Category: Crisis Management

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Hurricane Florence: Recommendations from Construction & Meteorology Expert Witnesses

Hurricane Florence has rapidly expanded in Category 4 hurricane, with a strike expected to make landfall on Thursday. How can those in the path of the storm prepare?

If you’re like me, you are always a little skeptical of meteorological reporting. With that said, I live in California and have never experienced truly catastrophic weather, so I’m not a good “barometer” for the appropriate response. I would likely be the person on top of my house because I didn’t listen to the warnings — and, for that, I apologize in advance to search and rescue for my foolishness.

Do not let that happen to you!

The 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season is upon us. According to several reports, there are a few hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. The one to be aware of at this moment, is Hurricane Florence. The Weather Channel has excellent coverage for those who may be in the path of the storm.

As of this writing, The Weather Channel is advising citizens to Prepare Now: Florence Explodes from Cat. 2 to Cat. 4 in Just Hours. This post did not mince words. It warns that as of today, Florence is massive and dangerous, stating “Hurricane Florence has rapidly intensified into a Category 4 major hurricane southeast of Bermuda and is likely to lash the East Coast later this week with life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds and massive inland rainfall flooding in one of the strongest strikes on this part of the East Coast on record.”

It is true, that this may change and the storm may turn and remain at sea. From everything I read this morning, now is the time to prepare and anticipate Florence making landfall, rather than count on it remaining at sea.

As we have done before, I have contacted Experts.com members and asked them for some preparation input for those facing the storm. Forgive the brevity of some of these answers, but both of these members are on the East Coast and busy preparing for the impending hurricane.

General Contractor & Construction Expert Witness – John Minor

John G. Minor, President of Complete General Contractors, is a third-generation Contractor and licensed instructor certified by the North Carolina Department of Insurance. He is a recognized expert on the costs and applications necessary to repair buildings damaged by manufacturer, builder liability, water damage or intrusion, mold, or asbestos. Mr. Minor will be on the ground with the University of Florida Hurricane Research team. You can learn more about his practice at teamcomplete.com.

My questions to Mr. Minor were as follows:

Nick: What steps should property owners take to prepare for the landfall of Hurricane Florence?

Mr. Minor: Understand that if they choose to shelter in place they must have a strong residence or shelter that will not flood. Sage advice is to hide from the wind run from the flood.

Nick: What are the most common types of property damage from a hurricane?

Mr. Minor: Wind and flood damage from this storm. As a strong cat 3 or easy 4, residential shingle damage (see SaffirSimpson scale). If the storm lingers and pulls Atlantic waters into the Carolinas, major flooding for the Tar and Cape Fear Rivers in an already swollen river system. Know your floodplain.

Nick: Is there anything homeowner’s can do to limit property damage from wind, rains, storm surge?

Mr. Minor: Remove potential projectiles and board up your home. Understand safe generator use.

Nick: Are there any preparations one should take that will benefit them in the case of a future insurance claim? For example, should a homeowner take pictures or video before leaving their home?

Mr. Minor: Document roof interior, exterior, and contents, including contents in an off site storage, with pictures and video.

Nick: What are your top recommendations to help property owners prepare for a hurricane?

Mr. Minor: TADD (Turn Around, Don’t Drown). There will be a lot of desire to move around the area after the storm. Flooding is a dangerous thing.

I had to look up the TADD acronym submitted by Mr. Minor. Take a look at this video from the NOAA and National Weather Service.

Meteorology & Weather Expert Witness – Michael Mogil

H. Michael Mogil is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (M.S. Meteorology) with over 40 years of experience, nearly 30 of them with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition to working for the National Weather Service as a forecaster, researcher, and severe storm program manager, he also provided satellite training to many governmental agencies and hundreds of TV meteorologists. To learn more about his practice visit: weatherworks.com.

Here are the questions and answers from our meteorology expert:

Nick: Today’s reports putting Hurricane Florence at a Category 4, what type of weather should be expected if it makes landfall as a Category 4 hurricane?

Mr. Mogil: Based on coastal angle of attack, huge storm surge and water push ashore to the north of the storm’s track.  To the south of the storm, with winds coming from land to water, water levels will actually drop.

Obviously, heavy to excessive rainfall in advance of landfall, with rain continuing across large parts of the Carolinas and southern Virginia at least through Sunday night (and likely into early next week).

Nick: In your experience, what are the most common types of property damage experienced with a Category 4 hurricane?

Mr. Mogil: From winds, depending upon the type and quality of construction, anything from the loss of many roof tiles or shingles to the actual loss of the roof. Poorly constructed building will be damaged the most. Windows or patio doors, not boarded up, could easily be damaged by flying debris or suffer water intrusion as water is pushed under tracks.

From flying debris (of any type), window or building damage.

Falling trees (due to wind and water-logged soil) a high probability.

Nick: For those in the path of the storm, what do you recommend they do to prepare for the potential landfall?

Mr. Mogil: Listen to instructions of local officials. If one lives near the coast in storm surge inundation area, LEAVE!!!!!!!!! (yes, all those exclamation marks). If one lives in a mobile home or other weakly constructed structure, LEAVE!!!!!!! (more exclamation marks).

Nick: Some reports have indicated the storm may turn and remain at sea as it climbs up the East Coast. Should a citizen still be prepared to evacuate?

Mr. Mogil: Yes, those reports, as of now, are not correct.  National Hurricane Center forecasts are the ones to follow.  Reliable media sources will convey the NHC forecasts.

Nick: From a meteorological perspective, is there anything you think the public must know as the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season heats up?

Mr. Mogil: Today (9/10) is peak day of the season.  There are 3 Atlantic storms right now, and only one seems likely to strike the U.S.  Treat each storm as its own entity.

Nick: Please feel free to share anything additional that is not covered by the questions…

Mr. Mogil: I’d also say that if people do leave, package important papers (insurance policies, birth certificates, passports) in sealable plastic bags (Glad, Ziplock) and take these as they evacuate or go to shelter.

  • Charge appliances (cell phones, etc) and get gas before leaving.
  • Let loved ones in other places know what you are doing.
  • After the storm, deal with insurance quickly…get an attorney (and have the attorney get one or more experts onboard, if a lawsuit or mediation seems necessary).

 

There you go! Listen to the experts. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Be safe!

 

Crisis ManagementExpert WitnessSchool Security

School Violence, Safety and Security – Expert Witness Perspectives

There is no easy way to begin a discussion on school violence, safety and security. As such, I will just delve right in. I have no desire to get into the political fray with regards to gun control or mental health awareness. Further, I do not have a cadre of expert witness writings to choose from on related topics. The result is a blog post where I’ve gained a slightly better understanding of the safety and security issues facing administrators at educational institutions throughout the United States.

Let me start with a little background. When I was a child, my hometown of Stockton, California, was thrust into the national spotlight after a horrendous school shooting commonly referred to as the Cleveland School massacre. This was one of the first mass school shootings to occur in the nation. The perpetrator, Patrick Purdy, took aim at the Cleveland Elementary School playground where he fired over 100 rounds of ammunition, killed five children, and wounded 30 other students and a teacher. Purdy then turned the gun on himself.

Fast forward to the mid and late 90’s, I remember lockdown drills during my high school years. At that time, I seem to recall they were generally related to someone threatening to do harm to students or faculty. During high school, I can recall only one or two instances where we had to actually lockdown the school for any period of time. No incident stands out as particularly frightening or noteworthy. I cannot recall an incident where I ever felt in danger, other than occasional gang-related disputes. Those disputes were generally directed at rival gangs.

If we jump ahead another twenty or so years, we are now dealing with regular incidents of school violence. Not just gun violence, but physical altercations, bullying, stabbings, hostile parents, angry teachers, current students, former students, and more.

With all this in mind, I decided to start reading some articles, by experts and available on Experts.com, to see what might be done to improve the safety and security of school facilities. The following is what I found:

Safety & Security

In reading several articles by member Dr. Edward Dragan, I found that he often restates some similar comments about school liability. It is summed up as such, “Schools, after-school programs, summer camps, Sunday schools, daycares and other agencies that supervise children are responsible for student safety of children in their care.” With this in mind, schools need to have policies, procedures and protocols for protecting the children in their care.

After reading several articles, it does appear difficult for schools and school districts to avoid liability when children are injured due to violence. The schools are put in a difficult position of protecting children while simultaneously trying to avoid liability. In my research, it seems that schools are often found liable even when it appears they did everything in their power to prevent injury. So, what are some of the things they should respond to in order to protect children and also attempt to avoid liability?

Responding to Terroristic Threats

As Dr. Dragan points out in an article on terroristic threats, “The standard of professional care and legal standards for determining what constitutes a credible threat are contradictory and confusing. Until the U.S. Supreme Court defines a common standard, various contradictory lower court opinions will persist.” He goes on to use Pennsylvania law defining a terrorist threat as a “threat to commit violence with the intent to terrorize another person, to cause evacuation of a building, or to cause serious public inconvenience…”

I’m immediately reminded of students discussing calling in a bomb-threat in order to get out of an exam. I don’t know of anyone who ever used the method, though I recall students liking to joke about it in high school and college. In our current environment, it is far less humorous.

Dr. Dragan uses the School District of Philadelphia as a good example of how students and administrators should respond to terrorist threats.

  • Staff members and students shall be made aware of their responsibility for informing the building principal about any knowledge relevant to a possible or actual terroristic threat.
  • The building principal shall immediately call 911 and follow the district’s crisis plan after receiving a report of such a threat.
  • The principal shall react promptly to this information and knowledge, in compliance with state laws, regulations, and procedures established with local law enforcement.

It should go without saying that depriving or disrupting a child’s education in order to protect the student is most definitely worthwhile.

Lockout & Lockdown Drills

Until reading this article by member James Francis, I did not realize there were distinct drills. In my own experience, we only ever practiced a lockdown drill. It turns out there is more than one drill and the terminology may be a little confusing.

According to Mr. Francis, “Lockout recovers all students from outside the building, secures the building perimeter and locks all outside doors. This would be implemented when there is a threat or hazard outside of the building.” The lockdown protocol is different. It requires “locking the classroom door, turning off the lights and placing students out of sight of any corridor windows. Student action during Lockdown is to remain quiet. It does not mandate locking outside doors.”

I had to summarize the difference as such:

  • Lockout = locking perimeter doors.
  • Lockdown = locking classroom doors and remaining out of sight.

You could see where one is used for an external threat or hazard and the other is when the threat has entered the school grounds. Mr. Francis explains lockout is not just necessary for a school shooting situation, but imagine a dangerous dog is loose. On a rare occasion we get mountain lions in our area and a lockout might be appropriate where the school is contained in a main building or a couple buildings. At my elementary and high schools, where the buildings were spread out, we would have been required to lockdown in the event of a mountain lion. To be fair, there is less of a “jumping the fence” hazard with most dogs.

Mr. Francis further explains there have been confusion of the lockout v. lockdown terms. Schools and first responders have reacted inappropriately by conducting lockdown drills when a lockout would have been the appropriate response to a neighborhood or community threat.

As I read this article, I couldn’t help but think maybe a change in terminology is more appropriate so administrators, police, and other first responders are on the same page. “Close-out” might be an appropriate replacement for “lockout.”

Emergency Planning

From what I’ve been reading, emergency planning and response are massively complex topics. Even for me to write about it briefly, I’ve had to undertake some pretty serious research.

Our member Bo Mitchell has written extensively on both topics. His experience with companies and campuses is that they need to have an emergency plan for “all-hazards.” It cannot be an active-shooter plan only. As he states in this blog post, “Your plan has to be all hazards. Not just fire, but severe weather, active shooter, roof collapse, assault in your parking lot—any and all foreseeable circumstances—as the lawyers say.” All-hazards planning requires employers (including schools) be prepared for all man-made and nature made crises.

This seems extreme, does it not? How can a school or school district be prepared for all crises? In my mind, it is impossible to be prepared for all crises. One-hundred percent safety and security is unattainable. That should not prevent schools from taking all necessary steps to implement an emergency plan when a crisis occurs. Preparation and anticipation of all contingencies may limit damage or injury sustained during a crisis.

According to this pundit, it is foreseeable that a troubled student would pull the fire alarm, evacuate a school, and shoot at students and teachers during the “fire evacuation” process. This appears to be what happened in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago. After reading post by Bo Mitchell, it appears educational facilities will need to be prepared for this contingency and be able to respond.

For some detailed information on emergency planning, I recommend viewing Bo Mitchell’s 10 Commandments of Workplace Emergency Training.

Emergency Response

Assuming you have done your job in preparation and planning for all potential emergencies, what is your response when a crisis presents itself? As active shooter situations are top of mind, we will continue using this example. On his website, Mr. Mitchell indicates, “No court or government agency will find you—as an employer—at fault for failing to stop crazy. What every court and government agency does expect is that every employer know how to respond to crazy.”

He further explains that the negligence issues employers and schools face after active shooter situation is failure to plan and failure to train. If you have not properly planned and trained for the crisis, you cannot respond appropriately. As Mr. Mitchel points out, “police, fire, and EMT’s are official responders. Your employees are the first responders.” In an educational setting, that makes students first responders as well.

Therefore, schools need to create their all-hazards plans and then train students, faculty, and other staff on implementing the plan in order to mitigate risk and loss of life. Bo Mitchell describes just some of the issues you will face when training to implement an Active Shooter Protocol. I’m certain after you read this list, you will understand why training is so vital:

  • Which of your employees is in command?
  • Where is your emergency team of employees deployed to help control your response?
  • What communications do you provide to talk to your people?
  • Can you account for all your employees and visitors?
  • Where are all your people?
  • Your Lockdown procedures
  • Your Lockout procedures
  • Control of power to your facility for shutoff
  • Site map: detailed
  • Floor maps for all floors for all buildings: detailed
  • Perimeter control
  • Identifying friend from foe among your people
  • Procedures for rapid exit of your people when ordered
  • Reuniting procedures/facility after incident
  • Access to MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets)
  • Crisis Communications Plan
  • Crisis Media Plan
  • Training
  • Drills
  • Exercises

If a school has not trained according to their plan, how will they be able to carry out their emergency response? My young staff member, Bobby Burns, has indicated to me that his high school only conducted one “lockdown” drill during his 4 year tenure. After writing this blog post, I have to assume that is insufficient training for students and faculty to put an emergency plan into action.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

Have you ever heard of this before? I had not until I started working for Experts.com. I had no idea there was an entire area of architecture dedicated to developing safer buildings. In one article, our Member, Dr. Randall Atlas, explains, “The basic crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) premise is that through the effective use and design and management of the built environment, there can be a reduction in the opportunity and fear of crime, and result in the improvement in the quality of life. If we can build effective spaces using CPTED in the next generation of schools, we will substantially reduce the opportunity and fear of crime in them.”

Schools should be accessible to students, faculty, and other employees, while also being safe and secure environments in which students can learn. Dr. Atlas has written several articles on CPTED and there is a plethora of additional information on the Internet.

CPTED takes a wide variety of characteristics into account, including: site or campus design; building design (interior and exterior); visibility from classrooms; surveillance systems and other equipment; vehicular and pedestrian observation (line of sight); landscaping; walkways (interior and exterior circulation paths); signage; handicap accessibility; and much more.

A properly built CPTED school should make a school or university a safer learning environment. This does not mean creating a prison atmosphere. It simply requires a design that minimizes and impedes security threats while being accessible to students and faculty. CPTED combines safety, security, and design to make a hospitable educational facility.

Conclusion:

This post only includes a handful of issues related to school safety and security. I have not yet touched on emergency communication systems and training with police, fire, and EMTs. Nor did I cover issues of “Run, Hide and Fight” protocol for dealing with active shooter situations.

This is meant to be a summary of school safety and security matters based on publications from our expert witnesses. What I have discovered is that making schools safe is a major undertaking and nothing I have read demonstrates 100% safety is achievable.

Nevertheless, we should continue to learn and work to make our schools an inviting and safe environment for future generations.

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CRISIS MANAGEMENT EXPERT WITNESSES & CONSULTANTS

In the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other national crises like the Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings, it is imperative that we have a cache of individuals and companies at hand to respond to and manage such devastating events. Even more important is that these Experts and Consultants are available to prepare and train prior to any emergency.
Disaster Planning and Threat Analysis are not only critical to the safety of our nation’s institutions but anywhere that crowds tend to gather, such as Times Square in New York City or Union Square in San Francisco. Crisis Management Experts and Consultants use their experience and expertise to assess vulnerabilities and train for potential disasters at our schools, universities, high-risk workplace environments and hospitals. Keeping us safe is their number one priority.
Their areas of expertise can range from Disaster Planning, Hostage Negotiation, Suicide Attempts and Employment Screenings to Epidemiology, Food-Borne Vulnerabilities, Business Continuity and Terrorism. As with all those who protect the citizens of this country, Crisis Management Experts must be acknowledged for their contributions. It is with gratitude that we feature them here today.

Crisis Management Experts and Consultants