COVID-19 has created a new temporary normal of employees working from home, leaving offices mostly empty, with the exception of essential personnel. GuideWell, a health solutions company, is no different. Its main campus in Jacksonville, Florida hosts 7,000 employees on any normal day, prior to COVID-19. Now, the on-campus population is down to only essential personnel. With more than 90 percent of the entire enterprise working from home, most of the buildings on the 90-acre campus resemble mini-ghost towns. Then the GuideWell Safety & Security Department came up with an idea to fill the void once the state and local governments began allowing businesses to reopen, but before phase 1 of re-occupancy commenced. 
Opportune Timing

During a policy and procedure review, the Safety & Security Leadership realized the limited framework in place for active shooter exercises and tabletops could be expanded. They wanted to solidify the process and make the assumptions and injects of the exercises as realistic as possible. Leadership knew that receiving input from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) would be the ideal place to start.

Safety & Security Leadership presented an idea to the rest of GuideWell Leadership on a way to utilize the empty space on campus prior to re-occupancy. It was suggested that JSO use the space to train its special operations units and provide feedback and suggestions believed to aid in law enforcement response to the campus. Safety & Security Leadership presented the goals and mutual benefits GuideWell and JSO would receive from this training collaboration. The officers would be able to provide insight to their response processes, and Safety & Security would be able to use this information to enhance its own incident response structure.

The COVID-19 stay-at-home guidelines presented a unique set of circumstances to accommodate this idea. Normally full office buildings were almost entirely empty, and both Safety & Security and Facilities personnel were available on campus to support and aid in the facilitation of a law enforcement training event. Additionally, the hospitality department had the staffing available to sponsor and provide catering for the occasion.

Why Couldn’t This Have Been Done Before?

Prior to COVID-19, it would have been difficult to conduct large-scale training exercises due to the number of employees on property. And this was not just during business hours, but also off-hours. This foot traffic included, but was not limited to, vendors, external events, intramural sports and departments requiring 24/7 staffing. There were too many opportunities for real confusion, miscommunication, and the possibility someone believing the event was real and not simulated. Secondly, the potential for traumatizing those who had violence in their daily lives was too great. This is a more common manifestation than one might personally imagine. The last thing GuideWell wanted was to cause unnecessary injury to our employees. Lastly, they wanted to minimize the potential risks to people and property. The only other option prior to the COVID-19 quarantine would have been to close a building down for the day, which would have been costly and would have greatly impacted business operations. Prior to COVID-19, the scale of exercises was focused on the drill/tabletop spectrum, expert training/presentations, and third-party assessments to provide familiarization with incident plans, while limiting the risk of negative impacts to the GuideWell population. With that being said, the window to conduct a training event of a larger caliber would not be open for long – at least, not often.

Reaching Out

The GuideWell Safety & Security Leadership Team reached out to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to schedule a walkthrough of the main campus with JSO leadership and brainstorm various training and familiarization exercises for the special operations teams to implement. JSO gladly accepted the invitation and scheduled a tour within the week.

During this tour, several JSO team leaders were provided access to security and facility resources to assist in the development of scenarios for their teams’ training. They also provided the opportunity for JSO team leaders to network with pertinent building personnel for additional familiarization and information sharing.

Preparing GuideWell

The Safety & Security department took measures to communicate with GuideWell employees about plans for hosting JSO training events on campus. It posted an announcement on the intranet page so those working from home could still be a part of the story and received strong support from the employees and GuideWell leadership for these events. Due to essential personnel still being present on property, Safety & Security created signage to post at the entry gates to the campus, reminding employees to expect a large law enforcement presence on property, as well as building closure signage for the buildings in use during these events. Security personnel were posted at the entries of the buildings in use in order to answer any questions from employees and to reinforce the safety measures in place. Following each event, photos of training were posted to the intranet for employees to see and comment on.

Training Days

During the month of May, JSO held eight unique training events over the course of five days on GuideWell’s main Jacksonville campus.

The use of this space allowed various areas of JSO’s Homeland Security Division to conduct tactical training to sharpen their skills for use out in the field.

SWAT members, K-9 teams and the Bomb Squad practiced search techniques in unfamiliar layouts among other strategies that are implemented during incidents. Additionally, members of JSO’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Unit reinforced their flying skills and tested the range of drones on the property to ensure operational efficiency.

Benefits for JSO

Through this collaborative training partnership, JSO was afforded safe, secure, air-conditioned space (this one was significantly emphasized by the officers) to conduct its training. Officers were able to use new layouts and create nuance training scenarios to keep their tactics flexible with unfamiliar situations. This aided in increasing the officers’ understanding of the campus and building layouts for ease of navigation, should a response to the campus be warranted. JSO officers and team leaders were able to acquaint themselves with GuideWell key players in the event of an emergency and learn the established incident response processes. As part of this familiarization, JSO officers learned who GuideWell’s armed uniformed and plainclothes Safety & Security personnel were and how to recognize them in the event of a response to GuideWell property. They agreed the facility was of great use to provide a different training environment to feel confident in the event they need to respond to the campus. They would be able to navigate the buildings and the campus itself with greater ease than before the training. Having off-sites are beneficial to improving their training and reducing complacency. This opportunity also reinforced their goodwill with the GuideWell community.

Benefits for GuideWell

Since this was an unprecedented and unique opportunity, the Safety & Security Leadership Team was unsure how well this collaboration would be accepted throughout the GuideWell community. However, several employees and GuideWell Leadership members reached out to thank JSO for its service and participation in this project. This collaboration allowed for an increased familiarity with the JSO officers and their processes. The Safety & Security Leadership Team believes it also helped positively reinforce police presence on GuideWell property and facilitated goodwill between the officers and the employees.

The Safety & Security department received valuable feedback from JSO on how it could better assist its units’ response to the campus. Since the training collaborative, Safety & Security has vastly improved its First Response resources to facilitate ease of familiarization with the campus layout and seamless communication with both GuideWell Safety & Security personnel and its Security Operations Center. The kits also include the contact information for all pertinent Safety & Security and Facilities managers for the campus. It was also able to utilize the information received to aid in the development of drills and tabletops with more accurate assumptions pertaining to JSO response and processes. Moving forward, the Safety & Security Leadership Team will continue to seek out unique opportunities for collaboration with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and reinforce their public safety/private enterprise partnership.

What You Can Do

Companies large and small may not be fully back to normal operations for some time. Why not use this opportunity to build bridges with your local law enforcement agencies and promote a positive relationship that reinforces goodwill and collaboration? Law enforcement agencies are always looking to find new ways to train and reinforce problem-solving in new, safe environments. This COVID-19 “temporary normal” is the perfect time to review policies and procedures and test them for efficacy. One of the best ways to see if a procedure works is to challenge it, or better yet, have someone unfamiliar with the procedure challenge it. Even if your organization is unable to hold more large-scale exercises, you can still develop drills or tabletops to reinforce security training. Additionally, you can still reach out to your local law enforcement and request a representative to come by for a walkthrough and provide feedback on where your organization may be able to provide further support to law enforcement response. Any steps that can be made to improve your current security structure and/or public safety/private enterprise partnership is an excellent way to fill the void.