The forecast for the entire day was rain. My sister and I decided to make the most of the day and do a little shopping together to lift our spirits. It was just another normal Friday morning for us. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Thirty minutes later, after browsing through the store, an employee approached us. “We’re actually closing the store right now. There’s been a mall emergency,” she said with an annoyed sigh. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
My sister and I stood there, very confused about what was happening. Upbeat music played softly in the speakers. Other customers around us continued to shop as if nothing had occurred. No other store employee was ushering other customers out.
As my sister and I stood just outside the store, a thought occurred to me. The only reason the mall would be closing, I thought,is if the emergency was an active shooter.
I quickly looked around again for all the signs that should be apparent during an emergency, especially an active shooter emergency.
I listened for a warning announcement. Nothing.
I looked around to see if other stores were closing their doors, in order to keep shoppers safely inside. Nothing.
I peeked outside to look for emergency personnel or emergency vehicles. Nothing.
I looked down the walkways for mall security personnel who could tell my sister and me where to go in order to stay safe. Nothing.
We spent several minutes evaluating whether it was safer for us to remain inside or to leave the building. Finally, my sister and I decided that the farther away we were from the situation, the better. We walked out, watching as more shoppers entered the mall oblivious to any situation. No alarm sounded. No warning message. No security personnel. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Miscommunication Can Be FatalAn active shooter incident had occurred directly outside the mall in the parking lot. So, I could not help but be bothered by the way things were handled in the mall. Why were there no security officials in the mall helping shoppers stay safe? Why did I not hear any warning messages or alarms? With the active shooter still at large during that time, why were shoppers being ushered outside of the building?
Risk managers will emphasize, “Run, Hide, Fight” when it comes to staying safe during an active shooter situation. However, even when your emergency plan is in place, miscommunication can lead to a fatal tragedy. Regardless of the type of emergency, proper communication between leaders and your church congregation or school classes is important.
Here are a few tips to make sure you avoid any miscommunication during an emergency:
- Ensure that your Emergency Response Team has all communications covered.
- ARM describes the Communications personnel as those who communicate with the media and external and internal audiences during a crisis. By including this role in your Emergency Response Team, you can ensure that information will be relayed during emergencies both to emergency officials and to those you are trying protect.
- Clearly relay information from one source.
- The best way to avoid miscommunication is to make sure your communication team is the official information outlet. Communications personnel should gather the facts, relay the information, and help the rest of your emergency response team assess the best way to ensure the safety of everyone at risk. Should congregants stay inside or be evacuated? Is it safe for students to continue what they are doing or should everyone stop and wait for further information?
- Continually provide updates.
- When little or no information is distributed, people can often jump to conclusions and begin spreading what they believe to be true, even if it is not. Continuous updates on the situation, no matter how small or large, will help you avoid misinformation being passed around, ease the minds of those in your care, and help emergency officials do their job.
For more information on emergency planning, visit ARM’s Emergency Planning page