Responding to Sept. 11

Security concerns permeate workplaces
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/21/2003

Canadian HR Reporter

’s companion publication

Administrative Assistant’s Update

asked readers how the events of Sept. 11 changed procedures in their offices. While some workplaces have done little to change policies, most AAs report actions to protect against future terrorist assaults. Here’s a sample of post-Sept. 11 changes:

•I have been instructed when making travel arrangements for our president and vice-president that they are not to travel on the same flight.

•Our security has been upgraded. We have to wear our ID cards, no one is allowed in our building without an ID card. We are taking training in suspicious packages. Overall we have beefed up security in our building.

•We had been working on a site emergency plan at a rather leisurely pace. The events of Sept. 11th have propelled us forward to complete the plan now. The followup anthrax threats have had a bigger impact. Our mail room staff are now being trained in hazardous substances. They are being provided with disposable face masks and disposable medical gloves. All this to ensure some degree of safety to process mail. The biggest impact is in our returns department. We are a company that ships catalogue and household merchandise across Canada and these items are on occasions returned and not always in the original packaging. They can come back through various couriers or by Canada Post. All staff are now on guard for suspicious packages.

•I can see a dramatic drop in travel expense for the month of September, a nearly 80 per cent decrease. We were all told to make alternative arrangements if we have to travel — taking the train, driving or by using teleconferencing to substitute going to a meeting. The company also issues memos on how to handle mail coming from an unknown source. We have also asked employees to make donations to help the victims of the Sept. 11 event.

•We were already looking at our existing security measures and the events simply served as a catalyst to remind everyone to take measures already in place more seriously. I am hoping that the company, on a corporate level, will finally agree to spend some money to improve our security systems.

•The tragedy in the United States caused us to think about office safety. (Previously) the only time the issue arose was when we had our annual fire drill. As a result, we checked our survival kit and discovered many items needed to be replenished as they had surpassed the expiry dates. The kit has now been restocked with a three-day supply of food for the staff, including a new portable radio. We had our first safety meeting and we discussed a safety plan and how to respond in an emergency. We prepared and distributed to the staff, an information kit containing various safety brochures from our building’s safety director and from the people who supplied our earthquake survival kit. We also created a detailed floor plan, showing where each of our fire extinguishers, survival kit and oxygen tank are located. We also invited an expert to give a presentation on emergency response training and earthquake preparedness. We are going to be having regular scheduled meetings from now on.

•All staff travelling by air must now receive approval from Executive before making travel arrangements, and they must provide Executive with a copy of their travel itinerary. Additional emergency response policies in place include additional information on evacuation procedures, policies for financial assistance, additional safety procedures in the mailroom (i.e. use of gloves and masks).

•Travel is being done by car, driving seven hours rather than flying one hour for most.

•There was an important event for our industry at the end of September and four out of five registrants cancelled their participation for various reasons. Another went to visit a customer by train instead of flying down. Another told me that while he transited by Detroit, he found the airport empty, it was an odd feeling. Usually, that airport is very active and full of people.

•Sept. 11 and the events that followed have had a tremendous impact on our daily business activities. Booking travel is twice as difficult as it used to be — there are not as many flights to choose from, and we’ve been advised not to book on any American or British carriers. We’ve also been instructed not to book more than four travellers on the same plane. Travellers are asking that we investigate alternative methods of travel, such as the train and the bus. As well, opening the mail is no longer the routine it used to be, and is causing some anxiety. Our mail room staff are sporting surgical gloves.

•Our employer has sent out a memo that when travelling, employees are permitted (and almost encouraged) to find an alternate means of travel. Prior to that, air travel was the suggested means due to time constraints with the other travel methods. Also, we have revisited our emergency evacuation process, and implemented a plan regarding emergency evacuation, with marshalls designated to each small area. This plan includes both evacuation and containment, if necessary.

•Our office/hospital environment has changed significantly. I work as the assistant to the director of nursing in our local hospital. Even how we scan and open mail now been significantly impacted. Our nursing units have also significantly changed practices. Our emergency room (as well as the other nursing departments in our facility) have addressed bioterrorism by flagging staff to the potential signs and symptoms of anthrax, smallpox and other biochemical terrorist agents, along with ensuring sufficient medications are in stock to address patients testing positive or exposed to these types of agents.

•Corporate travel in our department is the same and has not deterred anyone from travelling, even to the U.S.

•Our safety procedures have always been intact and our company’s “Emergency Procedures Manual(s)” are easy to locate. Travel has not changed as we could not be paralyzed by this due to servicing our customers in Canada, the United States and Europe.

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