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Source: BOXOFFICE, April 2003

- Part IV -

By David J. Bowman, Human Resources Expert

In my three previous essays for Boxoffice, I discussed how to avoid litigation by preventing Sexual Harassment and Violence in the workplace. Here, I'll consider how to avoid both the litigation and horror of terrorism in the workplace - particularly in theaters.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that there be management commitment and employee involvement in work-threat prevention. There must be worksite a analysis, hazard prevention and control, as well as employee training and education. Therefore, I'll discuss how to recognize potential terrorists, the threat and types of chemical and biological agents, the vulnerabilities of buildings, how to train employees in anti-terror tactics and what to do when an attack occurs.

In 1995, 12 Tokyo subway passengers died from inhaling Sarin, and more than 600 were hospitalized. In 2001, five Americans died from inhaling Anthrax and 13 developed cutaneous, or inhalational disease. And, of course, in New York City, over 3,000 died as a result of intentional terrorist actions. Great Britain and France have had a series of terrorist incidents, as have several other countries. From 1980 to 2000, there were some 270 known terrorist incidents, and 130 were prevented. The U.S. and much of the world have declared a war against terrorism. Theatre management must be prepared.

Let's start with what to look for when trying to stop terrorists. Look for people interested in security systems and personnel, as well as points of entry, controls for access and barriers around the outside of buildings, such as fences or walls. Be aware of anonymous telephone or e-mail threats to staff or facilities, as well as frequently circling vehicles such as cars, trucks, bicycles and even scooters. Also be aware of an increase in panhandlers, demonstrators, street vendors, or frequent passers-by that register an interest in your facility. Watch for discreet use of cameras (still or video), note taking, sketching, or questions asked of security or other staff. Terrorists often work in teams, so watch for groups engaged in these activities, as well as individuals working alone.

Employees are the "second line of defense" (after security hardware), and therefore it's important that they are trained to be constantly alert for visitors showing strange or unusual behavior, and immediately report these to a supervisor, or other designated staff member.

Chemical agents are a favorite of terrorists, because they are fast-acting and often easier and safer to transport than biological agents. Although there are dozens of chemical agents recognized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only five are likely for use in a terrorist attack.

Sulfur Mustards are blister agents, which are usually a yellowish brown in color, with a garlic or mustard odor. Vapor and liquid forms can be absorbed through the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Symptoms develop on contact, but pain and other effects can be delayed for up to 24 hours. Skin, eye and breathing problems result. There is no antidote for this toxicity. Decontaminate all exposed areas by immediately washing with soap and water.

Sarin and VX are highly toxic compounds in both liquid and vaporous forms. They attack the central nervous system and can cause death in minutes after exposure. They can be inhaled, ingested, or can enter the body through the eyes and skin. Symptoms include runny nose, watery eyes, drooling and excessive perspiration, breathing problems, nausea, vomiting, twitching, headache and problems with vision. Decontaminate affected areas by removing exposed clothing, as well as by flushing eyes and skin with water.

Chlorine is a greenish yellow gas that has a pungent odor, and can react violently with certain other compounds to cause fire and explosions. Chlorine is corrosive to the eyes and skin. It can cause tearing, burns and problems with vision. If inhaled it can cause death. Treatment includes fresh air and washing of any exposed areas with soap and water.

Hydrogen Cyanide is an extremely flammable, colorless liquid or gas. It is highly explosive and gives off toxic fumes in a fire. It affects the eyes, skin and respiratory system. Symptoms include burning and redness of the eyes, and if inhaled there is confusion, drowsiness, difficulty in breathing and likely collapse. Treat with fresh air and plenty of water for the eyes and skin.

Biological agents are odorless, tasteless and invisible. They are hundreds of thousands of times more potent than chemical weapons, but require specialized scientific expertise, thus they are probably less likely for use in a single complex. The CDC lists several biological diseases as "high-priority." They include Botulism (the most potent lethal substance known to man), Plague, Smallpox, Tularaemia, Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (a series of viruses such as Ebola) and Anthrax. Most of these can be spread through use of aerosols and/or via spores, and for most, there are either preventative vaccines or antibiotics available for treatment. However, with biological agents, physical effects often are not visible for hours, and sometimes days.

Controlled areas containing many people - such as indoor auditoriums and other large public spaces such as lobbies - are ideal targets for chemical and biological attacks. However, there are many things theater management can do to prevent these attacks.

First, close any unnecessary openings in the theatre complex, and secure manhole covers in or near the facility with locking devices. Carefully control the mail (look for wrong or no return addresses, lopsided or unusually heavy parcels with protruding wires or strange odors, items marked "personal' or "confidential"), e-mails, faxes and telephone calls (obtain and record as much information as possible), as well as other deliveries. Also, control such vulnerable points as air intakes, sewer air pipes, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Motion sensors and surveillance systems (video cameras and recorders) should be installed at every outside door - with security personnel on duty at all times for detecting intruders. Video cameras, recorders and plainly visible security personnel must be at every customer/visitor entrance. If adjacent parking is provided, ensure that vehicles are inspected (or at least visually scanned) upon entering.

In addition, detailed anti-terrorist guidelines should be outlined in an Emergency Operation Plan. This should be similar to a plan for responding to a fire, bomb, earthquake, or other disaster. It must detail what to do in the event of an attack, and who is assigned to each duty on each shift - including the implementation of evacuation procedures. EOP training should include drills (both tabletop and functional) and first-aid procedures - including how to remove clothing, wash the skin and treat the eyes of those affected by chemicals. Periodic reinforcement of training should be scheduled, with mandatory attendance by both management and staff.

Should a terrorist attack occur, the Emergency Operation Plan should be implemented immediately. The designated person(s) should contact authorities, other contacts and supervisors. Other designated, first-aid trained staff should attend to the needs of victims.

Because theaters can be particularly vulnerable to chemical attack, management might be wise to contact a local contractor who is licensed to conduct an anti-terrorist worksite analysis. This action, along with those I've mentioned here, could save many lives should an attack occur.

David Bowman is founder and chairman of TTG Consultants, a Los Angeles firm specializing in career and management development, and harassment and violence prevention. He can be reached at 880.736.8840, or


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