Unfortunately, we are surrounded by reports of violence and acts of terrorism that feel too close to home every day. Operating facilities serve thousands of people every day. And while this is an incredible opportunity, there is also great responsibility associated with that. Is your facility prepared to handle an emergency situation? Is your staff ready to act if your facility becomes a target? These are important questions to ask yourself as a facility operator so you and your staff can have a positive effect on the outcome of emergency situations.
Training for the Worst to Perform the Best
Work with your local law enforcement and fire departments to determine the best course of action for different emergency scenarios within your facility. Each facility has its own unique challenges and opportunities in regards to patron safety, which should be taken into account when developing threat-specific action plans. Above all, guest and staff safety are obviously paramount. But in certain scenarios, that can be complicated. For instance, there are cases where your staff is responsible for the welfare of minors (swim lessons, day camp programming, etc.). In an emergency, is it your staff's responsibility to usher children to safety before protecting themselves? Or should staff members prioritize their own safety? These are questions that local law enforcement can help you work through. It's important to take input from local law enforcement, decision-makers in your organization, as well as from neighboring facilities to determine the best plan for your facility. Once plans have been developed: consistently practice them. Practice with your staff so often, that in the case of an emergency, the process is second nature to them. That way, when disaster strikes, you and your staff are ready to help.
In most cases, active shooter situations unfold quickly, and law enforcement do not arrive on scene until after the incident is over. So it may be up to you and your staff to take action to help your patrons to safety. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), together with other partners, developed a short video outlining some of the choices when faced with an active shooter situation. While the video primarily focuses on the office building environment, the information and tips it provides can certainly be applied to your facility. Your response is certainly going to differ if you're operating a facility with one small building, a large, open water park space, and 2,000 guests. But the core message remains the same. It's important to know your options (Run, Hide, or Fight) and know when you might choose one option over another. Local law enforcement will assist you in making that decision, but most typically say it’s best to run and exit the park at any exit point. This means ensuring your staff is aware of all emergency exit gates. These gates should remain unlocked during business hours. Staff who are stationed at the top of water slides or other rides can hit the emergency stop and hide in the flume towards the middle until it is safe to exit.
Other Types of Disruption
There may be an instance where there is a violent eruption in your facility with a specific target in mind, such as a fight or domestic disturbance. If your management has established a good presence on-deck, and your staff consistently speaks with customers, you're more likely to spot these incidents before they escalate. But even with the best managers, disturbances happen. Train staff to see these problems before they arise, separate individuals, and take statements in an area where all parties are safe. After the problem has been resolved, make sure your staff knows how to resume normal operations, and relocate individuals to a different area of the facility as necessary.
Sometimes, the danger may not even be at your facility, but rather in the neighboring area. This can still affect your operations. Slide towers, for instance, are high points visible from far away. If there is danger outside your facility, you may need to evacuate slide towers or other tall attractions to ensure staff and guests are safe. In these situations, it is not uncommon for your staff to be the first to notice the need to lockdown the facility. Law enforcement are busy protecting the immediate scene of the danger and may not have time to warn you of some impending danger. Close off any areas where someone may be in danger and take care to move them to a safe location. Recently, a facility in Oregon implemented their training and prepared for an active shooter situation when a shooting happened at an adjacent park. Because they had been trained to properly respond to nearby emergencies, they were ready to take action and save lives.
Prepare for After
One thing that all emergencies have in common is that at some point, they will end. Make sure that you have a process for ensuring your staff is safe and accounted for. Select a meeting place offsite for those who are able to flee the scene. Prepare an emergency bag (or several) located at facility exits for someone (usually management) to grab on the way out. This bag should include staff names, emergency contact information, photos of staff members, and a current schedule. These tools will allow you to assess who is missing, who to contact in case someone is injured, and help law enforcement identify wounded who may still be in the facility. Violent incidents will have psychological and emotional impacts on staff. Make sure there is a debriefing process post-incident with professional counselors to ensure staff are mentally healthy and able to continue to work. As part of this plan, determine the time frame when it might be best to re-open the facility and allow those involved to return to work.
Every situation will be different and require a different response. But by putting the tools and training in place to effectively prepare staff for a violent incident, you increase the probability that everyone will remain safe and unharmed.