Printed from

Public risk managers have key role in handling catastrophes

Posted On: Jun. 10, 2019 5:01 PM CST

active shooter

ORLANDO, Florida — Public risk managers have a vital role to play in preparing for and building resilience before, during and after a catastrophe, such as a school shooting or hurricane, experts say.

“As a public risk manager within your organizations it’s vital that you have a seat at the table to manage these crises,” Scott B. Clark, Boca Raton, Florida-based area senior vice president for Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc., said Monday at the Public Risk Management Association’s annual conference in Orlando.

“A lot of people in the organization are going to have certain roles and responsibilities, but the risk managers see the bigger picture of what is happening, what could happen and how you’re going to get out of this crisis. You have a stake in this process,” Mr. Clark said during the session Managing a Crisis – A Community Response to Tragedy.

Of the 250 active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2017, 20.8% occurred in education environments, 14% in open spaces and 10% on government property, according to 2017 Federal Bureau of Investigation data cited by Mr. Clark.

Even the incidents that did not occur on government property could be considered government-adjacent events, said Kristy Sands, Miramar, Florida-based vice president, marketing and communications at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc.

“If something happens at a mall or concert, there’s police response, fire response and there’s a strain on the hospitals and the jails. It’s important to understand…you get both sides,” said Ms. Sands.

An active shooter incident will be about 6 minutes long, and 37% of those will be under 5 minutes, she said.

There are many risk management steps that can be put in place that have unintended results, said Ms. Sands.

For example, in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the shooter tried to break the windows with his gun on the third floor of a corner building, she said.

“Those were hurricane-proof windows. The unintended success of keeping everybody safe and property safe during hurricanes was it stopped the shooter from shooting down into the courtyard where the children were being evacuated,” said Ms. Sands.

“That was just good luck, except for the fact it was good risk management,” she said.

On the other hand, the classroom doors in the school locked from the outside, said Ms. Sands, whose son is a survivor of the shooting.

“That was how one of the teachers fell victim to the shooter,” said Ms. Sands.

“As you as a professional think about your loss control writ large and your safety, don’t just be in a box. Hurricane windows prevent hurricane damage to buildings. Well, they prevent other things, too,” she said.

Preparedness and having a crisis communications plan in place is critical to managing these types of events, experts said during the conference session.

“Do not think it can’t happen to us, or it’s not going to happen here. Because it could and will,” said Ms. Sands.

“Whatever the issues are have to be addressed even with available resources, because you’re going to get stuck in a rut if you try to introduce lack of resources as a defense,” said Mr. Clark.

In 2018, there were 27 active shooter incidents in 16 states, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting resulted in the highest number of casualties (17 dead and 17 injured), per FBI data, according to Ms. Sands.

A shooting on May 31, 2019, at a Virginia Beach city building left 12 people dead, of which 11 were city employees. “Combined, they had 150 years of service to the city,” she said.

“It’s more important than ever that public sector risk managers prepare for catastrophes both in the community at large and in our own public buildings,” she said.

As well as public citizens, that includes thinking about your employees and all your resources, said Ms. Sands.

“Not only are you public, but you have employees who are in harm’s way every single time they walk out the door,” she said.

Having a crisis communications plan that has a definition so that the institution knows before, during and after a catastrophe exactly who they should be communicating with internally and externally is critical, said Mr. Clark.

“The crisis itself is just one aspect of this. Developing and managing the reputational risk of an organization is very important,” he said.

Once a template is created and in place, “you want to develop and test a crisis communications plan, because things change and opportunities change,” he said.

Ensuring that a plan contains effective communication about who is in charge and which public resources have jurisdiction in the case of a crisis is also essential, experts said.

In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, a former school resource officer who did not go into the building during the shooting was recently arrested on counts of neglect and perjury.

“There were conflicting communications in the plan itself… There are 17 people dead and 17 injured now because of that ambiguity. Multiple students and teachers cannot walk back into that school,” said Ms. Sands.

“Where was the communication, who was in charge, who took the lead, when was he supposed to go into the building?” she said.