At Kennewick Irrigation District (KID), security is top of mind. In recent years, the district has participated in several staff safety trainings and implemented important new safety measures in its new building. KID has twice hosted Officer Philip Ball, a police-training specialist and owner of the Situational Awareness Institute, to train KID staff on active-shooter prevention and survival and verbal de-escalation. These training sessions educate employees on the importance of safety and how to stay protected during a crisis. The active-shooter training teaches staff what characteristics and signs to look for in a potential active shooter, how to report the problem, how to stay protected while waiting for authorities, and what the authorities will do when arriving to the workplace to ensure staff safety.

The verbal de-escalation portion of this training teaches staff how to speak to an upset or angry customer in a way that will help calm them down. In the past, customers have become angry over malfunctioning irrigation systems or because they have not understood how their system works; these situations have sometimes escalated to yelling. In the exercise, each employee has to practice calming down the trainer, who plays the role of the angry customer. At the end, the trainer provides feedback and tips, such as what words to use or not to use when calming down a customer.

A third part of KID’s training program is a tabletop exercise for leadership staff who would be directly involved in an emergency such as a canal breach. The exercise ensures that each staff member understands his or her role and the communication that would need to take place during such a situation. It also provides an opportunity to practice using KID’s disaster manual. During the exercise, staff adopted the roles that they would play in an emergency, including incident commander, public information officer, liaison officer, safety officer, operations section chief, and finance/ administrative section chief, and learned about the tasks appropriate to each position. This exercise helped KID management identify any weak spots in the district’s organizational structure, in its internal communication, and in its communication with public saftey agencies.

As a follow-up to the tabletop exercise, KID developed an emergency-response trailer structured for emergency events in the field, such as a canal breach or canal overtopping. The trailer is designed to be used as a central command center and onsite meeting place for staff during an emergency. It is equipped with all the safety gear and equipment that would be necessary in an emergancy situation, including backup equipment, lights, signs, and radios, as well as management business cards to use if members of the media approach staff for story coverage. This helps staff to stay safe, organized, and prepared for any emergency that may arise.

KID management also holds an annual staff training on the district’s disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Staff are broken into groups with department managers and receive a disaster-preparedness and recovery plan manual, which addresses potential disasters such as bomb threats, fires, power failures, the release of toxic chemicals and fumes, and natural disasters. The manual includes information on possible incidents, checklists for how to report and respond to threats, and maps of where staff should meet after an evacuation. It also lists the members and points of contact of KID’s disaster action team, which is responsible for reporting and responding to emergencies.

KID also paid close attention to security during the design of our new building in 2015. Our building is a hard target, from the concrete benches placed outside the building to doors that are kept locked at all times. Employees are required to wear name badges with photo ID and enter with a key through the employee entrance. All visitors who enter the building are escorted. The building also has a security system that is activated after all staff leave at the end of each day. An unauthorized entrant who does not enter the security code in the allotted amount of time triggers an alarm, which then alerts our security company as well as the police. Automatic control gates were also installed to protect KID’s building material, work trucks, and field equipment.

Finally, KID has installed a panic button system. This consists of wireless buttons placed in strategic locations in the building that activate a transmitter that alerts authorities that danger is present. The panic buttons can be mounted anywhere: under a desk or counter, on a wall, behind a door, or anywhere staff can easily access during an emergency. When the buttons are pressed, they send a message to the control panel, alerting the security company. The security company will then call the office. If possible, staff will verbally verify the cause of the alarm. If there is no answer, the security company will dispatch the local police.

The KID board of directors has invested in a new building, annual trainings, and security measures because employee safety is its number-one concern. These necessary and effective steps have educated our staff to be as prepared as they can be.

Shelbea Voelker is the public relations coordinator at Kennewick Irrigation District. She can be reached at