If there was a terrorist attack at your office – what would you do?
Most organisations have evacuation policies and plans, but these are often focused on hazards like fire or power failure. These might not be enough to protect your employees from a threat like terrorism. But who within your organisation is responsible for developing the appropriate prevention and evacuation plans? Most often it is the responsibility of a security manager to take action, but in many organisations responsibility may fall to HR or a facilities manager. Although it is important for ownership to be clearly defined within management, it is more important that all employees are made aware of who is responsible and what plans are currently in place. It should be made clear that it is every employee’s responsibility to play a part in prevention and response, so they need to understand what they need to do if the worst case happens.
Responsibility of the organisation:
It is critical for organisations to implement a safety regiment that is clearly communicated to all employees. It is up to the security team to develop a plan that incorporates the potential threats and hazards, including fire, active shooter or a natural disaster. The evacuation procedures should be flexible enough to allow you to respond appropriately to each of the different scenarios. Similar to a fire drill, evacuation plans should be practised regularly. Employees should understand the procedures, and feel empowered to make decisions and act in the case of any incident. Having well-understood and practiced plans will buy you time, and could save lives.
In the case of an incident:
Depending on the type of incident, the appropriate plans need to be put into place. The reaction window to prevent the threat from escalating and harming any employees is small. Remaining calm yet authoritative gives employees the confidence to react appropriately.
Alerting the authorities should be a critical step in the evacuation plan. They will respond to the threat, and help to resolve it – although you must remember that response times will vary according to your location, and the nature of the threat. To help understand some of these variables, you should contact your local police and discuss how they can help you build plans that take these factors into account.
After an incident:
It is imperative to create an open flow of communication between employees and the security team after an incident. Employees want to be reassured that their workplace is safe and the plans put in place will protect them in the future.
After an incident, all plans should be carefully examined and revised according to what did and did not work well in managing the incident. Routine training should continue for all management and employees.
Organisations also need to account for their employees emotional well-being. The need to provide psychological support should be an integral part of any incident management plan.
Responsibility of employees:
Awareness is the key for prevention. Being alert and attentive to something that may seem uncommon or suspicious is the simplest way to help reduce any potential threat. When travelling to and from work, it is important for all staff to adopt a level of accountability and responsibility by raising any concerns with their security, HR or facilities department.
A similar principle goes for when in the office environment. Anything out of the ordinary should be highlighted, whether minor or major. Trust your instinct and err on the side of caution. For example, if you do not recognise someone trying to enter the office, it is important to not let them through, and direct them to your reception desk.
Most offices already have some degree of access control to prevent theft or other crime, and these physical and procedural checks should be incorporated. For example, your reception team might be the best placed to identify a potential threat, and should be briefed on what signs to look for, and how to raise the alarm. If you occupy a shared office block, work with other companies in the same space and the building management to ensure your plans are integrated, and that you can spread any alert quickly to your co-tenants.
In the case of an incident:
In the very unlikely event that an attack occurs at your office, you will need to act decisively and quickly. Knowing your response procedures will speed up that decision-making, and help reduce the risk of injury or fatalities.
Some important points to consider if an incident were to occur:
If your primary evacuation route is no longer safe, employees will have to find an alternative route - or find a place to hide.
If hiding is the best option, remember to silence your mobile device, turning off both the ring tone and vibration functions.
Employees should act as a team by advising and leading other colleagues to safety. Not everyone will react in the same manner so it is important to ensure people stay calm and focused on removing themselves from the situation.
Once the threat has been eliminated, employees are advised to leave the premises following the instruction of their security team or the authorities. They will advise on when it is most appropriate to make your way back into the building. If you are trying to communicate with other colleagues, friends or relatives, remember mobile (cellular) communications networks might be down/unavailable, either as the volume of traffic increases, or as emergency services reserve the network for their own purposes. An alternative would be to use landline services.
Be proactive, not reactive. Be vigilant but not alarmed.
After an incident:
If an incident should occur, it is likely that employees will have questions or concerns. “How could this happen? Is my employer doing everything they can to protect me? What if this happens again?”
It is essential to attend all security training, briefings or seminars to stay educated and up-to-date on the latest procedures. Engaging with your manager or security team is important.
Organisations are most successful when they work closely with their employees to develop a clear and concise plan that assists before, during and after an incident.
Robert Walker, Head of Information and Analysis at International SOS and Control Risks