Thinking the unthinkable

June 26, 2015

In a former life, I wrote articles about church leadership and management, including the topic of church security. The experts I interviewed shared information about how congregations can prevent threats and effectively respond to trouble when it occurs.

These security experts invariably observed that the first barrier they had to tackle in raising awareness was the attitude held by church leaders that “it can’t/won’t happen to us.” This attitude persists, even in the wake of high-profile incidents on church property. In one sense, this attitude is understandable. Who wants to consider the possibility of pure evil visiting your doorstep? Who wants to think the unthinkable?

But in today’s world, in businesses and organizations ranging from non-profit social justice organizations to pickle factories, serious thought is being devoted to self-protection. At its root, this is a matter of how to assess risk.

There are plenty of theories afoot about how to conduct such a risk analysis, but whichever scheme is used, its success or failure depends largely on the ability to see the possibilities, and that includes the things you don’t think will ever occur, the things you really don’t want to see.

There are two attitudes that most inhibit our ability to think the unthinkable. The first is naïveté, which is especially applicable when assessing the threat of malicious attack: “We’re a well-respected company/organization/set of people, everyone knows it and no one would ever do us harm. It won’t happen to us.”

The second attitude is complacency: “Nothing has happened yet, and we have a set of safeguards in place that are working. It can’t happen to us.”

When Paula Marshall, CEO of The Bama Companies spoke at this year’s Northwest Food Processors Association conference, she served the audience a cold, hard truth.

The problem with naïveté and complacency, as Marshall explained, is that a company can never completely eliminate the possibility that someone, for whatever reason, will try to do it harm.

The threats can be more than human malfeasance. More often, they are of a microbial nature. The same two attitudinal pitfalls, naïveté and complacency, can trip up a food company here as well.

Yes, you can lose your entire year’s crop, and your company, too.

Yes, you can have your entire product line recalled in one fell swoop.

Yes, someone can incorrectly accuse you of trying to sell a deep-fried rat (as recently happened to KFC).

Yes, it can happen to you.

If I were to compare the two professional environments of which I have the most working knowledge — the produce industry and the local church — the church is lagging behind. My church still doesn’t have a real security plan in place, complete with professional assessment of the building and grounds and ushers with security training.

Produce processing companies are much farther ahead. I hope your company is more than ready to deal with the worst that can happen, to the point that if it actually should happen, you’ll be more prepared than surprised.

Lee Dean, editorial director



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