Your local law enforcement agency exists to safeguard the community, and that includes your organization’s facilities. To protect your places and people effectively, officers need you to play an active role.
First, the police want you to call if something isn’t right. There’s a common misconception that officers will be angry if a call they receive turns out to be unfounded, or that they’ll make light of the situation or caller. The reality is that police officers are accustomed to arriving at uncertain situations, immediately determining whether there’s a real problem, and taking action if there is. As a retired police officer, I can tell you that I’d rather pull up to an altercation in its early stages, rather than roll up as guns are being drawn or after shots have been fired.
It’s also vital that your entire staff knows they have permission to call 911 in any kind of emergency situation. Far too often, people want to defer that decision or responsibility to a supervisor, which delays the response. If everyone knows they can make the call without facing a reprimand, help will get there sooner. When the situation involves a health emergency or a shooter, every second matters.
It’s important to use clear language in emergency situations. Some managers who have watched too many spy movies like to create secret codes. In a crisis situation, will announcing “Code Purple” over the intercom obtain the desired result? People forget, they become confused, and with little practice of emergency procedures they are likely to freeze. “Code Purple” may not lead them to act, but “Evacuate the building NOW!” will.
You may have an emergency plan that tells your team where to go in case of a fire or an active shooter, but what if something interferes with the normal plan? Suppose the accounting department is slated to leave through Door 3, but the shooter is in that hallway, or an explosion has caused that part of the building to collapse? Your staff should also practice what to do in emergency situations on a regular basis, and you should surprise them with conditions that prevent a normal response. During your next drill, block Door 3 so the accounting department has to identify an alternate way out. In a crisis, they won’t be able to ask you for instructions.
An evacuation plan is only part of security. When police officers and other first responders arrive at your facility, it doesn’t help if they find a chaotic crowd that gets in the way because they don’t know where to go. Your plan should also include evacuation and reunification sites that allow you to organize evacuees, make sure everyone is safe, and keep them out of the way of those who are responding. It’s a good idea to give them alternate locations, in case the planned sites become unsafe.
Police officers don’t want you to cower in a deadly situation. In 2010, an angry man walked into a school board meeting in Panama City, Florida, seeking revenge after his wife had been fired. He allowed all the women to leave the room, and one tried to disarm him by whacking him with her purse. Unfortunately, nobody else stepped in to help her, and the man began firing. He eventually turned the gun on himself. When someone walks in with a gun, you don’t need to ponder the situation or try to use reason. You need to act immediately using the plan you have practiced and the resources at hand.
Finally, police officers want you to trust your gut feelings. If someone or something makes you uneasy, there’s probably good reason. Unfortunately, we tend to brush off those feelings and convince ourselves that it’s silly to be concerned. I often think about another 2010 case when a Harvard graduate who was a university professor abruptly pulled out a handgun during a meeting, killing three co-workers and injuring three others. After the incident, co-workers mentioned that she was “different” and “quirky” and that her behavior was odd, but nobody ever reported it or acted upon it.
If we brush off those feelings and say it’s not our place to act, whose place is it? We need to adopt the attitude that speaking up is for everyone’s good, even if it makes us uncomfortable. That discomfort is minor compared with what we’d feel after a major violent incident. “If you see something, say something” is simple but powerful advice, and it can help police dramatically reduce the chances that a situation will escalate into something far more serious.
Dottie Davis is a member of the Advisory Board for Danville-based SafeVisitor, the director of security for Fort Wayne Community Schools, and former deputy chief and director of training for the Fort Wayne Police Department.