Workplace Preparation

Today our good friend, Orrin Knutson, is going to give us his take on being prepared for a disaster while in the workplace. Take it away, Orrin.


Short-term “survival” events are nothing much to worry about while at work. They are usually simple power failures or you are stuck a few hours or overnight due to bad weather.

On the other hand, during a major incident, many people are caught at work and the whole city can be shut down. Some workers are a long way from home, family and all their regular survival gear and food.

When you get caught at work or in the city during a major natural disaster, most streets and roads become clogged and your car becomes useless. Thus, you and your coworkers only have two choices.

Either defend in place (DIP) and try to wait things out, or “take it on the lamb,” evacuating on foot to get home. Of course, you can always turn to government assistance and shelters, if they are available.

Evaluate Where You Work

As a professional consultant after leaving law enforcement, I was paid handsomely to audit company security and emergency plans. Unfortunately, we rarely got called in until there had been an ugly incident and lawsuits had been filed.

Policy and procedure (P&P) manual contradictions simply force ill-prepared employees caught in a disaster to throw up their hands in confusion. That results in anger, frustration, panic, chaos and even reckless injuries or deaths.

Consult the boss in writing

Ask your employer, in writing, for a copy of the company’s emergency preparedness and evacuation plans for fire, natural disasters, acts of violence and perhaps HAZMAT issues.

Read the plan thoroughly

Once you read every word diligently, go through it again. This time critique it very carefully for conflicts and things you know cannot work from having worked in the trenches yourself. We suspect you will find many conflicting policies.

Here’s my color-coded advice:

  1. Highlight in red anything you feel puts you personally at risk. Highlight in orange policies that may compromise your nearest co-workers. Highlight in yellow those that put other workers at risk. Use green to mark those policies you feel are well thought out and will work just fine.
  2. Can you personally escape or safely defend in place using the plan? Corporate plans often only address the needs of administrative and office staff. Sometimes P&P’s actually leave outside, production, floor and peripheral staff out in the cold… literally.
  3. Does the plan provide food and water for all employees, for a minimum of three to five days if everyone is forced to defend in place? If not, ask why not? When there are provisions for food and water, where is it all stored and who is in charge of managing and distributing those supplies when danger strikes?
  4. Does the evacuation plan stop at the front door or facility perimeter? If so, after that you and all your coworkers are left to fend for yourselves anyway, so make yourself a plan.
  5. Is your business a target-rich environment for armed robbery (cash, drugs or valuables on site), and how are employees supposed to respond during a robbery?
  6. Is there a “Violence in the Workplace” policy and does it make any sense at all when faced with a crazy person with a weapon or bomb?
  7. Today, we all have to consider the threat and horror of terrorism. So, ask yourself seriously, is your place of business a “target-rich environment” for terrorists, or is it nearby a targeted facility?
  8. Is your workplace a totally gun-free campus? If so all employees are “sitting ducks” for workplace violence, robbery and terrorism.
  9. Often fire alarm and extinguisher maintenance is farmed out to a contractor, so just for fun, inspect the tags on a few to see if they are being kept up to date. If not, report it to management immediately.
  10. Are flammable cleaners and other chemicals stored where you work and are they stored responsibly? If not, report it.
  11. Is your industry, by its very nature, a HAZMAT risk or near to one? Dangerous sites are supposed to be closely monitored by government inspectors familiar with that particular industry.

You get the idea. Pick the company plan apart, making sure at least you personally have a fighting chance to make it home someday.

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