Most workplaces are unprepared for terrorism


With all the hype surrounding the new season of 24, I thought I'd tune in and see what the hoopla was about. Normally I don't watch much TV, but after catching the premiere episodes of this season's 24, I think my DVR might actually get some use this spring.

For a thumbnail sketch of the plot, Islamic terrorists are setting off bombs around the country (in subways, on buses, etc.), killing many. Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack Bauer, the federal agent who does whatever it takes for the greater good.

Although the show is fictional TV, the plot content - including the suitcase nukes - is a very real possibility. In fact, a very real government official was recently on television saying it is "inevitable that terrorists would acquire weapons of mass destruction."

And Donald Rumsfeld, speaking of terrorist attacks before retiring from his position as Secretary of Defense, said "The question is not if, but when, and where and how."

Unfortunately, while radical Islamic terrorism is staring us in the face, it is not our country's only terror problem. In a report entitled "Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning," by Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, it seems not everything is quiet on our western front. According to the November 30, 2006 report:

China and the United States are in a nuclear arms race. Not an arms race of the intensity and proportions of the U.S.-Soviet arms race during the Cold War, but an arms race nonetheless. The U.S.-Chinese adversarial nuclear relationship goes back to the Korean War, but the scope and sophistication of the race appears to be increasing.

I'm not trying to be a doomsayer, but I do think that too many of us are guilty of linear thinking in a non-linear world. Even after the attacks of September 11, 2001, there's an underlying idea that more attacks "won't happen here," even with mounds of evidence saying they will.

Well, let's stop and think. Because flat tires are a real possibility, we carry a spare and a jack. And anyone who lives where it snows usually owns a show shovel. While we may not use the jack and we don't know when it's going to snow, we still make sure we have what we need to handle those potential events.

These examples are simple, but they make my point: When it comes to keeping employees safe in the face of a major disaster and/or terrorist action, most workplaces are woefully unprepared.

So which disasters should we be planning for? I'm accustomed to the military's acronym of NBC – nuclear, biological, and chemical. In some parts of the country we should consider flooding, earthquakes, and volcanoes, too!

It makes little sense to create a resource list here, as each organization's needs are going to be slightly different. However, the Homeland Security page is a good starting point. It's good, but not as comprehensive as it could be, so check out other places on the web, too. Search such terms as "disaster preparedness" or "emergency plans" to get a feel for what you should be covering.

The basics, of course, are first aid, food, water, and shelter. Then, after planning for NBC attacks, consider your needs for flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes, or other disasters. Contrary to what many believe, the government is not going to arrive on a white stallion to save the day. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is proof of that.

Naturally, when disaster strikes, people are going to want to leave work to gather their families. But instances may arise that make it totally unsafe to leave a building. It's these kinds of situations that need to be addressed.

After your plan is created, don't just stick it in a file. Rehearse it! Take the time to do a walk through. After all, what good is your plan if nobody knows what's in it or why? In addition to people knowing what's been put in place for their safety, you're likely to get some valuable feedback on how to make your disaster plan even better.

Finally, some people might take issue with the content of this column, or with TV shows scripting radical Islamists detonating bombs and low-charge nukes.

But as one producer of the show 24 says, "Time to wake the country up!" I can only agree. No plan is perfect, but if we are prepared for dealing with such catastrophic insanity both personally and professionally, we'll minimize panic, and in all seriousness, we'll probably save some lives.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.