Many times, organizations make plans that are progressive, forward-thinking, and well-intended. Often, plans are changed or cancelled due to a varying number of issues and circumstances. Often, putting ideas into action can take months or even years of planning.
That is what makes the recipient of the Virginia Municipal League (VML) 2020 Local Champion Award in Risk Management so special. This award is given annually to a public entity in Virginia who has stood out in their ability to identify, assess, and control threats to their employees, visitors, facilities, and infrastructure.
The Town of Vinton’s receipt of this award shows what happens when effective safety leadership has the support and backing of town leadership.
The Vinton Safety Committee, led by Human Resources Director Donna Collins, invited Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA) Public Safety Specialist Gary Dillon and Senior Safety Consultant Eddie Shelton to review the town facilities in July of 2019. This visit identified areas where the town was potentially exposed to loss and risk in terms of theft, robbery, and emergency communication.
These findings and their subsequent controls were presented to and unanimously approved by the Vinton Town Council on August 22, 2019, for $100,000 in “emergency purchase” funding. The funding went into the purchase and installation of:
- Bullet-resistant glass at public counters
- FOB keys and locks for secure areas
- Interior/Exterior cameras with monitors
- Emergency action lighting to direct employee action
- Name badge cards with emergency action planning
“These measures were not installed as a barrier between or protection from the average citizen, employee or customer,” said Vinton Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters. “These measures were implemented as a deterrent to hopefully prevent and to protect our employees and visitors in cases of extreme violence, such as the unfortunate incident in Virginia Beach, the Texas Church shooting or a number of other attacks that have taken place in common or public spaces.”
“It’s obviously very difficult to predict when, where or from whom an attack might occur,” Peters continued. “So these recently installed security measures were implemented for areas that would have been the most vulnerable should an extreme situation arise.”
In the past, anybody could come into the building and have free access to town management offices including Human Resources and Town Manager offices. The new FOB system requires the entrant to either have a valid key fob or they are able to call into on the box and have a town employee verify their identity and grant access to enter these secure areas.
In multiple offices, town employees have access to see cameras placed throughout and around town facilities. These cameras give access to the Town Manager’s office, the Risk Manager/HR office, as well as directly to the Vinton Police Department. This allows for cameras to be viewed continuously.
The funding allowed for the placement of emergency switches in employee-controlled areas. These switches are based on the hazard – one for evacuation, one for lockdown. For lockdown mode, all exterior doors to the building are automatically locked from the outside, forbidding any entrants during that time (except for emergency responders). Once depressed, lighting on the roof directs employee response. In addition to the lighting, there is also an audible alarm that alerts employees and sends a message to emergency dispatch.
With the lighting system, there is no employee guessing. Each employee has an ID badge card that directs them on what to do anytime a light is activated. This cuts out guessing and misinformation to employees, as the emergency plans are available to each employee at a moment’s notice.
The measures taken by the Town of Vinton are driven by the concept of “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.” This method is based on the idea of managing the design of the physical environment that employees work in with the goal of deterring crime in specific areas. Human Resources Director, Donna Collins says “The security enhancements were for the security of the employees and citizens in general. In today’s climate of violence, we felt we needed to be proactive.”
In looking at crime data, research has shown that criminal activity is reduced:
- When perpetrators perceive a risk of being observed
- When design increases needed effort to approach a target
- When clear boundaries separate public spaces from private spaces
- When property is managed to upkeep the environment (maintenance)
When Collins talks about the need to be proactive, Vinton has taken the above crime data and addressed the aspects above. By putting in additional cameras, the town has increased the risk of being observed. By separating employees with ballistic glass, it increases the effort to approach a target. With the key fob for private offices, a clear boundary now exists in the municipal building. With regular maintenance, these measures are proven to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
The Town of Vinton is an example of an organization that works, not as an individual, but as a committee of risk-minded individuals who know and understand their environment. They recognized that there were risks to their employees and citizens. Working with VRSA, Vinton worked to identify the hazards, understand their needed controls, and garnered support from town leadership to put controls in place.
VRSA is more than insurance – and is proud to be able to team up with and support the Town of Vinton and their safety committee in working in a manner to reduce risk with the goal of protecting human life and property. It’s amazing to see an organization where the town council votes unanimously to support the necessary measures to protect employees. This shows a deep understanding that proactive measures to safety and security are far less costly than acting reactively after an emergency event.
We want to sincerely congratulate and recognize the efforts of the Town of Vinton, town leadership and the town safety committee on their achievements both in terms of protecting their employees, citizens, and customers as well as their much-deserved receipt of the 2020 Virginia Municipal League Local Champion Award in Risk Management!
For more information on how your organization can conduct a vulnerability assessment or discuss methods of deterrence to reduce risk to your employees, your VRSA Safety Consultant and Public Safety Specialist are available to assist our members!