The Missing Link to Human Survival

April 30, 2007

By Susan D. Sparkes-Hoskins, CAM

Businesses today are scrambling to keep their employees safe from the increasing dangers faced at work, especially from terrorism - doing what they can to create a sense of safety, security, and peace of mind.

Protection of the workplace begins outside at the interface with the world around it. Companies invest in land to provide them with a healthy stand-off from roads for protection from car bombs. They invest in landscaping to slow people's approach and erect concrete bollards to keep vehicles from encroaching on the building.

The structural facades of buildings are reinforced and windows are either bullet-proof or treated with a protective coating to help contain glass fragmentation. Security guards, screening, key-lock systems, and metal detectors are positioned at entrances. This is a multipronged approach to keep safe in a terrorist-ridden world that is also laden with natural disasters.

Walter Enders and Todd Sandler from the Department of Economics, Finance, and Legal Studies at the University of Alabama did a study that applies time-series techniques to investigate the current threat posed by transnational terrorist incidents. They state, "Each incident is almost 17 percentage points more likely to result in death or injuries. The growth of religious terrorism appears to account for the increased severity of terrorist attacks since the last quarter of 1991."

The latest change in terrorist tactics found the U.S. Embassy in Greece at risk, when an anti-tank missile was fired at the building. With one change in tactic, several of the security features designed to keep staff safe were thwarted. The concrete bollards, the stand off, the protected facades, and blast-resistant windows did not stop the RPG missile from entering that building.

Hundreds of people are killed every year at work - even in buildings that have all the above safety measures. If you shake a protected building, you still get scrambled eggs inside. The building may or may not fall, but there will still be falling debris and havoc occurring within the individual offices.

Inside the Pentagon after the September 11th disaster, there was widespread devastation caused by the interior furnishings. People were killed when the furniture turned into shrapnel and projectiles, and debris blocked escape routes.

We have always been told in an emergency to hide under a table or other strong structure. Yet, many people are killed by their desks when they fail to hold the weight of a structural ceiling collapse. 

Doug Copp, rescue chief and disaster manager of the American Rescue Team International (ARTI), the world's most experienced rescue team, says in his article "The Triangle of Life" in part "... The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under their desk. Every child was crushed to the thickness of their bones. It was obscene and unnecessary. The children were told to hide under something. Simply stated, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects."

Tarine Fairman, author of the upcoming book Under The Cover of Darkness and FBI Evidence Response Team member, says of her analysis of the World Trade Center's north and south towers, "During our analysis, we discovered that many of the injuries that were suffered by individuals that were in these buildings were caused by flying glass, debris, office equipment, and especially office furniture.  Many blunt trauma injuries were suffered by employees located throughout these buildings due to the unsecured items that were located in their individual offices and/or cubicles.  More significantly, the office furniture was usually forced to another side of the office and was seen either upside down, turned onto its side, or splintered into various pieces.  In most cases, there were minor to very serious injuries incurred due to these items."

There is a missing link in our high-tech security and blast- and earthquake-resistant buildings, and that is providing for the personal security for the people inside the buildings. 

Should we protect the buildings to save our Structural Capital, or should we protect the Human Capital within the building? Perhaps, if we consider deeply, the answer is both. Employees deserve a safe and secure workplace.  They need a secure place to seek refuge in the event of a total collapse or significant damage to their building.  

Protective office furniture offers a layer of security that hasn't been previously considered. It is personal protection to maximize human survival and minimize casualties in the workplace in the aftermath of a disaster.

What if there is a suite of furniture that would fill this missing link in our continuing efforts to protect our staff? This desk would be anchored down to the concrete studs, thereby preventing it from being a projectile and blocking exits. The desk would be coated in a patented material that will hold it together and stop it from being harmful shrapnel within the office. Lastly, this desk would be fitted with a Personal Protection Pod that can withstand more than 40 tons of ceiling collapse and building rubble and will give the employee a safe haven in the event of a disaster. Unique and innovative - The "Protective Office Furniture System" allows employers to obtain the goal of protecting the Human Capital and thwarting the terrorist objective.

Sue Hoskins is in International Business Development for Gunnar Manufacturing Inc., home of the "Protective Office Furniture System," based in Calgary, AB, and available worldwide. She can be reached at [email protected] or (403) 236-1828 Ext. 228.

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