Stefanie Valentic
Left to Right: J.A. Rodriguez, Ric Hewitt, Captain Kevin McGinley, Chief Daniel McAvoy, Scott Goodman address the audience during the security panel at the 32nd VPPPA Conference in Orlando, Fla.

VPPPA 2016: Security Panel Addresses Exit Plans, Workplace Violence

Aug. 29, 2016
Osceola County, Fla. law enforcement and fire safety officers spoke about the Pulse Nightclub shooting and emergency escape procedures during the opening day of the 32nd Annual VPPPA Conference.

The next time you’re out at a public establishment, take a moment to note the exits and escape routes.

What would you do if an active shooter, fire or other emergency situation occurred? Do you have an escape strategy? Unfortunately, most people don’t, and in a panic situation, not having a plan of action could cause injury or even death, according to panelists at the 32nd Annual VPPPA Safety & Health Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The security panel, moderated by VPPPA board member and EHS Today contributor J.A. Rodriguez, addressed escape plans along with the importance of training employees and having a workplace violence program.

Recognizing the Signs

In the case of workplace safety, training and education are at the top of the list. However, managers and employees should get to know each other in order to recognize changes in behavior that could lead to an act of workplace violence.

“Time and time again we hear, ‘he hasn’t been himself for six months,” said Ric Hewitt, special agent with NASA Kennedy Space Center. “It’s important to know your employees and recognize changes in behavior.”

Hewitt currently performs duties as the lead of law enforcement operations at the Kennedy Space Center investigations and as the contracting officer’s representative for the Kennedy protective services contract which encompasses security, SWAT, fire and the 911 communications center, according to his bio.

Employees have a responsibility to tell managers if they see something different in an employee. Training workers about communications and being able to point out sudden changes such as depression could save a life.

“They can’t afford to let that flag go by and prevent something from happening,” Hewitt said.

Finding the Exit

Studies show that in emergency situations, 75 percent of the time, a person will try to escape through the same door in which they entered, said Chief Daniel McAvoy, deputy chief/life safety management with Osceola County, Fla. Fire Rescue.

Chief McAvoy and Captain Kevin McGinley, special operations with Osceola County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office drew on their experiences from the recent Pulse Nightclub shooting which occurred on June 12, 2016. A gunman entered the establishment and began shooting as people rushed to escape, killing 49 and wounding 53, according to news reports.

Nightclub goers panicked and stampeded through the main doors, causing serious congestion as they tried to exit.  

McAvoy said the first thing anyone should do is identify multiple exits, whether they are doors or secondary exits such as windows. Whether in an active shooter, fire or other emergency situation, this could save lives.

“The body cannot go where the mind has not been,” McAvoy said.

It’s not strange to strategize or mentally prepare yourself, McGinley added. It will only put a person one step closer in case something does actually occur.

Concealed Carry

The most controversial question brought up during the question and answer session was the subject of concealed carry and in what situations it is appropriate to exercise.

Panelists all agreed that signs and laws dictating concealed carry use should be followed. In addition, everyone will react differently when a situation occurs.

In an active shooter situation, it is always important to think about what law enforcement will see once they arrive. Officers likely will not be able to differentiate between the shooter and the concealed carry person, which could cause confusion and the wrong person to be identified, McGinley said.

“Prepare yourself if you don’t act or prepare yourself for the aftermath if you do,” he said.

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