilities at any time. So, before that frantic call comes, to you, let’s pause and take inventory of what we should be doing to prepare.
All leaders in our industry need to examine their emergency preparedness response structure, programs and procedures for reacting to emergencies and communicating with customers as the situation unfolds.
How are you structurally organized to handle an emergency? You need to work with your staff to develop a risk assessment of the major types of emergency situations that you or your staff may encounter in each facility or area under your responsibility. For example:
Fire: (Major or Minor)
Medical Emergency: (Human Injuries)
Hazardous Material: (Contained or Not Contained)
Accidents: (Pedestrian, Bicycle, Automobile, Truck)
Weather Emergency: (Ice, Wind, Flood, Heat)
Facility System Failures: (ITS / Telecom, Utilities, Data / Network,
Threats or Acts of Violence: (Bomb Threat, Riot, Civil Disobedience,
Use of Weapons / Robbery,
Interpersonal Threats: (Sexual Assault, Stalking,
Relationship Violence, Suicide)
For each of these or other incidents you determine that pose a danger to you and your facilities, you must establish a probability of occurrence and estimate the impact on the public and safety, as well as on property and the environment. You should also examine the potential magnitude of the incident or event (e.g., negligible, limited, critical or catastrophic).
Having identified the emergency events, you must prepare your staff to cope with and handle them. Identifying specific goals and objectives for all employees is crucial. This should include specific tasks to complete for each identified emergency or event. It must not be complicated.
The emergencies or events and response must be discussed, rehearsed and / or practiced frequently with staff. In every emergency situation, you and your staff will not be operating alone. All levels of your staff should have an understanding of the principles of Incident Command (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
Require staff to certify on the basic FEMA courses (100 and 700). Its website (https://training.fema.gov/is/nims.aspx) can provide formal training and a record of such training.
You should have specific programs for your staff for each identified emergency. Certainly, calling 911 is crucial, but additional programs and training material will help. For example:
While built for a campus, website www.utexas.edu/safety/preparedness offers many programs and plans that are in use at The University of Texas at Austin. Take a look. If something can help you, take it and use it.
“Have an Exit Strategy” is a program developed in conjunction with the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office. Information can be found at www.utexas.edu/safety/fire/news/haveanexitstrategy.html.
A bomb threat checklist can be found at www.utexas.edu/safety/preparedness/Bomb_Threat_Check_List.pdf
• A preparedness desk reference manual can be found at www.utexas.edu/safety/preparedness/plans/EP_flipbook-Interactive.pdf.
• Suicide is a subject that everyone hopes they will never need to address, but parking facilities are often viewed as places to take one’s life. Certainly, you must have your staff trained in how to help people in distress. A reference that might help can be found at cmhc.utexas.edu/bethatone/bethatone.html.
Countless other programs can help management develop a response to the emergencies you have identified for your facilities. Reach out to all areas. A lot of work has already been done, and that work can save you time and help you formulate your plans and responses.
Practice and drill your staff constantly. Do they know how to use emergency systems in your facilities? Does the staff know where to find an AED? Can they use it? Some facilities have started to have body cameras for the staff. Cameras can help with training, but this use of the technology is still being vetted and developed.
So far, through the developmental process, we have identified potential emergencies and listed specific goals and objects to react to such events. The staff has been identified and trained on these emergencies and the actions they are expected to take in time of emergency.
Now, the question is, How do you communicate information about these situations? A multitude of communications means are available. Each day, new technologies are advanced.
Employees at your facilities must know and understand which systems will be used to communicate with management and your customers.
Things are different today from what they were in the past. Everyone with a smartphone or other such device is a potential reporter. Many will video, text, post on social media and tweet as an emergency unfolds, and while employees are providing you with the most up-to-date and accurate information available to them.
While you are trying to wrap your arms around an emergency, others are telling the world what is happening or not happening. How you handle social media in an emergency is a conversation that all facility managers must have before an incident or emergency. As you prepare your staff and programs, pay equal attention to how you will communicate with your staff and to your customers.
Always remember the Harkins’ thought: “Things are usually never as bad nor as good as first reported.” But you have to start somewhere!
If we recognize that emergency preparedness is a crucial aspect of our jobs, then the more we do before an emergency, the better our response and reaction will be in an emergency.
Gerald R. Harkins, EdD, is Associate Vice President of Campus Safety & Security at The University of Texas-Austin. Contact him at email@example.com.