Announcing a new feature at Popehat in which we, experienced consultants in the minimization and mitigation of risk, offer our advice free of charge to employers and corporations looking to reduce exposure to loss and litigation.
For our first case, let's examine the facts alleged in a suit filed by Babette Perry, a pharmaceutical technician of Mount Laurel Pennsylvania, against her employer Hampton Behavioral Health Center, and its parent company Universal Health Services, Inc.
Concerned about a recent wave of robberies perpetrated by oxycontin fiends against health clinics with access to the addictive narcotic, Hampton devised what risk managers might call a "readiness test," in which employees are drilled and put through mock or simulated crisis, in order to assess their preparation and to allow the company to improve its response to such a crisis. On December 24, 2007, Ms. Perry alleges that she was the subject of such a test.
Now "readiness tests," in general, are a useful tool in avoidance of risk. For instance in a pharmacy, such as that run by Hampton, the danger of break-in or robbery by oxycontin fiends is an ever-present risk. Preparing employees to deal with such an emergency improves safety for the employees and the company, like a fire drill in a school or continuing education for professionals.
Where the test went astray was in its implementation. While not all drills and such require that the worker be given advance notice (again, imagine a fire drill), that's typically a good idea when the drill involves sending a "gunman" into an employee's workspace, waving what appears to be an actual firearm.
Point one, and it's important to emphasize this: never direct your workers to point firearms, even unloaded or mock firearms, at other workers, without at least providing some advance warning that no one is in danger of actually being shot.
When the "gunman" announces that he has taken a hostage, well, that's even better reason to give advance notice that a drill might occur. Even moreso when the "hostage" is a fellow employee, who is in on the exercise or drill.
Point two: Unless your business is one where dealing with the threat of kidnapping and execution of hostages is a common occurrence, such as Navy SEALS, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, or SWAT squads, it's probably best to leave such especially vivid touches out of one's emergency preparation simulations.
And finally, even if the job calls for interaction with armed, crazed drug abusers and the rescue of hostages, cutting off phone access to the building, as allegedly happened in Ms. Perry's case, might actually enhance one's exposure to risk. Now generally workers who are threatened with lawless insurrection and hostage-taking are expected to call the authorities. But as Hampton's exercise proceeded, Ms. Perry was unable to do so because she had no telephone access. Under the circumstances, she might have felt compelled to act violently, injuring her fellow employee the "gunman" to protect her fellow employee the "hostage." A tragedy might have ensued.
Point three: When devising corporate readiness exercises such as a mock armed invasion, one must not only be sure to leave workers with the training required to deal with such a crisis, but the tools. Such as a telephone.
Fortunately no tragedy ensued as a result of Hampton's perhaps too vigorous readiness exercises. No one was injured or killed. Hampton fully explained the purpose of its test afterward, and Ms. Perry suffered only an alleged mild case of panic, emotional disturbance, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But there can be no doubt that she is now a better pharmaceutical technician for the experience, fully prepared to protect her employer's interests in the event of an armed robbery and hostage-taking by frenzied drug addicts.
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer.