Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response fires. All injuries and most fatalities occur at the front door because individuals did not take a minute to identify where all exits were located. They had no plan. Forensic study has shown that people had passed by available and open exits trying to get to the front door because, in their panic, that was the only exit they could recall. Most, if not all, of the survivors of those catastrophes did know where the other emergency exits were. In the 2003 Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, a stampede of people rushing to get out the front door created a crush of humanity in the narrow hallway that completely blocked the exit. More than 40 people perished in that space alone. Three other exits were used by survivors. The first step a person should take to prepare in advance for an emergency is to develop an emergency plan. There will be emergency situations where first responders may take some time to reach you. Ongoing threats, multiple site attacks, communications breakdowns, hazardous environments and overstretched resources are all possible reasons for delays in emergency response. The result is that your taking the initial action to protect yourself may save your life, and potentially the lives of others. For starters, be prepared to evacuate. Always be ready to leave your location with your car and house keys, wallet and phone easily accessible. Even keep spare phone chargers handy. Don’t find yourself stranded. Finding yourself thrust into the middle of an emergency is not the time to develop your strategy, which should also include an alternative communication plan since it’s likely that telephone and Internet service will be down. If you prepare a plan in advance, you’d be surprised how your instincts and what you have learned rise to the top of your thought process during an actual emergency. Know how to escape out a secondary exit. Know what to do in a workplace violence situation. Know your surroundings, and if you get that uncomfortable feeling that something doesn’t seem right, it usually isn’t. It may not prompt an action on your part but will prepare you to react if needed. The important elements here are self-reliance and preparation. Train, Train, Train Just as fire drills are common ways employers train staff for fire emergencies, emergency managers need to teach staff, via training, how to implement emergency plans. They 22 can set up mock scenarios or simply walk through the steps on a random, yet frequent basis, so that you and your staff have a great understanding of the plan and are comfortable with what to do in the event of an incident. Even if you’re not an emergency manager, it’s still critical that you familiarize yourself with your plan, and that you walk through it, step by step. An emergency or disaster is jolting enough, without the uncertainties of how to respond. You want to be assured that you know how to react, and this can only come from practice. Stay Alert. Be Aware to Stay Safe. Take Action to Stay Alive Not everyone can tell a firecracker from a gunshot. In either case, ev-
eryone will recognize an unfamiliar or extraordinary sound. It may not require an immediate response, but it will get your attention. This provides you with a moment to pause, think and recall your plan of action. Usually normalcy will return. If it doesn’t, you are already turning on your brain to be prepared for action. The above scenario could easily happen in your workplace. That loud crack will get your attention. Should you just ignore it, or should you start thinking of the “what if ’s.” If you smell something burning, does that get your attention? Start the “what if.” Your safety will depend on your preparation and how you react. If you begin thinking of the, “what if ’,” you are already one step ahead of everyone else in keeping yourself safe. Prepare, plan and react. These are things you need to train your brain on now. There are reasons why first responders, law enforcement and military are constantly training. They are learning how to respond in specific ways for different situations; achieving so-called “muscle memory.” You might often hear these professionals repeat the mantra, “Always revert to your training.” There is a good reason why. We, as civilians, are no different. We may not need to train to this high level, but the underlying objective of teaching our brains how to react in extreme situations is the same: a calm, rational, effective response. Stay Calm The sudden onset of confusion, fear, hysteria and chaos can be overwhelming. Not everyone will be prepared. As you think about this and have an opportunity to prepare yourself, be ready to lead those who are with you at that time. There will be times you will have to take on the role as leader to get everyone to a safe place. Those who are not trained or prepared will be in denial and confused that something dangerous is happening. They will be frantically looking for their protec- 23 tor. That protector may be you until first responders arrive. Emergency situations, either man-made or natural, can confront you with a clear and present danger. Preparation and planning can make the difference between becoming a victim, or emerging as a survivor. Mike Pena is Executive Vice President of Homeland Security for Apprio Inc. and has an extensive 35 year career in first response, emergency preparedness, homeland security and facility protection. Pena’s background includes first responder experience with the New York City Fire Department’s Special Operations Command and FEMA, as well as security and critical infrastructure protection experience with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory.