Exercise Evaluation | Risk

Ask the Expert: What Can Fire Extinguishers Tell You About Organizational Risk?

March 6, 2020 | 2 min read
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If you’re a security consultant, this has probably happened to you. You’re conducting a security assessment, and right in the middle of the interview it starts occurring to you that something isn’t quite right here. Either the organization isn’t as secure as it says, or it isn’t as secure as it thinks. How can you quickly tell you’re dealing with a high-risk organization without going through the entire assessment process first? When this happens to me, I ask for a tour of the facility. Then I check the fire extinguishers. The inspection dates usually tell me everything I need to know. Companies that don't do monthly fire extinguisher checks have been the highest-risk companies I’ve done business with. Ask the Expert: How Can I Improve My Guard Force?

Why the fire extinguishers?

Fire extinguishers should be visually inspected monthly, and undergo a full maintenance inspection once a year. These are common, routine inspections, required by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the fire codes. Because it's such a basic inspection, when monthly fire extinguisher checks are neglected, it’s often a sign that the organization is unprepared for emergencies in other areas. It happens in more organizations than you’d think. I’ve run across uninspected labs in all kinds of businesses, including major scientific labs, and it’s always been a signal that other security measures need to be examined in detail. Ask the Expert: How Can I Prepare For an Active Shooter?

The extinguishers haven’t been inspected. What next?

Uninspected fire extinguishers are a sign of a process problem: either there is no process governing fire extinguishers, or the process has broken down. Your next step as a consultant should be to ask questions about the organization’s procedures and processes, going into as much detail as possible. Usually the person I’m talking to is surprised by the lack of inspections, so it’s important to find out who owns — or is supposed to own — that procedure and other security procedures. If you’re not a consultant, but an in-house security professional, what do you do when you find your fire extinguishers aren’t inspected? Your next steps will be to find some time to start reviewing your own policies. You may be so busy that you haven’t been able to be proactive, but it’s important to set up processes – like inspections — that will allow you to quickly and safely respond to emergencies when they occur. If your security organization has been more reactive than proactive, it may be a good idea to bring in an outside consultant who will help you prioritize processes and procedures. Want more important security information and news delivered straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our blog.

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