They didn’t teach me this in college

The recent and tragic killing spree in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris this past week represent far more than an attack on freedom of the press.

It is certainly arguable that every company owner and CEO could lose sleep from the vulnerability that most offices have. Even those buildings with lobby security would most likely be powerless to defend against the type of onslaught that happened in the magazine’s office in Paris.

In fact, for me, this tragic event brings back vivid memories of a building lockdown event that I and all of those in our company at that time experienced.

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Our office gun scare occurred several years ago and just days after one of those senseless killings at an east coast elementary school. Of course everyone nationwide was on high alert and felt high anxiety from the sense of vulnerability that these situations cause.

In our case, what was in fact a false alarm of a gun sighting, turned into a total multi-story building lockdown and a full-force presence from what appeared to be every department of our local police force. I would estimate that easily 20 police vehicles surrounded the building. Officers of all sizes and shapes piled out of their cars, strapped on vests, helmets and tactical gear. Including a full armament of shot guns, rifles and AK 47s.

Our office manager received an employee tip and astutely and quickly figured out that the situation was a false alarm. Before knowing that, however, we made certain that all of the doors accessing our office space were locked. But, that couldn’t address fire stairwells that were accessible inside our offices. We couldn’t be certain what the entry point would be. And, we worked to get everyone into outside offices with doors that locked.

Assuming (and hoping) then, that anyone would enter through the main lobby entrance of our space, I positioned myself there to greet them, hopefully, before they swarmed our office. Our office manager was gutsy enough to jump on the elevator to ride to the ground floor to explain the situation and the false alarm.

When the elevator door opened on the first floor, she was met by more officers than she could count. Every one of them with drawn weapons.

While this played out downstairs, I waited in our lobby, trying to act calm. Not doing a real good job of it, though.   And, with cell phone in hand in case of a quick call. Then, suddenly, I noticed the barrel of a rifle slowly protrude into view along the outside wall leading into our lobby.

Needless to say, what part of me wasn’t already frozen, froze. In an instant, a young officer jumped into full view and squared up on me. Her AK 47 assault rifle pointed square at the middle of my forehead.

There was clearly a look of fear in her eyes which did not leave me with a great degree of confidence, to say the least.

As calmly as I could, I slowly raised my hands and told her that I was one of the good guys. At that, she relaxed enough that the rifle was no longer pointed at my head. I was then able to explain the situation which was confirmed and resolved within a couple of minutes after that.

Thank heavens that our situation was a false alarm. Even so, I had plenty of head noise for a few nights after that with visions of gun barrels and red laser dots dancing on my head.

Did we handle this situation correctly? Perhaps. Perhaps partially. Maybe we got it right. In any case, they didn’t teach me how to deal with a gun scare and a fully armed tactical assault team in school.

Have you had any similar experience? How would you have handled this scenario? Should executives be taking steps to better secure their offices and facilities?

Note: If you have an interesting and/or educational CEO story of Head Noise caliber, write to me at I’d love to speak with you and share your story in my Head Noise blog. You can tell your story either on the record or, without attribution.

Cameron Bishop is a partner with The Capitus Group. The firm provides comprehensive business value enhancement and transition strategy solutions. Partners and Advisory Directors comprise an experienced team of business professionals who have successfully owned, run, grown and sold companies. Capitus utilizes proven value enhancement and risk reduction techniques to enable superior transition options.



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