Planning for the Unthinkable: A Mass Casualty Event

By Clifford Chip Olson, CCIM

Mass casualty events such as active shooter situations, vehicle accidents, and explosions often leave us wondering if we are safe in our day-to-day activities. It is vital for property managers to be prepared for these events. The work you do today could save lives tomorrow. Factors like ease of access, inadequate escape paths, inability to identify threats, and poor communication have made it easier for mass casualty events to occur. How can your plan address these site vulnerabilities?

Additional Risk Management Resources:

Learn about emergency and disaster preparedness, risk planning and analysis, health and safety, and insurance coverage from IREM®: www.irem.org/resources/by-topic/risk-management

Access articles, videos, webinars, and courses from NAR: www.nar.realtor/safety

Property Managers Can Lessen the Possibility of a Mass Casualty Event

The first step towards building your plan is to involve the right people. The assessment process provides you an opportunity to work with community partners to identify, correct, and prevent problems and fosters communication with those involved in a crisis situation. Cultivate these relationships in advance so emergency responders are familiar with your properties and organization.

You may already have talent from your staff, building maintenance departments, and tenants who can provide ideas and insights. Local law enforcement can share crime patterns and history. Other potential resources can include Fire Departments, Emergency Management Departments, hospitals, community watch groups, and local advocacy organizations. You may also wish to connect with other area property managers about their plans.

Assessing and Correcting Vulnerabilities

Site assessments must be completed annually to determine potential vulnerabilities. This includes walking the neighborhood and grounds, interacting with tenants, conducting online research, and communicating with local law enforcement. It also means inspecting the property, reviewing policies and procedures, and examining the building’s operational systems. Consideration of situational risk factors such as valuables on site or social activities in the community should be incorporated.

The results of your site assessment should be kept in written form by the property manager and on-site to ensure easy access.

Good Assessments Account for Areas and Layers of Security

Your assessment team must think about human interactions and brainstorm “What If?” scenarios as a focus for evaluating security in each area and layer. Think of layers as the property and surrounding infrastructure and areas as spaces in the property. A standard approach for assessing each is needed.

Consider the first layer the natural or constructed barriers which include neighborhood spaces such as the surrounding houses, streets, curbs, and public sidewalks. The second layer extends from the public sidewalk to the edge of building. The third layer is the building exterior and interior areas.

Thoroughly observe your surroundings in each layer, considering them from the viewpoints of both people who use the space regularly and people who intend harm. Document all potentially problematic vulnerabilities you observe.

For example: What if someone brought a weapon to a tenant’s business in the third layer of your property, intending to settle a grievance? How would your staff react? How would local law enforcement instruct people to implement protective actions? What could you do to mitigate the potential for disaster? Running scenarios like this focuses your attention on useful questions about prevention, actions needed, communications, and escape routes.

Don’t forget to include special events and activities, both onsite and offsite, and the added challenges they may pose. Special events can sometimes cause emotional controversy, media attention, exposure, and transportation issues.

Putting It Together to Form Your Plan

After identifying potential vulnerabilities, it is important to develop a plan or strategy for enhancing improvements can include adding security technology and communications systems, and enhancing locks and window protections.

In addition to physical changes, updated policies and procedures should be established and incorporated into the emergency operations documents. It is important for staff, property occupants, and users to understand security and technological solutions. However, these are only effective when people regard safety and security as their personal responsibility. A successful plan allows everyone to be observant, make reasonable evaluations of the potential for harm, warn others, and get help.

Ideally your plan instills an attitude of shared responsibility that extends beyond the walls of your property and involves the whole community. Because security begins and ends with people, effective plans must build partnerships and promote awareness among neighbors, social service organizations, local business, first responders, community leaders, and others.

Do you have a comment or question about this article? Contact us at membersupport@realtors.org with your thoughts.

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