By Howard B. Price
The gunman, identified by authorities as Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, of Laurel, Maryland, went to the Capital Gazette newsroom – with the specific intention to kill people working in the Capital Gazette newsroom, reportedly in response to the court’s tossing out a defamation claim he’d made against the newspaper.
This is not the time for the media to cower in fear. This is the time for action. This is the time to stop talking about this issue of violence perpetrated against members of the media – and start DOING SOMETHING, damn it.
For years, I have been ringing the bell of preparedness within the media sector. And the events of Thursday are just one horrifying reason why. The work we do every day – and the toxic environment in which we do it now – exposes print and broadcast journalists, crews and support staff to unspeakable risks that would have been unheard of just a few short years ago, except in war zones and riots.
Yet, most often, the response within our industry is – crickets. Or a series of lame excuses. Or an unending game of kick the can into the next budget cycle. Or the next. Or the next.
Until something bad happens…and it’s too late. People are hurt, perhaps killed. Reputations are destroyed. You get sued…for things like negligent failure to plan.
Regrettably, this is not the first time a media organization has been the victim of violence on its own premises. Yet it seems we’ve learned nothing from the incidents that preceded today’s deadly attack.
So, once more – with feeling:
- Keep danger outside your building by moving access control outside your building, or at minimum, inside a secured vestibule until guests are verified. There’s a discernable line between turning your facility into a fortress and simply making it a little harder for troubled souls to enter.
- Guest movement inside your facilities MUST be restricted by installing floor-to-floor, keycard-activated door locks. This also assures your guests are escorted by staff while they are in the building, which safeguards not only your people and plant, but also work product not intended for prying eyes and ears.
- Guest badges need to be bar-coded picture badges, recorded in a database, and self-expiring so they cannot be reused at a subsequent time. Guest should be asked to show government photo ID to verify who they say they are. And ideally, guest badges should be collected before a guest leaves for the day.
- If you maintain street-level studios, be sure the glass in your windows is ballistic-grade. Install intruder-resistant doors, inside and out.
- Identify areas of safe refuge where people can go in the event of trouble. The excellent video, “Run, Hide, Fight,” produced by the City of Houston to better prepare citizens for active shooter incidents, is on YouTube. At minimum, make sure your employees watch it.
- Practice intruder detection and interdiction with a “red jacket” exercise. Have an unfamiliar person wander your halls to see if s/he is challenged.
- Practice evacuations and in-building relocations. Make sure everyone knows the official reunification areas outside the building. Make sure managers take headcount sheets with them so they can verify the status of people who were known or thought to be in the building at the time of the evacuation. Make sure those headcount sheets have cell numbers for all of your employees.
- Engage local first responders to use your facilities for their own exercises. They’ll take your staff through their paces and learn the layout of your plant. Build ongoing relationships with them.
- If your people refuse to wear their badges, write them up until they get with the program.
- If you do not have an all-hazards emergency response plan, WRITE ONE. If you don’t know how to write one, hire a trained, experienced professional (like me) to help you.
- If you don’t have a business continuity plan, BUILD ONE. If you don’t know how to build one, hired a trained, experienced professional (like me) to help you. (The night of the shooting, the Capital Gazette was a crime scene. If that was your newsroom, or studio, or tech plant, how would you maintain your critical operations – protect your revenue, preserve your reputation?) Your investors, audience, clients and staff will insist on it.
- If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, and a casualty management plan, GET ONE. What your say, how you say it and when you say it matter in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. Having a protocol for caring for injured and slain staff, and their surviving loved ones, is essential. A trained, experienced pro (like me) can help you with that, too.
- If your staff is not trained in First Aid/CPR/AED, TRAIN THEM. Virtually every chapter of the American Red Cross provides fee-based training – it’s worth every penny, and the skills your staff learns could not only save the life of a colleague, but the lives of their loved ones as well.
- Install high-resolution, color, low-light security cameras at all sensitive locations, inside and outside your facility. Record the output and keep it for at least a month.
- Known threats should be identified for your security teams so they can be instantly recognized and kept out of the building.
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. An unexercised plan is no plan at all. Your team will have nanoseconds to respond to any emergency, and they won’t have time to read the Big Red Book. Checklist your procedures and drill them quarterly – and follow up with a documented, after-action review that specifies a timeline for plugging holes revealed in the tests.
- Have a post-disaster plan. Provide compassionate care services to your people and chart a path to operational recovery.
And that’s just for starters. As you read this, especially at news/talk stations where rhetoric gets fiery in a hurry and passions often overrun reasonable discourse, staff will be showing up for their next shifts with some trepidation as they ponder the Capital Gazette massacre. Don’t squander the moment. Convene a team meeting. Let people express their emotions, their grief, their concerns.
Then, promise to do something about it. Now. Let your proactivity be the legacy of Capital staffers Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith — who gave their lives for the people’s right to know.
Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is the former director of business continuity & crisis management for ABC’s News and Technology & Operations divisions, and has also served as senior manager, enterprise business continuity planning for The Walt Disney Company. A certified business continuity professional, and the founder of MediaDisasterPrep.com, he brings cost-effective resilience planning, innovation and thought leadership to the media industry. Reach him at HowardBPrice@gmail.com or 917-414-1751, and follow him on Twitter @mediadisaster.