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What to Do in a Catastrophe

December 30, 2002
Related Topics: Workplace Violence, Safety and Workplace Violence, Featured Article, HR & Business Administration
It is recommended that you and your Crisis Planning Committee or CrisisManagement Team review these guidelines in detail. Additions and deletionsshould be customized to fit your corporate culture. Manuals can be developedwith tabs for quick reference. We also suggest a handheld electronic version anda Web-based software version for rapid access at any time.

    These guidelines assume that 911 has been contacted and the "proverbial"fire alarm has been sounded. Items are not listed in priority order.

    No checklist is complete because the decisions made and actions taken are aresult of the progression of emerging issues. It is your responsibility todetermine the order of listed actions to take and which to omit, according tothe fact pattern of the incident when you first become involved.

Accidental Deaths

    Immediate Action Steps

  • Have onlookers move away from the area where the deceased persons arelocated.

  • Ensure that no one else has been injured.

  • Notify immediate family members.

  • Assume all blood and body fluids are infectious.

  • Do not remove/move the body unless absolutely necessary.

  • Cover the body to shield it from onlookers.

  • Keep people away from any areas that may be dangerous.

  • Get names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses.

  • Do not remove any evidence that could affect the investigation.

  • Do not ask your own employees to clean up any gruesome areas. Hire anoutside janitorial service for this distressing job.

  • Assure that every object subjected to body fluids is doused with aone-part bleach to ten-parts water solution.

    Unique Considerations

  • Determine if the workplace or work area will be closed/shut down followingthe incident.

  • Arrange for employees who witnessed the incident or its aftermath toreceive professional crisis mental health assistance.

  • If the dead include outsiders, like customers, contractors, etc., adetermination will need to be made whether or not to assign familyrepresentatives.

  • If the decedent is an employee, OSHA will investigate. Prepare employeesto fully cooperate with the investigation.

  • If a crime is suspected, ask employees not to talk about the incidentuntil law enforcement has interviewed each witness.

  • Be aware of anyone who is blamed or scapegoated. They can be severelydistressed or even targets of hostility.

  • Expect questions about safety and fears of recurrence.

  • Funeral attendance policy and procedures will need to be communicated.

Aircraft Crash

    Immediate Action Steps

  • If a business jet, verify that it is your jet through positiveidentification of the tail of the plane.

  • Obtain the names of the passengers on the manifest.

  • Verify fatalities vs. injuries.

  • Notify immediate family members.

  • Confirm the present location of wreckage.

  • Locate hospitals where victims were sent.

  • Collect ongoing updates on injured requiring hospital treatment.

  • Establish a place where family members can congregate.

    Unique Considerations

  • Send family representatives to families of casualties.

  • Consider possible criminal activity or sabotage.

  • Anticipate the involvement of NTSB and FAA in the investigation.

  • Anticipate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involvement if there is aspill of jet fuel.

  • If a serious crash involves senior executives, anticipate a reaction fromthe investment community.

  • Provide travel accommodations for family members who will want to travelto remote locations to be with their hospitalized loved ones.

  • Family representatives may need to go to the remote location of the crashsite.

  • Consider whether family representatives should accompany family members enroute to the site or meet them there.

  • Ensure that an adequate community outreach program is initiated, if localson the ground were affected.

Biochemical Exposure

    Immediate Action Steps

  • Isolate the suspicious materials in a certified biohazard security bag (resealableplastic bags can be used as long as the items are double-bagged).

  • Immediately shut off the ventilation system to slow its spread.

  • Close and secure all doors in the area.

  • Contact local law enforcement and/or the FBI.

  • Exposed individuals should wash their hands quickly and thoroughly with abiochemical-certified antibacterial disinfectant.

  • Potentially exposed individuals should be advised not to touch eyes, face,mouth, or other body parts until they have washed their hands.

  • Remove contaminated clothing and place in large resealable bags.

  • Notify all employees, especially those who receive or handle incomingpackages, mail or similar substances to the contaminant.

  • Individuals who have apparently been exposed should be separated fromother employees and assigned to stay in a specific area. This area should beclearly identified to prevent non-exposed employees from entering if possible.

  • Potentially exposed individuals should be advised not to leave the area.

  • Immediately retrace the route of the package to identify additionalcontaminated items and areas, such as:


--Mail bins

--Other mail delivered at the same time as the package

--Personal items used by exposed individuals

--Items used by the exposed individuals (pens, paper, telephone, chair, phonebook, pager, computer keyboard, etc.)

--Individuals who may have come in contact with the suspicious substance,along with their contact information

--List all exposed items and notify law enforcement.

    Unique Considerations

  • Be sure to protect all suspicious package pieces, outside paper, stamps,tape and mailing labels, etc.

  • Provide education and information through a medical specialist inbiohazards.

  • Log the date and time of delivery along with the delivery personnel’sname and company.

  • Notify any delivery services whose personnel also have been exposed.

  • The affected area should remain roped or taped off until thoroughlyevaluated and/or decontaminated.

  • Your building may be closed off for several days or weeks. Make plans tocontinue business in an alternate location.

Chemical/Toxic Exposure

    Immediate Action steps


  • Block off and guard the spill.

  • Ventilate or seal off the area, as appropriate.

  • Call in a specialist in chemical spills, as needed.

    Toxic Exposure

  • Evaluate the risk of further exposure and consider evacuation.

  • If the worksite is to be evacuated, the evacuation route should be upwind.

  • Identify the source of the fumes, and safely stop them if you can.

  • Secure the exposed area. Tape windows and doors to contain fumes, ifnecessary.

  • Shut off all heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

  • If in a cafeteria, determine if any food may have been contaminated.

  • Assign an individual(s) to keep people out of the exposed area. Ifnecessary, have someone guard the driveways to prevent people from entering theproperty.

  • Account for all employees. Get affected visitor names, if appropriate.

  • Contact neighboring businesses and community representatives if exposurerisk exists.

  • Arrange expert clean up/repair, as needed.

    Unique Considerations

  • Seek specialty medical advice and treatment.

  • Consider providing medical education/Q & A for staff, family membersand others regarding the effects of the specific exposure.

  • Prepare for lingering concerns over the potential long-term effects ofexposure.

  • Anticipate the involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHAand other regulators. Determine their needs and probable actions.

Civil Unrest

    Immediate Action Steps

  • Coordinate corporate response with the appropriate embassies, securityadvisors, law enforcement and government agencies.

  • Account for all employees and their family members.

  • Many times it is better for employees and families to stay put behindclosed doors.

  • If evacuation is chosen:

--Premises only or leave the country?

--Employees should evacuate to what location(s)?

  • Organize and facilitate ongoing communications with employees and familymembers.

  • Establish a redundant communications source for backup, in case theprimary communications source is disabled or monitored.

  • Coordinate employee/family needs during emergency evacuation.

  • Communicators stay in close contact with embassies, law enforcement andgovernment agencies for approval of any statements to the public.

  • Implement board-up procedures and secure all facility openings if buildingis evacuated.

    Unique Considerations

  • Identify all prescription medication needs of employees and familymembers, so they are not separated from their medication for long.

  • Determine the safety hazards that may occur for communities and returningemployees if a worksite is left unmanned over time.

  • Identify expatriates’ homeland family members and provide ongoingcommunications to them.

  • Assign family representatives to homeland family-members.

  • Anticipate re-entry issues for returning ex-patriots.


    Immediate Action steps

  • Assess any significant injuries or damage to the facilities.

  • Check for structural damage, gas leaks and electrical hazards. If needed,shut off the gas or electrical supply source.

  • If evacuation becomes necessary, exit the building away from windows,shelves and heavy objects.

  • Move employees to pre-designated areas well away from the building,exterior windows and vulnerable objects, e.g., parking-lot light poles.

  • Account for everyone. Check for those who may have been left behind.

  • Identify and prioritize those in need of medical attention.

  • Do not move any seriously injured individual(s) unless doing so isabsolutely necessary.

  • Clear driveways of debris, to allow emergency vehicles in and out.

  • Anticipate that emergency medical services may be overwhelmed and streetsimpassable. If appropriate, consider taking injured persons to the hospital.

  • Verify that hospitals are operational. Determine alternative locations formedical care, if hospitals and other treatment facilities are full orinoperable.

  • Employees will be extremely concerned about their loved ones in theaffected area. Assist them with communications ASAP, via telephone, cell phone,transportation, etc.

  • Enlist the contractors and suppliers to assist with repairs to the workfacility. Contract with them immediately, before they become overwhelmed withother requests.

  • Quickly secure providers to assist employees with home repairs, motelrooms, rental cars and other commodities that may be in high demand.

    Unique Considerations

  • Provide security measures to prevent looting.

  • Do not let anyone go back into the building unless you know its structureis sound.

  • Organize assistance for employee disaster victims whose houses weredestroyed, with food, shelter, cash, day care, transportation, etc. ì

  • Anticipate that some employees may need shelter if either they cannotreach their homes or their homes were destroyed.

  • Anticipate requests for leave to address home repairs and meet insuranceadjusters, as well as an increase in stress-related absences.

  • Ensure ongoing communications to and from employees, especially those whohave to protect and repair their property.

  • Organize less-affected employees to assist in humanitarian efforts.

  • Provide armed guards if cash is provided to employees or if suppliesprovided to employees are in high demand locally.

  • Retrieve and secure important records.


    Immediate Action steps

  • Move evacuated people away from the building and areas where there couldbe a secondary explosion.

  • If a bomb is suspected, keep employees away from vehicles, Dumpsters,etc., where additional bombs could be planted.

  • Instruct everyone to shut down the following electronic equipment, whichcould inadvertently trigger a bomb that uses a remote sensor:


--Cellular phones

--Two-way radios

--All other wireless two-way communication devices

  • Clear a path for emergency vehicles to enter and exit the premises.

  • Make sure all building doors are closed. Do not allow anyone to enter aburning building.

  • Provide firefighters with a blueprint of the building.

  • If arson or other crime is suspected, do not move any articles, andprotect the incident site.

  • Establish a receiving area for arriving family members.

  • If the incident exposes the neighboring community, contact localofficials.

    Unique Considerations

  • Have someone locate the nearest fire hydrant prior to the arrival offirefighters.

  • Conduct a phone tree or other method to assess the status of everyemployee. Ask them to report to a designated location the next day for amanagement-led briefing meeting (off-site, if necessary).

  • Once the fire is out:

--Beware of electrical/water and structural hazards

--Elevate valuables off the floor to reduce water damage

  • Be prepared to discuss the (real or perceived) effects of burns or toxicexposures publicly, enlisting a recognized burn unit physician and a toxicexposure specialist.


    Immediate Action steps

  • If a flood is detected in vicinity:

  • Begin sandbagging operations.

  • Obtain water contamination procedures from local officials.

  • Make sure that valuables are elevated to a level higher than theforecasted flood level.

  • Cancel all shipments, as appropriate.

  • Turn off electrical power, when appropriate.

  • Inform people to stay away from dangerous areas, e.g., contaminatedfloodwaters, unstable structures, electrical hazards, etc.

  • Provide security measures to prevent looting.

  • Anticipate and make arrangements for employees who may need shelter ifthey cannot reach their homes or if homes were destroyed.

  • If there is property damage as a result of the flood:

  • Enter the building with caution. Snakes and other animals may have enteredthe building. Electrical hazards may exist. Provide protective equipment.

  • Ensure that the electrical service is safe before turning on the power.

  • Inspect the building to assess structural damage

    Unique Considerations

  • Anticipate and arrange for the supplies and equipment you’ll need toreopen the facility.

  • Employees who come in contact with floodwaters may need tetanus shots.

  • Consider organizing assistance for the employees whose homes have sufferedsevere damage.

Kidnap and Ransom

    Immediate Action steps

  • Notify your kidnap and ransom insurer and/or hostage negotiation firm.

  • Set up a kidnap response command center, with a security plan that canensure the safety of crisis-team members, communicators, etc.

  • Establish a method to record phone calls.

  • Notify kidnapped victims’ families.

--Be cautious: Remember the possibility of a false kidnapping notification.

  • Obtain current medical history on hostages, including prescription druginformation and dates of inoculations.

  • Begin a log of all events.

  • Obtain statements from witnesses (in conjunction with law enforcement):

--Location of the kidnapping

--Vehicle used by kidnappers

--Weapons used by kidnappers

--Any other identifying information available about the kidnappers

--Any ransom note or communication from the kidnappers

--Any other eyewitnesses to the kidnapping

  • Determine if there are other potential targets for kidnapping.

  • Identify hostages from other companies, if any, and coordinate yourresponse with their management team.

    Unique Considerations

  • Locate photographs of the hostages for the authorities.

  • Provide a hair sample sealed in an airtight container for possible DNAmatching (obtained from the victims’ hairbrushes, if needed).

  • Identify the specific blood types of hostages.

  • Maintain law enforcement liaisons and embassy liaisons for two-waycommunications and information.

  • Provide the full names, ages and physical, medical and emotionalconditions of hostages to authorities/negotiators.

  • Monitor domestic and foreign media and press reports related to thekidnapping.

  • Protect families from media encroachments.

  • Assign family representatives to family members of hostages.

  • Provide crisis mental health assistance for family members who will needassistance over the long haul.

  • Research information on the terrorist groups who are active in the area.

  • Provide available information to family members. Explain reasons forconfidentialities by negotiators/law enforcement.

  • Explain to family members how negotiations work.

  • Give family members information about the nature of the kidnappers, ifknown.

  • Prepare for the psychological needs of hostages upon release.

  • Plan the actions you will need to take, in the event that the hostages arekilled.


    Immediate Action steps

  • Assess if the incident presents a continuing danger.

  • Obtain the physical description of the attacker, including anydistinguishing characteristics.

  • Have someone remain on the line with a 911 operator if the situation isongoing.

  • Immediately dispatch company representatives to provide or assist lawenforcement with serious injury/death notification(s).

  • Thoroughly search the property and surrounding areas for any employees whomay still be in hiding.

  • Law enforcement officers may give early media statements. Coordinate yourmessages with theirs.

    Unique Considerations

  • Identify witnesses for law enforcement investigation.

  • Protect the crime scene and weapon(s) from any contamination that couldobstruct law enforcement investigation.

  • Call for external cleanup and repair services, as needed. Do not allow anyon-site employees to clean up a bloody crime scene. Beware of blood-bornehazards.

  • Arrange for security personnel to protect victims at the hospital,especially if further violence is possible.

  • Identify the location of victims in the hospitals—they may be admittedunder an alias (standard procedure for gunshot victims).

  • Determine what to do with the desk/work area of fatally injured employee(s).

Excerpted from BLINDSIDED: A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incidents inthe Workplace by Bruce T. Blythe of Crisis Management International,Inc.Published by Portfolio, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2002, Bruce T.Blythe. All rights reserved.

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