GRAND HAVEN — Donn Huisken likens it to a fire drill at school.
The idea is that if the fire bell ever rings for a real emergency, you know what to do and where to go.
But what do you do if an irate customer, an armed robber or a hostile former employee who’s just been terminated suddenly confronts you? The key to handling the situation is planning ahead and, just like you did in elementary school with a fire drill that prepared you for the real thing, going through an exercise that allows you to learn and plan the proper way to react.
“You can’t put your company in an iron box, but you can identify where your company is vulnerable and form a plan,” said Huisken, a former Michigan State Police commander and instructor who’s putting his professional experience to work teaching companies how to deal with critical situations such as a threatening person, a fire or natural disaster.
Huisken formed Dutchman Investigations & Security about a month ago. As a private investigator he performs employee background checks and other investigations. He’s also a security consultant and instructor who provides seminars on how to identify and mitigate threats and plan for and manage critical situations.
He does so by having his clients go through a mental exercise where they play out a critical situation — such as a robbery, fire or tornado — that can suddenly plunge the workplace into chaos. The goal is for a company to identify lines of command and communication to use if something happens, how to react to the situation, and to help people understand how they can manage the fear, stress and panic they naturally feel when confronted by a dangerous situation and how their decisions are affected by it.
Huisken’s job, he said, “is to teach people how to think.”
“You’ve got to impose structure on the whole situation,” Huisken said. “If you take the time and do the mental scenarios, you’re not in chaos anymore.”
The 52-year-old Huisken started the company after concluding there was a need for his services.
Since retiring from the State Police in February 1998, he has worked handling security for the family of the late Robert Van Kampen, a wealthy philanthropist whose endeavors included developing the Scriptorium collection of ancient Bibles and manuscripts in Grand Haven.
Huisken decided that the lessons he had taught Van Kampen and his organization were useful to other businesses.
“Things were going so well, I thought, geez, why not take the same program and teach it to businesses and companies. It’s the same thing,” Huisken said.
A native of Marne, Huisken began his law enforcement career in 1971 after graduating from the Michigan State Police Academy. The son of a career state trooper, Huisken lived all over the state growing up, as his father, Arend, was transferred from one post to another. He recalls attending four different grade schools, each time entering a new class in the middle of the school year.
The family eventually settled in Lansing, where Huisken spent a few years after high school doing odd jobs before deciding to pursue a career with the State Police. He spent his first eight years of his career working road patrol before he was promoted to sergeant and then to shift supervisor.
In 1980, he was accepted in the State Police Emergency Support Team, a group of officers who specialize in handling the most serious of police actions: Barricaded gunmen, hostage situations, hazardous arrests, anti-terrorist response and dignitary security.
He spent four years as a tactical officer and hostage negotiator before being promoted in 1984 to assistant team commander. He was promoted to team commander in 1986.
As a police officer, Huisken often saw the terror in victims he tried to help. He also became intrigued early in his career with how he and others around him reacted to fear and began studying his and their reactions, as well as how criminals react.
He calls police work “the perfect laboratory for studying fear and critical management.”
During his tenure as team commander, Huisken developed the State Police’s Critical Incident Management program that was designed to teach officers how to manage fear and, in turn, manage themselves and impose structure on volatile situations. The program also was taught to police dispatchers, prison guards and officials, and potential victims of hostage situations.
Using his theory, Huisken rewrote standard operating procedures in critical incidents for the State Police, the state Department of Corrections and other state agencies.
After his promotion to Grand Haven Post commander in 1992, Huisken continued to teach the program to police officers and businesses. One of the businesses was Van Kampen’s.
Huisken recalls that after a follow-up session held months later on how to set up a security program, Van Kampen mentioned how he’d like to hire someone to handle security. That led to further discussions and eventually an offer to become the head of security for Van Kampen.
While retiring for the State Police wasn’t a serious consideration at the time, Huisken decided that the opportunity was one he couldn’t pass up.
“He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.
Huisken, the father of three children, continued to work for the family part-time after Van Kampen’s death in October 1999, before deciding to form Dutchman Investigations & Security to offer his knowledge and experience to help others help themselves.
“If it’s one thing I’ve got, it’s experience. I’ve got oodles of experience,” he said.