How to React in an Emergency

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Yesterday, attendees at the town hall meeting “How Will You React in a Crisis?” received some valuable tips about preparing for a crisis. The most important tip, offered by both panelists, was to meet with and be familiar with your local emergency professionals before any crisis occurs.

The panelists were Jeff Walker, director of Licking County (OH) Office of Homeland Security, Emergency Management and 911 Services, Newark, OH, and David Gervino, mitigation programs manager at the American Red Cross of Chicago. They both said that club operators should ask their fire department, police department and emergency management services department to come into their place of business to become more familiar with the facility. These departments can offer tips about how to deal with emergency situations and help your business develop a plan to deal with such situations.

Each of these groups must practice handling emergency situations during the year, so you could also offer your place of business as a practice location.

Emergency situations come in all shapes and sizes and no two are the same. Your staff could end up dealing with a shooting (such as the LA Fitness shootings in August--the situation that inspired this Town Hall topic), a hostage situation, a bomb threat, a tornado, an earthquake, a flood or a number of other situations.

Walker offered these tips for dealing with emergency situations:

--Have current blueprints in an accessible spot so police and firefighters can see where everything is located in your building, from doors, windows and roof hatches to utilities and control panels. They also need to know how the exits and roof hatches are secured.

--Create an emergency plan that includes an evacuation plan. Run through these plans with all your employees, even to the point of practicing at least once a year.

--Designate one person to be in charge during an emergency situation with one back-up person. That person should not necessarily be you, especially if you are not on-site very often. The designated person will be the contact person for the emergency personnel and should know where the blueprints are. The person should also be someone who reacts well under pressure.

--Designate a location for employees to gather once they're outside the building so you can get a head count to let the emergency personnel know if someone is missing. You must also talk with the fire department to see where they would stage their emergency vehicles so that you do not plan your employee gathering spot in the same location.

--Remain calm and as you evacuate, follow law enforcement direction, which will probably include raising your hands with your fingers spread (so police can ensure you are not carrying a weapon because they initially will be uncertain about who is the perpetrator).

--Do not stop to ask police for help or directions when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises.

--Include this information in your 911 call: name of the business, address of the building, location of the shooter or hostage taker, place from which you are calling and your name.

--Also provide this information to the 911 operator or to law enforcement if they are on the premises already: number of shooters (if more than one), physical description of shooter(s), number and type of weapon(s) on the shooter(s), number of potential victims.

--Do not end the 911 call until the 911 operator tells you to. Be the last to hang up.

Gervino, who was speaking in place of Joe Gray, senior director of health and safety at the American Red Cross of Chicago (Gray was at the presentation but a cold prevented him from being able to speak at great length), told the attendees that the Red Cross offers a workplace violence prevention class. Red Cross representatives can come to your workplace to offer tips about how to spot potential problem employees or members and potentially dangerous situations in the workplace. They can also help you set up business continuity plans and evacuation plans for various situations. The Red Cross also has a Ready Rating plan to help you with a self assessment. After a situation occurs at your facility, the Red Cross has psychologists who can come on-site to help employees appropriately deal with their feelings.

The final thought from Walker was that employees are going to perform in reality in the same way they practice responding, so ensure you are practicing and that you are teaching them how to react properly.

We will continue to offer tips on this subject online and in print, so keep watching our Web site for more in the future.

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