By Howard B. Price
ABC Television Network
Director, Business Continuity
NEW YORK — The assassination – yes, it was an assassination — of WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, Virginia reporter Alison Parker and her videographer, Adam Ward, on live morning television, should be a wake-up call, not only for the media business, but also for every business.
The shootings themselves were horrific enough. That they took place on live television – on a program being line-produced by the fiancée of one of the victims – compounded the tragedy. That it was also captured and posted online by the gunman himself is simply unspeakable.
With the investigation in its earliest stages, we don’t know fully how any of this transpired. But we do know that the professionalism of Parker and Ward – their intense focus on the job at hand, and the person they were interviewing – left them unaware of the danger lurking just feet away. A man dressed in black, raising a gun, and firing repeatedly.
Ask any crisis trainer, and they will tell you that situational awareness is critical – no matter one’s field or the instant circumstances of their work. Who would have imagined that a live shot on local tourism in a bucolic park would end in so much trauma – on an early morning newscast in Moneta, Virginia?
The simple answer is that we never know where or when mayhem will rear its ugly head. What we know from painful history is that such danger shadows those who chase news live in the field all the time. And it’s vitally important that we remain forever vigilant, and aware of ANYTHING out of the ordinary.
When you arrive at the scene of a story, look for areas of safe refuge and secondary escape routes. Try to keep a corner of your eye cocked peripherally to catch at least a glimpse of anything that doesn’t look quite right. Keep a cellphone or two-way radio close. Think about how you might call for help. And don’t hesitate to raise red flags about any coverage plan you find risky.
Managers should train their staffs to keep careful watch on e-mails, letters, packages, phone calls, social media posts, faxes – anything that might be a potential threat. Make sure the procedures for reporting those threats are simple and clear. Offer periodic formal training in workplace violence and active shooter response. Exercise your protocols to find flaws in your plans – and assure your staff is well prepared for any eventuality, any time. And have a plan to counsel your staff in the event tragedy strikes.
Would any of this have saved Alison and Adam? Impossible to know. But without question, there will be circumstances in which preparedness and awareness will make all the difference in the world.
Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is director, business continuity for the ABC Television Network. The opinions expressed in his articles are his alone, and are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be emailed at Howard.B.Price@abc.com or phoned at 212-456-1073.