Heavy Metal is going down the dark hole of workplace violence. Along with school shootings, it's something nobody wants to think about.
But of course, you have to think about it, and imagine it could happen. That's the sad reality of life in the United States today. And it was the topic of a presentation by former policeman Scott Lowry at the Environmental Health and Safety Summit, held July 17-18 in Columbus, Ohio.
"The reality is that we have to educate people what to do," he said. "Don't assume that it can't happen in your backyard, in your facility. Don't do that. Don't make that mistake. Because lighting can strike anywhere."
What used to be handled with a fist fight out by the loading dock now too often ends in a mass shooting. An angry worker who was fired. Angry ex-husbands or ex-wives. Lowry's message: Have a plan and coordinate with local emergency responders — in advance.
"We as management, as an organization, how do we deal with after the bullets stop flying? That's really what this is about," Lowry said.
Heavy Metal heartily endorses this annual safety conference, which lots more people should attend. The event is sponsored by three affiliated trade groups: the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP), the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) and the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers.
Lowry, a retired lieutenant from the Findlay, Ohio, Police Department, now runs Three60 Response LLC, which provides software to help create a community-wide active threat plan. He also is a trainer at certified courses covering crisis management in schools. But at the Columbus safety conference, his presentation was no sales pitch — it was a call to prepare and practice your specific guidelines on what to do of a shooter comes into your business.
School shootings get the big headlines.
"But the reality is that the media spends a lot of time talking about that, because it's our children. And the fact [is] that workplace violence has become so common in this country, it doesn't make the news," Lowry said. "Workplace violence has been a problem in this country for a lot longer than school shootings have." Remember the term "going postal"?
And workplace violence is increasing, he said.
"Each facility is different," Lowry said at the safety conference. "You have to do basically a vulnerability study of each building. What kind of obstacles are there, in regards to people doing run, hide, fight?" he said, citing the active shooter protocol. "How are you going to minimize injuries to people and maximize their ability to get out of the room?"
A checklist is not enough, Lowry said, because each case of shooting is different. "At the end of the day, when we talk about pre-planning, we're not going to prevent chaos. OK? There's no way, shape or form," he said.
After all, as Lowry pointed out, even in war, when the bullets fly, plans can go out the window. "That's true, but you have to have a plan. We have to try and minimize the chaos," he said.
He suggested having employees start by watching the YouTube video on run, hide, fight, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you hire a trainer, make sure he or she is qualified.
Importantly, make contact with local police, fire and emergency medical services people, Lawry said: "You get to have a conversation with law enforcement management, with fire management in regards to their response on this subject matter. And when you start having conversations with these people, they're going educate you, on what they do. And that's really the biggest thing."
Reinforce the plan with a written policy and make sure all employees review it regularly.
Lowry gave some points to think about:
• Collaborate with safety forces to list how many people work on your facilities, where command centers should be located and other key details.
• Identify the exits, and figure out how many people can quickly get out through each exit.
• Figure out a pool of people who, once the shooting is over, will go to the command center to work with the emergency responders.
As Lowry explained: "After someone walks in the building shooting and the police show up, that's a law enforcement function. You don't have a dog in that hunt, there's no responsibilities for you, until the bad guy goes down. And then you as an organization have to be part of that incident command. You need to make sure that you have identified who are going be the people at the incident command post with police and fire. Because police and fire are gonna be shooting questions at that representative asking questions about that building. And I need somebody in that command post that knows the answers to those questions. ... I need somebody at the command post that knows your building."
• Figure out how to account for all employees. Know how to contact relatives of injured employees.
• Establish rally points where all evacuees can go if they need medical care for injuries as they run out of the facility.
• Set up staging areas for seriously injured people, for a triage center.
• Determine a media staging area and identify which employee will brief the media.
• Predetermine locations for helicopter landing zones.
• Work in advance with police on how to establish a perimeter around the building. The press rushes in. And Lowry said that every time a mass shooting happens, people with loved ones there rush to the site — and many of them carry guns.
Lowry said it's important to test the plan with "tabletop exercises" using a small group of employees together with local safety forces.
All employees also need to understand how the first responders will act, because it may not make sense. For example, the police are focused on stopping the shooter, so they walk right past injured people. Lowry said the concept of a "rescue task force" is becoming popular, where law enforcement call fire and EMS personnel into the building as fast as possible to provide first aid. In the past, police waited to sweep the entire building before calling in medical help, he said.
Management also has to think about helping workers cope. "Because, at some point, your doors are going to open back up and you're going to start doing whatever business it is that you do. And those people have to come back into that building. And the psychological impact of walking back into that building needs to be part of that consideration," he said.