Knowing when to prepare a workplace for terrorist attacks

Terrorist events on U.S. soil and ongoing threats emphasize the importance of emergency preparedness in the workplace. Certain companies and worksites are more susceptible to violence from extremists than others and should take the necessary measures to keep themselves and their employees safe.

What terrorism usually looks like
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Labor (DOL), most potential terrorist attacks would come in the form of arson or through the use of explosive devices. Although other types of attacks are less likely, OSHA continues to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and, within CDC, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to help increase workplace safety and security.

The most important step that any company can take to prepare for an arson or explosive device attack is to constantly review and update its fire emergency protocols. A fire escape plan that includes frequent drills is first and foremost. An escape route should be cleared of obstructions, clearly marked, and familiar to workers due to regular practice and review.

It is also important to make sure that the right fire emergency safety equipment is visible to employees and located in many places throughout a factory, warehouse, or office building.

Vulnerable workplaces
While it's true that a terrorist attack could happen anywhere, OSHA warns that there are some workplaces that are more vulnerable to extremist attacks than others. These include:

• Those that provide essential services, such as subways, sewage treatment plants, electric facilities, fuel depots, and telephone headquarters
• Places with a high volume of pedestrian traffic
• Areas that have limited emergency exits, such as high-rise complexes or underground facilities
• Those that have a high volume of incoming materials, such as postal centers, import and export terminals, and raw material processing plants
• High-profile targets like dams, military installations, and classified sites
• Transportation systems such as shipyards, bus terminals, train stations, and airline facilities

These workplaces are advised to create terrorist attack preparedness plans. OSHA does not provide specific guidelines for this sort of preparation, but such companies are advised to consult with local authorities, the FBI, ATF, and their Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). These organizations will evaluate the risk of terrorist violence and help with the planning process.

Geographic location
OSHA's contribution to extremist violence preparedness comes in the form of its risk levels or zones, which describe how organizations should evaluate and prepare for possible hazards that they may face from terrorist attacks:

• "Green Zone" is used to describe most businesses. These facilities have limited vulnerability, are not as directly threatened, and have little potential to cause a significant impact if attacked
• "Yellow Zone" includes companies that have one of the following: a high level of vulnerability to attack, a high threat level, or the potential to create a significantly catastrophic event if struck by terrorists
• "Red Zone" will have two or more of a high level of vulnerability, a high threat level, and a high chance of catastrophic impact if attacked

It should be noted that companies that do not fit a particular Zone's criteria but are in close proximity to facilities that exist in a Zone above their own should treat themselves as members of that higher zone.

Protection and security
Companies that are concerned about terrorist attacks should examine the potential threat to their businesses and the possible devices that could be involved in an attack. Once a determination has been made, it's important for employers to contact local and federal authorities if they feel that their workplaces are at significant risk for a terrorist attack, create and review evacuation plans, and provide adequate safety products for their workers in case of an attack.

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