3 Things to Consider When Developing Your Emergency Plan: Starting with Your Technology
In our schools, workplaces and government buildings, we fear the unimaginable: an armed intruder.
Because these unfathomable scenarios are becoming more common, this increases the need for a fully-integrated emergency response plan. If disaster strikes without one, nothing goes to plan—the proper personnel are not alerted, radio frequencies are overcrowded blocking the transfer of messages, and delayed video footage prevents law enforcement from efficiently tracking and evacuating the scene. Each of these examples were a reality on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The sales and engineering team from Prime Communications Inc. (PCI) recently completed a training session with Jerry Wilkins, PSP® NREMT®-EMR, and professional active-shooter emergency plan operations expert from Active Risk Survival, Inc. During the training he shared security footage from the scenario described above and the Virginia Beach shooting. No, it was not easy to watch.
“The most difficult aspect of the video,” said Shannon Neubauer, PCI’s Director of Security Engineering, “was the fact that the footage being monitored by first responders was 20 minutes old.” By the time it was used for situational assessment, the shooter already had left the area and some of the people in the video had lost their lives.
It’s not unusual for an organization to find it is not as prepared as it thought when a real incident happens. “I see so many companies who go through the time and effort to put together an emergency response plan but when I ask them how they are leveraging their technology with the plan, the response is I didn’t take that into consideration,” Wilkins explained.
As a society, we can do better. And we want you to know your technology integrator can help.
Your Safety and Security Plan is Just the Beginning
“The good news,” Neubauer said, “is that we see many more organizations creating emergency plans than ever before, largely due to active shooter situations multiplying in the news.” It is a serious and urgent need to ensure the safety of employees, students, residents, shoppers, tourists and more.
However, emergency plans seem to have the same fate as many strategic plans: useful, detailed outlines and lists of action steps are put in binders, shared once with applicable personnel, and then sit on shelves and gather dust. In some cases, the reason these plans remain in the realm of theory and not action is because no one is certain how to implement them when chaos strikes.
Neubauer explained, “With the stress of an active emergency, it’s difficult to remember what to do and who should do it. If people do remember what to do, they often are thwarted by the limitations of their technology AND their plan.” A “panic button,” for example, can only be pushed if an authorized person is in the right place at the right time and can get to it.
Below are the three main aspects that are failing people and teams when an emergency happens. This article will help you determine whether your plan is effective and provide a list of steps to turn your good intentions into an active, safety-supporting tool.
1. Harness Technology When It Really Matters
Involve Your Integrator from the Beginning
Technology advances the ways we monitor, assess and take action when emergencies happen. Access control systems automatically identify and grant access to those who have the proper credentials. Sophisticated systems for facial recognition, auto lockdown and strategic alerts have improved our ability to respond at new levels.
Just having the technology isn’t enough. This is one problem Wilkins pointed out. Even if you know how to activate your new technologies individually, most organizations fail to go the next step: coordinating ALL technologies at your disposal and, even further, coordinating technology with human actions, in a comprehensive, smooth operating plan.
“Because lack of coordination can directly lead to injury and loss of life, it is critical to make sure your technology integrator is part of your emergency team from the beginning and throughout the plan’s implementation,” Wilkins said. An emergency-trained integrator can collaborate with all other members of your team to determine the best technology tools for your unique situation, and then work with your team to connect the dots based on your needs.
Once technology is in place, an integrator can educate the team about all the capabilities of the technology and ensure you are taking full advantage of every time-saving, life-saving inch of your tools. In fact, if you are NOT taking full advantage of the technology at your disposal – as well as coordinating it effectively with the human part of your plan – your organization could be held liable.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause informs employers that they are to be held accountable in the case of death or injury in the workplace and their lack of preparation is a citable offense. A good starting point to ensure you are on the right track of providing a safe work environment is to refer to the “reasonable man theory”. This is a common way of determining what you should be doing to guard against liability claims. What would a “reasonable person” expect to be in place to protect him/her when at your place of business? If you have the reasonable tools and steps in place, then you are more likely to be protected from liability claims.
This year, the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) wrote a formal standard for emergency plans. The NFPA 3000™ — Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, is the first of its kind when it comes to a standardized program that can be utilized to help your organization prepare in the event of an active shooter situation. We suggest you assign someone in your organization to review it – and make it available for the entire team to use as a template to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep people safe.
You can start with the NFPA 3000 risk assessment questionnaire here.
“Keep in mind that NOT making a decision is in itself a decision that can come back to haunt you,” Neubauer said. “Your emergency plan should cover as many potential situations as possible, so your team knows exactly what needs to happen, why it happens, and when to take action.” That’s the next question to answer: Once you have an air-tight plan, how can you ensure everyone knows what to do and when? The answer according to Neubauer: regular training.
2. Technology is Only as Good as Your Training
Responders Rise Only to a Level They’ve Practiced
In more than one active shooter situation, technology did not perform as expected. In addition to the panic button that wasn’t pushed because no one could find an authorized person, there have also been instances when doors were locked down, keeping victims inside when they might have escaped. In those instances, technology failed. The problems might have been solved if staff simply had been trained to activate contingencies.
Organizations must pool their people and their individual perspectives to formulate, practice and execute a plan that is thoughtfully considered from all angles. If an emergency were to occur, lives are then saved because everyone was involved and informed in every step of the process.
Neubauer said the key is to make sure training doesn’t happen just once. “You need to revisit your employees’ knowledge of the system on a regular basis, and the training should be required for all new employees.” After the recent shooting in El Paso, management discovered even though they had talked about their emergency plan, no one remembered what to do because it had been too long and only certain people had been briefed. Therefore, no one took steps that actually existed in a written plan.
A quality technology integrator will know how to ensure your staff has the technical knowledge they need to spring into action at the right time. “PCI offers training sessions on installed technologies, but not very many people take advantage of it,” Neubauer admitted. “I hope that will change with all the shootings in the news and the realization that taking these things for granted can lead to loss of life.”
Some organizations undertake training on their own, but often, because staff members are not experts in safety technology, they fail to train correctly. In one active shooter situation, it was discovered an organization had used video footage after an incident for training, when video should have been a part of the original training process.
“Some organizations DO practice their plans, but I’d be willing to bet most don’t,” Wilkins said. “Remember, in an emergency situation, people will perform to the level of their training – they won’t rise to the occasion all of a sudden and know what to do. They’ll fall back to what they know.”
In addition to ensuring that practice happens regularly, Wilkins suggests that training must include role playing and involve a level of stress that simulates what might happen in a real situation. “You have to create some sort of urgency,” he explained. “You can’t just go through the motions, or when the time comes, your training is likely to let you down.”
With technology changes, staff turnover, and other situational changes that occur, it is important to continually refine the plan to fit the circumstances. “Our environment always changes,” Wilkins explained. “When you practice the plan, you need to take into account anything that has changed or is expected to change in your environment.”
A well-executed emergency plan – both human and technology aspects together – is a beautiful thing. “One of our clients has multiple emergency lockdown readers throughout their building,” Neubauer said. “Everyone has been trained on when to use them, and when they see a masked gunman enter the building, whoever sees him can immediately initiate a lockdown sequence by swiping their badge at the closest reader.”
3. Don’t Keep Your Emergency Plan to Yourself
Public/Private Cooperation is Essential
As one could imagine, when emergencies happen, the scene is chaotic in spite of everyone’s efforts to be organized. When law enforcement officials and medical responders arrive on the scene, you don’t want that moment to be the first time they’ve ever seen your building or read your plan.
Like your integrator, first responders should be part of your plan from the beginning. They can use their extensive expertise to help you decide how to weave the parts of the plan together to minimize the chaos and achieve better outcomes, ultimately saving lives.
“It comes down to this,” Neubauer said. “The faster they can get to the right area, the better chance they’ll have of neutralizing the threat quickly.” Familiarity with your plan will help save time, and so will using technology to get the right information to the authorities.
Neubauer described a system made by Genetec that gives law enforcement officers access to see real-time streaming video in their own dispatch center (this is called federating footage), as well as the ability to lock down and unlock doors to get to the right place fast. Dispatch officers can brief responders while they are on the way to the incident, so they can act to save lives the instant they arrive.
“Kansas City is one metro area that has made a decision to install this system, and it’s amazing how much faster they can respond when they have the video and access tools they need,” Neubauer explained. “This public/private coordination is critical because seconds matter. We have to think about this from a community standpoint – it’s our responsibility to work together to keep everyone safe.”
According to Neubauer, other cities that have decided recently to use the Genetec system include St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago. “There’s a reason they’ve chosen this system,” he suggested. “It’s the best one out there. It’s proven. And as your integrator, we can help you not only install it but collaborate with your city’s officials to help make it happen.”
Don’t Wait to Take Action
If you believe your organization is falling short in any of these three areas of your emergency response plan, there is no time to waste. Wilkins encourages planning personnel in any organization to begin by studying the NFPA 3000 standards and/or completing the assessment questionnaire, then putting together a team to write a plan, organize regular training, and collaborate with city officials.
“After an incident, wouldn’t it be better to know you’ve truly done everything you can instead of just guessing?” Wilkins asked. “Get your integrator, trainers and city officials on your team to build confidence in your plan, so you don’t have to be one of those looking back at heartbreaking videos of how things went wrong.”
For more information and resources for implementing technology in your emergency response plan, contact the Prime Team at: 402-289-4126 or firstname.lastname@example.org