As property managers, we are prepared for routine emergency calls, such as plumbing or electrical problems, but the call we dread is the one where there is no standard response.
“There’s just been a shooting at the building, three people are down. Police are on their way.” In an instant, your orderly world has been turned upside down. As the manager of the property, you wonder, “How do I respond?” “What are the next steps?”
Despite your own fears, the most critical thing to remember in any emergency situation—but particularly in an active shooter situation—is to stay calm. Your tenants and your employees are looking to you for direction. Your duty is to secure the asset and keep your tenants informed to the best of your ability.
TAKING STOCK OF THE SITUATION
When you realize your property is under siege, the first thoughts that come to mind are: Who is hurt—tenants, visitors, staff? Where have they been taken? If the injured parties include employees of your company, you might even be thinking about details such as notification to your workers compensation carrier and the employees’ next of kin. Depending upon the situation, that information may not be readily available. Unless someone from your organization was at the scene and can accurately report on the situation, the initial information you receive could be hearsay from tenants or even news reports of the incident—they may not be the most accurate accounts. The first few hours after an incident are very fluid and changing.
CRIME CAN HAPPEN ANYTIME, ANYWHERE
In a multi-tenant office environment, the typical building is “open for business” during regular business hours. Generally, these types of buildings have some form of restricted access during non-business hours, but, by design, they are open to the public during the normal workday. Unless the building is occupied by a state or federal government user, there is generally not armed security or restricted access during regular business hours. Some large high-rise buildings do have security guards, but in many cases these guards are not armed and do not monitor or screen access. So even in properties with security, crimes can and do happen.
Workplace violence takes many forms. Some acts are performed by random criminals who have no connection to the workplace; other acts are carried out against an organization that may have provided service to the offender or someone close to the offender. There are also cases of violence committed by a co-worker or a disgruntled ex-employee—or even their spouse or family members. There are so many possible permutations to who and how crimes can be committed on a property, that the best way to stay in control is to have a plan.
EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION
In an emergency situation, your Tenant Emergency Contact List becomes invaluable. With the police in possession of your building, your tenants have been dislocated and will want to know how and when their place of business will be secured and when they can come back to the building. Unless you have a way to contact them, other than their business phone, you will be at a real disadvantage. As you get updates from the lead investigator, you can send a blast e-mail or telephone the emergency contacts from each business, who in turn can alert their staff. Keep your Tenant Emergency Contact List up-to-date—our policy is to request emergency contact information updates from each tenant every six months—and on-hand. The property manager keeps this critical information, along with the vendor list for each property, in a readily available location, such as a purse, briefcase or Smartphone. You don’t want to be scrambling for this critical list during a crisis.
WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO, “RUN, HIDE, FIGHT,” CREATED BY THE HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT AND HOMELAND SECURITY, ABOUT SURVIVING AN ACTIVE SHOOTER EVENT.
As the property manager, you are the point-person for your tenants as well as the media. Part of your job as the go-to leader of the property, is to take tenants’ emotions into consideration. The day of the event and the day after an event can be an extremely emotional time fraught with tension and stress for your tenants.
Be prepared to listen to tenants’ concerns and suggestions—some may be unrealistic, such as armed guards patrolling the premises at all times, but others may actually be doable and reasonable. Immediately after the event, you probably don’t want to debate the practicality of any suggestion but it always helps to let tenants know that you will take their concerns under advisement.
You may want to keep a list of the tenants that contact you and their suggestions to review with your ownership.
BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR TENANT EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION UPDATED.
Be prepared for the media to call the management company soon after the incident happens. Your company may have a policy on handling media. Sometimes, the less said, the better, especially if there is any possibility of future litigation. In most instances, the police department spokesperson is the best source for reliable information.
Be prepared for the media to be at the property as soon as they can gain access. They will approach anyone entering the building with questions about the incident. Ask the police department to advise the media to remove themselves from the property. If the police department isn’t on the premises when the media shows up, don’t be afraid to ask them yourself. Your tenants will appreciate not being harassed about what they may have seen or heard or felt that day.
Tenants have a right to privacy and the right to conduct business without interference. In the heat of the moment, you may not realize that you are managing private property and the owner has the right to control access.
AS THE PROPERTY MANAGER, YOU ARE THE POINT-PERSON FOR YOUR TENANTS AS WELL AS THE MEDIA. PART OF YOUR JOB AS THE GO-TO LEADER OF THE PROPERTY, IS TO TAKE TENANTS’ EMOTIONS INTO CONSIDERATION.
DEALING WITH INSURANCE
While every insurance company handles these situations differently, its still important to notify your insurance company as soon as you can. They may want just the basic facts but they may request copies of all of the leases to review the liability clauses of each lease. Having electronic back-ups of important documents makes handling this part of the process less stressful.
PROACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD
Ultimately, tenants determine their desired level of security, depending upon their business and its associated risks. There are private firms that will do risk assessment and site surveys to recommend the best solutions for each business’ vulnerability and objectives. Your local police department may very well have a “community relations bureau” or a similar department that will do site surveys and suggest ways to lower risk. They may also have the capacity to do “workplace violence/active shooter situation” seminars for your tenants and their employees.
Whether it is after a workplace violence situation or as a pro-active measure, you may consider coordinating with our local police department’s “business liaison” to conduct a presentation for your tenants and their employees.
If there is an active shooter on your property, be prepared for the police or first responders to take possession of your building. Even if the shooter was seen leaving the property, the police cannot assume the perpetrator carried out the crime unaided.
• Expect that some time will be spent evacuating the building and interviewing possible eyewitnesses.
• Expect SWAT teams to systematically go through every room in every suite, opening cabinets and drawers, before they will turn the building back to the management company.
• Be prepared to hand over the master keys to the lead investigator since they can’t assume that the shooter didn’t leave something behind—perhaps a bomb or incendiary device.
• Assume that any locked door will be opened, either with a key or by force. Depending upon the incident and the size of the building, this can take many hours.
• Ensure the lead investigator has the names and contact information of at least two management personnel so that there can be a seamless transfer of the building back to management control, which may happen with very short notice. With the police in possession of your building, it may be difficult to know of any damage to the building unless you or another employee were physically there.
• You may want to alert your vendors who supply board-up services or biohazard cleanup that their services may be necessary on short notice.