Sep 03 2010

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Discovery Communications crisis a reminder to review emergency plan

By Jennifer Nycz-Conner, Washington Business Journal

Workplace experts say the hostage crisis at Discovery Communications Inc. in Silver Spring should prompt all companies and building owners to review their emergency evacuation and continuity of operation plans — or, if they don’t have a plan, to make one.

Authorities praised Discovery for the way it handled the crisis and its evacuation plan, which was implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is updated annually. James J. Lee entered the public lobby at the company’s headquarters waving a gun and took three employees hostage. He was killed, and none of the hostages was harmed.

“We executed our emergency plan flawlessly,” Discovery spokemsan David Leavy said. “Employees were notified. They exited the building, everyone’s accounted for, everyone’s safe and sound, and we’re very, very thankful for that.”

Experts say companies should consider these tips when evaluating their emergency plans:

– Have a good record keeping system of previous incidents. Discovery was aware of the guman’s protests in the past, although it hadn’t considered his threats serious. Keep track of any hateful comments by people with issues toward the company or employees. “If you don’t have the records on those things, you’re not going to see if there’s a situation where there’s someone who’s persistent,” or when animosity is escalating, said Andrew Milne, senior counsel at Garson Claxton LLC in Bethesda.

– Review your communications plans and the chain of command. Know which person to call in what situation. When does law enforcement get involved? If a situation escalates, whom do you call? Discovery’s success in a calm evacuation didn’t just happen. The company’s 1,900 employees had done annual drills, received timely communication with instructions on how to exit the building, and each floor had a pre-assigned captain to handle emergency situations.

– Think through potential emergency scenarios. “The trend in building security for commercial properties these days is very, very focused on active shooter scenarios,” said Jim Rosenbluth, managing director for crisis management for real estate company Cushman & Wakefield Inc. In those situations, it is vital to be able to communicate clear, concise instructions immediately to all building occupants in a way that does not cause panic — and that the perpetrator cannot hear — using methods such as e-mail or area-selective public address systems.

– If you don’t have a plan in place, get started. Rosenbluth recommends checking with the building operator, which should already have a plan for the building itself. Tenats should also have their own emergency action plans, which should coordinate the building management plan.

– Don’t fall victim to “it will never happen to us,” said Kara Maciel, a partner in the labor and employment group of the D.C. office of law firm Epstein Becker & Green PC. Workplace violence goes far beyond major events such as the one at Discovery. Get educated in advance about potential threats to your staff. “At the time it’s happening, it’s a little too late.” Epstein Becker & Green PC is holding a seminar about implementing workplace aggression strategies Sept. 15 at The Fairmont hotel.

In the end, planning is the key to keeping your employees safe. Discovery had done its homework after 2001 and kept planning. “That planning really paid off today,” Leavy said.

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