Yesterday's shooting at the Holocaust Museum was a solemn reminder to us all that hate is still alive and thriving in this "enlightened" age. For the interpreting community, another reminder was broadcast: You are responsible for your own safety.
A colleague of mine was working at the museum where the shootings occurred and was, fortunately, safely ensconced in a bathroom when the shots were being fired. However, it drives home an important point that many interpreters do not consider as we flit from location to location. No one knows where we are. Our loved ones do not know where we are working on almost an given day and even the buildings we enter are frequently unable to account for our presences in the even of an emergency. The fact remains, no one will miss us at roll call when the head counters are going down the lists.
What this means for us is that we have to manage our own safety. That begins with having a plan for contacting your loved ones in the event of an emergency. Did you know that the local phone lines were burdened to the point of uselessness during Katrina and 9/11, but that long distance calls could still be made? Authorities recommend that you plan to touch base with someone outside of the local area and make it known to those who care about you that they should call that designated person if they can't get ahold of you directly.
When entering any facility you should, of course, make yourself aware of the evacuation plan. In DC, many of those buildings are a virtual rat maze and we are usually escorted around the premises. Stop and make sure you know where you are in the building and that you can get out, if necessary. Don't rely on your mental trail of breadcrumbs. Know the exit routes or where the building maps are on the walls. In addition, be on the lookout for any rooms labeled "Shelter in Place". This is where you'll need to go in the event that something is going on outside that makes it unsafe to be on the street (think "chemical attack" or "zombie invasion"). Also, keep an eye out for an AEDs and fire extinguisher. The AED (automatic electrical defribillator) is your best friend in emergencies involving people not breathing. It will help walk you through CPR.
There is a great deal more to think about with emergency planning and I can't emphasize how important this is to do for yourself. Most employees have the luxury of relying on their place of employment to have a well-developed plan for emergency situations. Outside of the DC area, I would be surprised if those places really DO have good plans. Even if they do, you are still an unknown quantity.
Take care of yourself.