Safety continues to play an increased role in office spaces. In the last 15 years, think of the attacks in office settings: 9/11 in Manhattan’s World Trade Center, the Sandy Hook School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and countless workplace shootings across this country. Most recently, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of San Bernardino, California and the families who lost loved ones. In addition to tragedies people chose to create, think of how difficult weather or natural disaster spurs professional crises. As an engaged professional or a responsible employer, you need think about the worst scenarios, communicate an actionable plan to those involved and seek out ways to improve your process.
During my summers growing up, I taught sailing at a camp in Boston. During our staff orientation, the most difficult, tedious part always proved to be the emergency action plan. This plan, written in a binder thicker than two encyclopedias combined, described what everyone from student to program director did in the event of any catastrophe including, but not limited to: nuclear attack, natural gas explosion, tsunami, earthquake, hazardous chemical spill, etc. While we never walked through every situation (of which there were hundreds), the team annually reviewed one crisis situation chosen at random. This exercise always excited me as a rather serious person but the tedious steps seemed to take too long and bore everyone.
“What’s the point?” we always used to ask.
Although the drill hardly simulated the nerves and speed of a real situation, it readied our team and helped us understand the critical steps. We grasped what kind of resources each situation required and left more equipped to handle disaster.
How can you respond to a crisis effectively in your office?
First, plan to understand. As you think about your business consider your work setting and its associated risks. Obvious danger settings might include construction and factory workplaces with heavy machinery but, even in the 8a-6p law firm, what procedures make sense to protect everyone in an emergency? Can you access a defibrillator in the event of a heart attack? Do you empower your employees with specific information about exit points in the building? While the confusion may seem laughable during the fire drill, you could lose lives without a strong Emergency Action Plan.
Second, when you find yourself amid a crisis, ask yourself, “What kind of emergency are we talking about?” Some choices that come to mind include: medical, attack (i.e. a gunman), fire, natural (i.e. weather). Understanding the situation and gathering the facts enables everyone to make better decisions.
Third, remember your plan, execute it and leverage your critical resources. Turning to a written process in your emergency action plan, you can act knowing every step. We often forget to communicate with an important person or complete a critical step without a checklist. What ever you decide to do in an emergency, you must work to keep everyone safe. If allowing employees to work from home saves them from a dangerous commute to and from work, do it. If maintaining good medical equipment could save an employee suffering from a stroke, do it. These steps mitigate many workplace risks and protect the most important part of your organization: your people.
Last, after every incident, take time with your team to recap and address any lingering questions or issues. This evaluation stage allows everyone to process the event, understand what went well and improve upon those things that did not. The experience helps in the future and initiates the preparation we discussed earlier. Safety in workplaces can become compromised everywhere. You need to empower employees to protect themselves in light of a disaster.