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Center puts emergency plan to work in San Bernardino

December 4, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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On Wednesday in San Bernardino County, just a few miles away from the site of a mass shooting, the Benchmark Transitions treatment center went into partial lockdown as a precaution. Leadership had a proactive emergency management plan in place and activated the protocol as soon as they realized the danger was close by.

At the time of the shooting and police activity, about 50 staff members and young adult clients were on campus.

Rod Walters, an emergency management specialist with a background in law enforcement and federal emergency response, designed the plan for Benchmark last March. He says the key strategy in creating the plan was having a broad range of vulnerability scenarios laid out with a response protocol for each potential situation.

“When it came to a situation like this with an active shooter, in the emergency plan, response is not only related to the situation if it should be happening at the actual business itself but also if it were in the general area, which is what happened in this case,” Walters says. “The chance of something happening in the outlying areas is many times greater than the chance of something happening at your actual business. You have to prepare for everything from police activity to fires to other situations that are not internal issues.”

Emergency plan

To create the center’s emergency management plan, Walters and Benchmark leaders conducted a hazard and vulnerability analysis, resulting in a substantial list of possible emergency situations. Then the list was categorized by severity and probability, and each situation was mapped to an appropriate response to maximize safety for the staff and clients. The “if/then” guidelines call for a range of reactions, such as full evacuation of the facility, total lockdown or modified lockdown.

On Wednesday, about 50 clients and staff were on campus when leaders initiated a modified lockdown. The active shooter and initial police activity were approximately five miles away, which is somewhat close but not in the immediate area, so full lockdown was not required, according to Walters. A police investigation at the shooters’ home was also taking place about two miles away.

 At that time, anyone who needed to leave the Benchmark site was able to do so, and their departures were recorded.

Walters and Benchmark’s chief information officer, who is a retired San Bernardino police officer, remained in contact with staff members, providing updates during the incident.

According to Shelley Skaggs, RRW, CPC, chief marketing officer for Benchmark Transitions, the facility is locked and gated with keycard entry only, protecting the campus from outside intruders. The system also allows specific cards belonging to specific people to be quickly blocked from entry if necessary. Skaggs says the tracking system is accessible on mobile devices, so leaders in various spaces on campus can monitor entrance to the site.

Because Benchmark offers sober living, residential, intensive outpatient, day treatment and various education programs for young adults, there is a lot of in/out activity throughout a typical day. Skaggs says on the day of the shooting incident, Benchmark provided transportation to clients who left the campus during lockdown.

 “We kept everybody inside all the way through dinner,” Skaggs says, recalling the situation Wednesday. “We eliminated off-property activities, such as fitness or eye doctor appointments.”

Walters says if Benchmark had been in full lockdown, only verified law enforcement officers would have been allowed in, and those within the facility would have been in safe positions, possibly lying flat on the floor if necessary. He recommends that in any lockdown, the highest ranking staff member on site should conduct an inventory of who is on campus and track who leaves and when. When the emergency is resolved, the leader should verify that everyone is accounted for.

Wednesday’s situation in San Bernadino was resolved by law enforcement later that day, and Benchmark Transitions is now back to regular operations. Skaggs sent an email to colleagues and families reassuring them that the emergency plan was in place and everyone at Benchmark remained safe.

Key ingredients

Centers that want to create their own emergency plans can follow a few guidelines, according to Walters:

  • Begin with a hazard and vulnerability assessment, listing the possible emergency situations that could happen in your facility or nearby, including active shooters, spills of dangerous materials, natural disasters and other unexpected events that could cause harm or interrupt daily operations.
  • Categorize the scenarios based on severity and probability.
  • Consult with professionals such as legal teams and law enforcement resources to create appropriate responses to the scenarios that will maximize safety of staff and clients on campus.
  • Train lead staff members to implement the plan, refreshing the training every six months.
  • Instruct lead staff to then train their direct reports on their roles in implementing the plan.
  • Put the plan in writing and document training to help reduce your center’s potential for liability.
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