Recently there was an article about ricin, an almost always fatal, easy to make and distribute poison.
As an Enterprise Risk Management - Business Continuity practitioner, I always am looking for ways to avoid or mitigate a threat. In the best case, this approach saves lives and limbs; in the worst case, it helps expeditiously, economically, and efficiently restore operations to "business as usual."
But ricin and its fellow killers - anthrax, sars, and the like - are not easily or economically avoided or mitigated.
What can be done?
In most of my plans I include "Personnel Safety and Awareness" as a major function.
While this covers everything from the parking lot to the work space, one of the key functions is to make personnel aware of their surroundings.
A number of years ago I had the pleasure of working with some people in a shipping company. The organization had incoming and outgoing call centers and I spent a lot of my time talking with the ladies (and a couple of men) who handled the calls.
When I started developing a plan for the organization I played a game with the staff: "Where is the ...?" Where is the nearest fire extinguisher, the nearest two exits, the nearest fire alarm box, etc.
The facility was in southern Virginia which, this Floridian quickly learned, gets "chilly" during the winter months. Several of the more sensitive ladies brought in personal electric heaters to keep their feet warm.
The "Where is" game grew to include "What if" such as "what if the heater cord is pinched by your chair:" "what if the heater is too close to the (fabric-covered) furniture" and similar.
We also played "What if someone parks a tractor-trailer on the street next to the office and the driver walks away from the rig?" This was an obviously Israeli company next door to an insurance company staffed largely by ex-military types: translation, a great target for a bomber. (I was unable to convince management to appeal to the city government to ban on-street parking next to the building despite the narrowness of the street.)
I wasn't trying to scare the folks; all I wanted to do was encourage awareness of their surroundings. Does something smell different? Is there an unusual sound? What color is the sky? Silly question? Not really. Green skies, at least in Florida, tell me a tornado is nearby.
The company insisted, as many organization do, that visitors be badged. It insisted that an employee meet and "sign for" visitors at the front desk.
Vendors, however, were exempt. I suppose management assumed a vendor employee was harmless; why would the guy who stuffed the junk food machine want to hurt anyone?
The visitor tags looked very much like the employee tag.
I recommended that different tags be created for employees, vendor personnel, and visitors. (Recommendation ignored.) In the meantime, I encouraged the personnel who did care - mostly the folks in the call centers - to make a mental note of any "new" people, especially if the person lacked an escort.
I confess I was not concerned about ricin. Not even anthrax since the mailroom crew was aware of the threat and usually acted accordingly (fortunate since the mailroom was not segregated from the rest of the facility).
If awareness is the best, and perhaps only, way to defend against a killer such as ricin, then the Safety and Awareness part of my plans needs on-going reinforcement.
A wise organization might take my "games" and turn them into real, "win-a-prize" contests. The prize could be inexpensive providing there was personal recognition.
John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management - Business Continuity practitioner
Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Florida
Available for staff or contract opportunities in, or from, southeast Florida