Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > just another quiet day on the facilities front line, then Anders Breivik came along

just another quiet day on the facilities front line, then Anders Breivik came along

News from Norway last week shocked the world, and we feel for the families of those who lost loved ones. The media have made much of possible motive and the whys and wherefores, but I am more concerned about the impact on those who had responsibilities for the security of people at the two venues that were targeted, because those of us in facilities management walk in their shoes.

I’ve written here about the time, just after the Columbine spree killings in the USA, that one of my sites had a suspected gunman outside. That came to nothing, but we learned some lessons that we built into the way would handle any future incident. I’ve also covered a suspicious package incident, one of three that I have experienced, but I have also had someone gain access to one of my sites and start brandishing a knife, demanding to see their estranged partner, and four or five other incidents involving domestic issues that got to the edge of violence come to mind.

When you are managing a site where there are large numbers of people, probably also with public access, you walk a tightrope. Now I don’t want to suggest that this goes on all of the time, but you don’t know when an incident will occur. When one does, then speed and level of response needs to be on the money if you are to have any chance of dealing with it. How you cope with something like the second incident in Norway is mind boggling and I can empathise with my opposite numbers up there. What they must be going through is something that I never want to have to face. My thoughts are also with the forces of law and order. Expectations on them are enormous and the media cane them whatever they do these days.

In our world, the FM team need to be well trained and to understand what they should and should not do when something flares up, but also in spotting the warning signs. We do have a variety of states of alert, and raise the level of vigilance if we are warned of a specific threat, but so often incidents arise without warning, especially the domestic ones. All of the incidents that I have mentioned came on ordinary days, albeit a couple of the suspicious package ones were are the height of the IRA campaigns. One minute you’re quietly getting on with something and the next you’ve switched to crisis mode: that innocent looking visitor grabs your colleague, pulls out a 12 inch kitchen knife and holds it to your colleague’s throat.

Thankfully the majority of us don’t ever face these situations, and those that do probably only get one in a lifetime, so how do you prepare? The start for the reactive side is in the basic emergency process; you get used to handling these things in a calm and structured way so that when something happens it is dealt with. Regular practice helps, both in desktop exercises and live ones, to settle the team into being able to react effectively when an alarm is raised. The proactive side needs a culture of vigilance, and that applies to the whole team; you have to have an escalation process and you need an intelligence network.

If you do these things then you have a chance of reducing the risk.  I doubt that we will ever prevent a determined solo attack like that seen in Norway last week, but we might be able to limit the impact. When did you last review your process?

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