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Crisis Response Planning – Preparing for the Unpredictable

Florida Risk Management

By Alyssia Totten –

The number of armed attacks by active shooters and assailants in the U.S. continue to rise. Additionally, the nature and landscape of terrorism is changing. Although locations are unforeseeable, terrorist attacks are usually in crowded public areas that aim to create maximum panic, mass casualties, disruption and widespread fear.

While the thought of facing an armed attack by an active shooter or assailant is petrifying, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a plan for them. By making sure you have an effective crisis response plan in place, you are putting your organization in the best possible position to take immediate action, contain and manage a crisis and help your employees – and the community at large – heal.

Your crisis plan needs to be structured to provide your staff at all levels with the necessary training, procedures and resources to identify a crisis and respond accordingly. An effective Crisis Response Plan will help your organization prepare for the unthinkable if and when the unpredictable happens.

Here are 4 steps you can take to develop a Crisis Response Plan for your organization.

1. Crisis Response Team

The first step to developing your Crisis Response Plan is to clearly designate a Crisis Response Team (CRT) that has pre-determined, specific roles and responsibilities. Make sure you designate a chain of command and a back-up for each position in case the team member is unavailable or unable to fulfill the duties of the position for any reason. Create a checklist of roles and responsibilities and keep it readily available in both digital and hard copy formats.

2. Potential Threats

Once you have developed your CRT, the next step is to develop a list of potential threats to your organization. Being familiar with potential threats will help you plan ahead and make sure you are prepared for all possible situations. Here are some conceivable threats to consider including in your list:

  • On-Site Security threats – hostile customers, hostage situation, verbalized threats, child/adult abduction, missing person, robbery, assault, active shooter, bomb threat, arrest of staff member, gun found in bag or backpack, breach of computer security
  • Off-Site Security Threats – Terrorism, active shooter, escaped convict-at-large, suspicious activities, civil unrest

3. Potential Partners and Resources

Once you have your list of potential threats, you can identify the resources you will need to respond to a crisis. Create an exhaustive list specific to your local community and organization.

     A. Emergency Contacts

A comprehensive list may include emergency contact information for:

  • Organization leadership (i.e. Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Chief Communications Officer (CCO), etc.)
  • Local law enforcement
  • American Red Cross
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Department of Fire and Emergency Services
  • Animal Control
  • American Counseling Association (local chapter)
  • Crisis / mental health resources
  • Local schools

     B. Facility Blueprint

A basic visual layout of your building and property can dramatically decrease your response time during a crisis. Your blueprint should be simple, easy-to-read but detailed enough to provide the needed information.

Critical items to include on your blueprint might be:

  • Utility lines
  • Gas shut-off valves
  • Electrical cut-offs
  • Emergency exits
  • Storm shelters
  • Helicopter coordinates for emergency landings

     C. Command Post

The command post is a predetermined space that can be converted for crisis response. Your command post should include:

  • Many lines of communication
  • External media (TV coverage)
  • Crisis management plans
  • Back-up power supply generator
  • Gas supplies
  • Medical supplies
  • Modest reserve of food and water
  • Flashlights, batteries and cell phone chargers
  • Back up walkie-talkies

     D. Emergency Response Codes

Your Crisis Response Plan should designate preset codes and signals to use if a crisis breaks. Emergency response code examples include:

  • Code Blue = Missing Persons
  • Code Red = Active Shooter
  • Code Yellow = Hostile Intruder
  • Code Green = Site-Wide Evacuation
  • Code Black – Crisis Response

4. Flexible Plan

Your Crisis Response Plan should include multiple response modules to assist with unexpected scenarios. Designate tasks and action items according to the crisis type, department and position.

Your Crisis Response Plan should identify the actions that need to be taken within 24-48 hours after the situation breaks. Here are some questions to consider answering in your plan.

  • Who will call 911?
  • Which staff respond to which code/alarm?
  • What are others doing at all times?
  • Who is designated to speak to the media?
  • What is the plan to notify off-site personnel?
  • Who makes decisions if top leadership is not available?
  • When and where should the Crisis Communications Team assemble?
  • Who and how will the command post be activated?
  • Which statements will be given to staff, participants and families and when? How will consent for release of information be obtained?
  • How long will the site be open after the acute crisis has passed?
  • What and when will the debriefing process occur?
  • How will the reactions of the CRT be monitored for “compassion fatigue”?
  • Who file hospital and police reports?
  • Who will distribute contacts and resources for optional counseling?
  • Who will develop a plan for recovery and clean up?

And every Crisis Response Plan should consider a comprehensive assault and hostage crisis (AHC) insurance policy, which will cover a wide range of risks and reflects the uncertain nature of an active shooter or armed assailant attack. AHC insureds can make certain they are prepared in the event of an armed attack. In-depth training and support is essential for organizations to ensure they are prepared.

For more information about crisis planning, management or mitigation of the risk for your organization, please contact the Lanier Upshaw team.