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Envision this: Your business continuity (BC) and disaster response (DR) plans have been reviewed, evaluated, updated, and checked again.

You feel confident about how they’ve been fine-tuned, but you know the best plans can fail if they aren’t routinely tested.

You recently did a tabletop exercise and prepared for worse-case scenarios, but now you’d like to see what the plan looks like in action. Perfect timing for a surprise exercise!

Because employee safety is one of the top priorities for your organization, your team decides to do a mock-shooter drill.

In our inaugural Business Continuity Benchmark Study, 80% of respondents indicated that ensuring employee safety during a crisis is among the highest priorities for their BC programs.

You coordinate the drill with senior executives and your on-site security team. You outline the plan and are ready to put it in action. Your employees are used to surprise testing. What could go wrong?

What you might not realize is more can go wrong than you anticipate. If you’re not assessing the dynamics of the situation properly, it’s possible your “exercise” could quickly turn into an incident. Yikes! Let’s look at a few examples of what can happen when surprise testing goes awry.

4 Examples of Surprise Emergency Testing Gone Awry

1. Nursing home mock-shooter drill leaves nurse traumatized and company facing lawsuits

In 2013, a Colorado nursing home planned an active-shooter drill, but did not let all employees know in advance. When a supervisor instructed a nurse to approach a “suspicious” person in the facility, the drill got underway. A local police officer, who was part of the drill but in plain clothes, showed a gun and forced the nurse into an empty room. During the ordeal, nursing home staff called 911, but because local agencies were aware of the drill, they ignored the calls for help. The nurse said she was traumatized and went on to file lawsuits against both the company that runs the nursing home, as well the town for the police department’s involvement.

2. Hospital active shooter drill causes panic

In 2018, a military hospital in Maryland planned an active shooter drill. In what officials called “improper use” of its emergency notification system, an alert failed to tell staff and patients that it was a drill, prompting them to seek shelter in what they believed was a real threat. A “large scale” police response followed, including SWAT. Further, messages appeared on social media from people inside the hospital who believed there was a real shooter, but there was never a direct threat to anyone.

3. Chicago active shooter drill goes “terribly wrong”

In July, Chicago police were called to an active shooter at a downtown office building. People inside the building received a text alert directing them to take shelter, with no indication it was a drill. They responded with fear, calling 911, and soon a large police presence appeared. For nearly 15 minutes, officers believed there was an active shooter and while people inside the building hid, they went floor to floor searching for the assailant. There wasn’t one. Chicago PD said it was a drill that went “terribly wrong.”

4. Code Red alert leaves teachers and students “shaken” at Florida school

In late 2018, an unannounced active-threat drill at a high school in Florida caused panic and fear. While students and staff are used to “Code Red” drills to encourage safety response, during this exercise, an administrator got on the school’s intercom and said, “this is not a drill.” Staff received an alert via text and email that an active shooter was on campus. Although the local sheriff’s office was involved, the staff member who sent out the alert had no idea this was a simulation. It took 24 fear-driven minutes before everyone was alerted the “drill” was over. Students, shaken from the experience, said some were injured when panic ensued as they tried to get to safety. Although both school officials and law enforcement received criticism for the unannounced testing, they said it’s crucial to ensure safety for their schools.

Don’t let one of these incidents happen to you.

When planning a surprise BC or DR test, pre-assess all of your plans details and look for areas where things may go wrong. Analyze steps throughout your simulation to evaluate if there are any situations that may unintentionally incite fear or panic. Address these possibilities before a crisis ensues and be sure to have a plan to immediately respond if something unexpected happens.

Remember, creating an incident during surprise testing—when you’re trying to prevent one—is absolutely not the outcome you want.

Need help planning your next BC or DR exercise? Keep an eye out for a future blog about how to successfully conduct a surprise test.

Do you want to ensure resilience and protection of your employees and bottom line? Visit our website or contact an Assurance certified business continuity professional today. We will be happy to help.

For more great industry information, check out our free webinar:

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Topics: Business Continuity| Emergency Notification

Assurance Software

Written by Assurance Software

Assurance Software takes your company’s enterprise-wide business continuity and resiliency program to the next level. With Assurance as your go-to partner for continuity and resilience, you can confidently mitigate risk, manage recovery, and safeguard your employees, customers, operations and brands.

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