Disaster Management & the Security Risk Assessment

We were recently invited to speak at a conference regarding Disaster & Emergency Planning and I received a lot of insight and new information from my colleagues and the other speakers. When considering disaster, the first things that automatically spring to mind is hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, fire and the like. These are all natural disasters. Furthermore there are technological disasters such as communication infrastructure failure, chemical spills and even power blackouts. Although in South Africa, we are relatively unaffected by such natural disasters as the rest of the world, one real disaster situation that is not immediately considered is that of crime and violence. This is where security and safety play the largest role and relevant information needs to be gathered to facilitate good planning.

This threat is a large one and the perpetrator could be from an external source, such as armed gunmen or a hostage situation, or it could be an internal threat meaning it is someone from within the organisation, the business or the institution. An example here would be a pupil at a school smuggling a weapon into the property and shooting at his classmates and teachers. Or more commonly in our country, a strike situation that turns volatile and violent. Individuality is easily lost in the mob mindset. These are the types of disaster situations that we may be most likely to encounter in our lifetimes.

Planning for such an event is rather difficult as there are so many other factors and variables involved. Furthermore one disaster could trigger another and cause a domino effect such as the strikers purposefully lighting a fire, which could again in turn result in an explosion and subsequent building collapse. In this case people need to be evacuated from the afflicted building as quickly as possible and managed well enough to avoid a panic and stampede. The injured need to be attended to and adequate communications structures, backups and protocols need to be in place to ensure that help is summonsed as quickly as possible. This is a huge responsibility and needs to be shared by a selected group of individuals that make up the Emergency Management team including the Disaster Management Coordinator, Health & Safety Officer and the Security Manager.

Very few properties have actually experienced a full blown emergency situation. This makes it difficult to draw from the past when planning and often such incidents are not properly logged for effective auditing purposes into the future. This is why the sharing of information within the community and even with the local and district authorities, similar institutions and businesses, and insurance companies is necessary to gather enough information to base such vital planning on. Another useful tool would be to have an independent Security Risk Assessment conducted on your property to investigate and fully identify all possible risks, threats and weaknesses present. With this knowledge the planning process will be greatly aided and many factors that could pose a danger in the future can be addressed immediately and eliminated to prevent disaster from occurring.

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