Emergency Preparedness

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Opinion and Thought Leadership
By Tom Henkey, CEM
Director of Emergency Management, Titan Security Group

We are living in very interesting times. To cite just one recent example, the riotous violence at the U.S. Capitol in January was shocking.  Seeing the seat of representative democracy being breached and ransacked by domestic extremists – in the midst of a pandemic – is certainly nothing I ever expected to witness in my lifetime.

But it also provided a valuable lesson to everyone responsible for the safe operation of any large building or facility. Whether in a role as a building owner, property manager, engineer, or security professional, we must all heed this warning. Preparing for one hazard is not enough, we must collectively embrace all-hazards planning. A pair of initial reports on the January 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol display the critical importance of being able to track multiple threats or hazards, and what happens when those in charge fail to do so.

The U.S. House of Representatives drafted Retired General Russel Honoré to compose an initial report on the incidents leading up to and including January 6. Just weeks following the event, Honoré released a blunt assessment of the failings of multiple responsible parties to secure the seat of representative democracy. He specifically noted a lack of recognition of the threat posed by an unruly mob provoked by fiery political speeches just blocks from the Capitol, and a lack of adequate staffing and equipment for those assigned to protect the facility. The Honoré report may be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/497886680/Read-Capitol-security-review-report#from_embed

A more recent report by Architect of the Capitol Inspector General Christopher P. Failla came to very similar conclusions. While the office of the Architect of the Capitol is not a household name to most Americans, it has responsibility for the daily maintenance and operation of the Capitol and surrounding buildings, and reports directly to the U.S. Congress. In his report, released April 27, Failla notes the glaring lack of planning and training for and by Capitol staff, where topics tended to focus on severe weather. In fact, not a single drill or exercise in 2019 or 2020 focused on the threats of protestors or civil unrest. The Architect of the Capitol report may be found here: https://www.oversight.gov/sites/default/files/oig-reports/AOC/Flash-Report-SeriesAOC-Emergency-Preparedness-2021-0002-IE-P.pdf

Taken together, these initial reports represent a pretty glaring lack of planning and preparation for a clear risk. So what does a property owner, manager, engineer, or security director do to counter such a broad range of potential threats?

On a local level we can take a wide ranges of proactive steps to manage such risk. Recognition is a key first step, as ignoring multiple intelligence reports prior to January 6 all-too clearly displayed. Yet potential solutions abound. All-hazards planning has been around the emergency management community for decades, yet is just starting to gain wider recognition and acceptance. A critical and foundational step for any organization is a thorough and honest risk assessment. Any solid emergency operations plan will then specifically address each and every identified hazard. And ultimately, our teams must be prepared to handle multiple crises simultaneously. (Pandemic and civil unrest, anyone?)

On a more macro level, we can work together as a sector to set expectations, coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and share best practices with one another. As Failla noted, we have a responsibility to “address known and unknown threats such as active shooter, workplace violence, protestors, and civil disturbances.” Addressing such a wide-ranging threat cannot take place in a bubble and must be a collaborative effort utilizing all available partners.

It is incumbent on those of us responsible for protecting people or facilities to truly prepare for all hazards – not just the ones we choose to address. We must proactively seek out intelligence and insight into our organization’s potential risks, and plan accordingly. It can be a dynamic and dangerous world out there, but all-hazards planning has the capability to bring some order to the chaos.

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