Over the last 30 years, several incidents stick out in my mind that either happened at institutions where I was chief security officer or happened to close colleagues. All taught me valuable lessons that are applicable to all organizations.
In one incident, a tragic accident happened in a public venue on a very busy summer Saturday afternoon. A young teen was killed in a fall in front of dozens of people, many children. It was a horrific scene. My colleague, who was on his way to a ballgame with his son, was called in.
My colleague told me after the incident that he had many security and emergency plans in place prior to the incident, but was taken by surprise when the captain of the fire department on the scene told him that he better get some counselors in for all the people that witnessed the death. My colleague told me that, being in a major city, he had alwayts assumed first responders would have people to contact for that type of thing. He never thought that would be his responsibility.
In another incident, a U.S- based research company was contacted by one of its employees. One of the helicopters the company had hired went down in a Peruvian jungle, most likely with fatalities, what should be done? The president of the organization, who later readily admitted that there were no plans in place for something like this, was suddenly faced with many critical decisions and actions to take. Who notifies the families? How do you get the bodies back to the United States? Who should go to Peru to handle the situation, if anyone, and who pays for all these expenses?
Shortly after, that company established a Crisis Management Team.
Security, law enforcement and first responders spend a lot of time trying to develop and implement ways to prevent incidents—from accidents to acts of violence—from happening, as well as how to respond quickly and efficiently when they do.
The fact of the matter is that security is never 100 percent. and incidents will continue to happen, be it at a school, church, corporate office or mall. All organizations must have a CMT in place, trained and ready to handle whatever may happen to or within their organization.
Often, organizations think their security team is the CMT. That could not be further from the truth. Security personnel may be part of the CMT, but they are not the team itself.
The CMT handles an incident after it occurs and is generally given the authority to act quickly without having to contact executives or boards of directors, etc. This is a critical piece. The CMT must be given the authority to act, whether that means making public statements, dealing with authorities, making operational decisions or spending money.
The optimal CMT is usually small, about five people, with back-ups for each position. The members include representatives from human resources, finance, legal, facilities and security departments. These may be direct employees or may be outside contractors, especially in the areas of legal, insurance and finance.
What the CMT may have to handle is only limited by one's imagination. It may include everything from a fire. a death due to violence or medical problem, to a kidnapping, domestically or abroad.
Regularly scheduled tabletop exercises, from start to finish, is the best training team-members can receive. Coming up with scenarios is as simple as reading today's headlines and putting your organization in that situation. There will be many things that were never thought of, like counselors for children on a Saturday afternoon.
But this is the time to find out what you don't know, before an actual incident occurs.
Jeffrey A. Hawkins is manager, strategic initiatives for the private security sector, at American Military University. He has more than 30 years of experience as a public safety/security professional.