Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > there’s a gunman! – another day on the facilities front line

there’s a gunman! – another day on the facilities front line

The clatter of the helicopter blasted through the room, the windows wide open to seek respite from the sticky heat of early afternoon allowing the sound to penetrate what had been another quiet session in the office for our facilities management team.

Ten feet away Phil, my maintenance manager had picked up the phone and was crouched forward over his desk, one hand clamped to his ear as he tried to listen. He was duty manager that day, as evidenced by the words emblazoned on the hi-vis waistcoat slipped over the back of his chair. This was our HQ from which we ran 27 sites across the UK of which this was by far the largest with a perimeter of almost 2 kilometres.

Phil banged down the phone and motioned me out into the corridor. There we could talk. “It’s the police chopper” he told me, “they’ve had a report of a gunman”.

This was a few days after the Columbine murders in the US, and the memories of Hungerford, just up the road, were still very fresh for most of us. “The incident team are on their way” he said, and the sirens were audible in amongst the helicopter noise.

We grabbed our radios and Phil went to the main gate to meet the police and I went to reception to use the tannoy. We had around 1300 people on the site with over an hour before any workers were due to be finishing for the day, but there would be the inevitable delivery vehicles and visitors who might want to get on or off site to be dealt with and we had a well oiled process to put in place.

Having briefed heads of departments to keep people inside and away from windows as best as we could I went out to meet Phil and get the story. A passing motorist, reckoned to be a reliable witness by the police, had called in from his car phone to say that he had seen a youngish male in camouflage trousers kneeling and pointing a handgun at a pedestrian exit gate down at the south west corner of the site.

The police had the situation in hand with armed response units, dog handlers and others dealing with the situation outside of our perimeter. The helicopter had thermal imaging gear and was still cruising low over the site.

I left Phil to work with our security team to monitor the situation and liaise with the police. If we were dealing with a handgun we were fairly safe indoors because of the distances. Our only weak spot was the main exit which was an automatic barrier, but there was some cover for a potential gunman and a risk that an employee might decide to sneak out early. I laugh about it now, but I put on as many layers of clothes as I could and made my way down to the gate to make sure no-one tried to leave.

After an hour we were stood down with no gunman found, but it could have been real; we had had violent domestic disputes before including someone wielding a knife to deal with.

The moral? A well drilled facilities management team working professionally with the police handled something a bit out of the ordinary. These things come out of ordinary days at the office. Leadership and teamwork, knowing your processes and systems, mean you handle the mundane day to day stuff at the top of your game and allow your people to handle such extraordinary occasions with aplomb. Just another day at the office.

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  1. May 31, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Preparation and practice never go amiss. If only BP and the oil industry had prepared for an undersea oil leak!
    A good article thank you.

  1. May 31, 2010 at 8:16 am

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