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Unspeakable Tragedy

When the news came, it was unexpected as it was unwelcomed. A source was calling on the phone to tell me there had been a shooting at a Lehigh Hanson quarry in California. My worst fears were confirmed when I went to CNN’s website, and there it was as breaking news, in garish type at the top of the site.

By now, the statistics are widely known: Three people killed and six wounded. A seventh victim, from an attempted carjacking after the incident, was also admitted to a hospital. And the man who pulled the trigger? Dead as well. He killed himself during a shootout with sheriff’s deputies.

It was – and is – an unspeakable tragedy. These things happen in other industries, at other companies; not in the aggregates industry, not at a quarry.

The 911 calls from the plant that day are available online, and the pleas for help are chilling. If you own, operate or manage a quarry, I recommend that you listen to them, and immediately ask yourself, “Could the same thing happen here?”

The fact that the answer is “Yes, it could,” is not easy to face up to, but it is something worth meditating upon as you assess your operation. If it happened, what would you do?

Who would make that 911 call? What plans would go into action? What procedures and protocols would kick in to immediately deal with such a crisis as soon as it happened?

From all reports, it appears there were plans in place at Lehigh Hanson’s Permanente cement plant and quarry, and they quickly moved to implement them. In the midst of a chaotic and unstable situation, they stepped up and sprang into action. That effort no doubt saved more lives from being lost and helped the police initiate the manhunt that led to the death of the man responsible for the shooting.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and I’m sure people will second-guess themselves, wondering if there was something they should have noticed in advance – some sign that something might happen. The truth is, you never know what’s going to happen. All you can do is expect the unexpected, and prepare for the worst.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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Member: Construction Writers Association