Proactive Prevention: Mitigate Safety and Security Threats.
Posted April 01, 2014

This article was written by David L. Johnson, President of ITG Consultants, Inc. and was published in the January 2014 editition of Leadership Excellence magazine.

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All entities face risks of harm, loss and vulnerabilities in their operations, with their personnel and patrons, or against their facilities—no organization is immune. The daunting task faced by leaders lies in knowing how to identify and proactively manage those risks to ensure the safety and security of staff, minimize the disruption to operations, and mitigate the negative financial impact when adverse incidents occur.

While basic safety plans satisfy legal requirements set forth by OSHA, the ADA or other governmental mandates, they’re insufficient to guide action in a true crisis and may not address security issues at all. The key to weathering crises is effective planning.

Many companies develop basic safety and security policies and procedures to comply with legally-mandated requirements. While better than no policies or procedures at all, this approach leaves too much room for interpretation to enable people to respond effectively in an incident. To better prepare staff, take the next step and build a plan around company policies, procedures and resources. The plan should add measures such as security for employees or intellectual property, which may also be at risk.

Often the basic policies and procedures aren’t expanded due to a lack of incidents that would flag areas of vulnerability or demonstrate the need for improved planning. Other times, leaders are aware of the need to fill in the gaps and make planning a priority, but the organization lacks competency on staff. Or, the gap is due to the lack of fiscal resources allocated to safety and security planning.

Value of Planning

Compared to the cost of interrupted operations or associated fiscal losses, the investment in developing and implementing a plan to address safety and security is nominal. In particular, the cost associated with conducting assessments is low. Often simple and inexpensive measures can eliminate or reduce exposure to identified risks.

Operating any entity implies exposure to risk. Having measures in place to prevent, mitigate and remediate risk, however, is rarely elevated to high priority until an unfortunate event necessitates it. Hence, leaders are bereft of the right tools when needed most. Worse, responses are driven by panic or shock. Decisions made in a crisis are of lower quality than those made with careful thought and analysis. A plan is only a plan when prepared in advance, and is wellworth the investment of time and resources.

Who’s on the Job?

While ensuring the safety of personnel and security of company assets is a leadership responsibility, the role may be filled in many ways. In large organizations, it is often held by a person dedicated to solely those issues, such as the Chief Security Officer or Director of Security. In small operations, security tasks tend to be added to the duties of managers and owners. If the skills necessary to develop a comprehensive plan are lacking, or if the responsibility isn’t delegated to a particular person or department, contracting with a professional security consulting firm can provide the guidance necessary to develop and implement a plan with the benefit of expertise.

An Ounce of Prevention

According to the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, enterprises face five types of risk: disruption of service, damage to reputation, corruption of data, exposure of confidential information, and liability. The planning process, involves multiple steps, designed to probe the possibility of exposure to each type of risk.

The first step in assessing risk is to specify the things that should be protected, such as intellectual property, assets, and personnel. Next, identify vulnerabilities in the physical structure or security measures. Third, determine whether threats are being made to the current business or its leadership, and how those threats could be enacted. Fourth, evaluate natural disasters and environmental hazards of operating in a specific geography for their potential impact. Once all assessments are conducted and compiled, use them to craft specific, actionable policies that enable the organization to deter, detect, respond to and mitigate the damage associated with crises. With such policies, the goal of resuming business as usual in the wake of such an incident will be more easily achieved.

After developing a comprehensive plan, don’t relegate it to a binder on a shelf or archived in the intranet—an effective plan reaches maturity only when a full-scale implementation occurs. Implementation requires communication of the right information to the people to whom it is relevant, in a timely fashion. Conducting drills ensures the entire staff knows and can execute their key responsibilities. Review what’s been learned from each exercise, whether the drill was merely a table-top discussion, a walk-through, or a full run-through. In such evaluations, identify and close gaps in the plan. Conduct drills and the associated after-action reviews on an on-going basis.

A Pound of Cure

While all organizations are vulnerable to risks, many risks can be anticipated, and mitigated with diligent planning. The full value of a good plan is only realized in a crisis—the hours and dollars spent in planning are returned with incalculable dividends. Operations can resume more expediently; financial losses can be curtailed; and the safety of employees can be improved with adequate preparation based on assessments to determine needs and vulnerabilities. Policies and procedures embedded in a plan and practiced can facilitate a more expedient recovery from a crisis, Even unanticipated situations will be handled better when staff have been trained and drilled in other scenarios and thus able to respond in a level-headed manner.

While safety and security issues sometimes involve a reactive component, they are more effectively addressed through proactive prevention. They are definitely worth the investment of time and money involved to reduce and eliminate risks. LE  

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