Prepare for an Emergency BEFORE it Happens, NOT After

Here at MYOB, we keep the radio on during the day, more as background noise than anything else.  So, the news reports yesterday of an explosion in a parking garage in Clayton (the government center of St. Louis County) didn’t really ring any bells.  It was just another news story, almost lost among the stories of the stock market’s ups and downs and the latest "who said what" of the election campaigns.

So, it came as a shock to find out last night when I got home that the site of the blast was the building where my son works.  As of this morning, there really isn’t much information on the incident other than the fact that there was a small bomb that exploded about 11:00 am when a resident of one of the condos in the building connected to the garage picked it up.  Fortunately he was the only one injured and authorities say his injuries aren’t life-threatening.  The condos, my son’s building, and the near-by Ritz Carlton Hotel were evacuated for the day.

Two things came to mind when I heard what had happened.  First, if whoever had planted this bomb had opted for a bigger device, my first-born son, my namesake, my grand children’s dad, might not be here today.  None of us thinks when we leave home in the morning that we might not return in the evening. When we hear of an disaster on the news, most of us don’t immediately wonder if someone we love might be involved.  Thankfully my son was inconvenienced but not hurt.  He had to take a cab home because the police wouldn’t let anyone into the garage, but a cab is definitely preferable to an ambulance or worse.

Almost all of us have some kind of connection, either direct or indirect to at least one of the victims of 9/11.  That September morning is one of those few times when we will always remember where we were when we heard the news.  But, time heals all wounds.  Memories fade.  The idea of being killed or maimed by some mad man (or woman) in an act of terror is usually the farthest thing from our minds unless we’re waiting in the security line at the airport.  Even then, I suspect that most travelers consider the security screening as more of an annoyance than an process that might save our lives.  (I don’t travel that often anymore, but when I do, I always thank the TSA agents for doing a good job.)  Most of us are optimists by nature, at least when it comes to our own, or our loved ones’ mortality.

My second thought was that, according to news reports, the evacuation of the buildings involved was very orderly.  There didn’t seem to be any panic.  News media reported that the employees in the affected buildings were advised to evacuate the building by a recorded announcement over the PA system.  Obviously someone had anticipated the need to clear the buildings quickly and had prepared a disaster plan.

Which made me wonder how I, or you, would respond in an emergency.  We’ve posted on this topic before, but it bears repeating.  Every business should have a disaster plan in place.  When bad things happen (and we pray that they don’t) is not the time to figure out what to do. If you’re reading this and you don’t have a plan, including emergency supplies, do it now!  Not later today.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Do it now!  There’s nothing you can do today that’s more important than protecting yourself, your employees, and your loved ones.  There should be emergency supplies on hand and up-to-date.  Everyone in your store should know where they are and how to use them.  And don’t forget to do the same thing at home. Make sure everyone you care about knows to never pick up a strange package, especially kids.

While you’re at it, how’s your business’ security?  Obviously a retail store has a lot of traffic coming and going every day (we hope) so security may be a little difficult.  But make sure back doors are secure.  Don’t let strangers into the back room, even delivery personnel, unless they’re accompanied by a store employee.  Your store is full of boxes, but you should know what belongs there so you can recognize something that doesn’t.  If you find anything suspicious, leave it alone and call 911.  Let the experts handle it.

The victim of the bombing here yesterday may have been a target or he may have been an innocent bystander who just happened to pick up a box sitting by his car in a parking garage.  Terrorists (and anyone who plants a bomb is a terrorist) aren’t usually the sharpest knives in the drawer.  The bomb might have been meant for the guy parked two spaces over.   We don’t want to be paranoid or live in constant fear, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant.


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