Over the years, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. has continued to increase. Year after year, researchers and psychologists continue to try to understand the triggers that flip the switch inside a person, whether they be social, psychological, or economic circumstances.
U.S. government statistics help illustrate the seriousness of the problem.
- According to the National Safety Council, every year, millions of American workers report having been victims of workplace violence.
- In 2020, workplace assaults resulted in 20,050 injuries and 392 fatalities, according to Injury Facts®.
- The NSC 2020 Safety Technology in the Workplace Survey shows: 22% of workers surveyed reported being exposed to workplace violence.
- The most dangerous profession is healthcare with nearly 75% of workplace assaults occurring in a healthcare setting.
- Despite many employees working remotely in the relative safety of their homes, those who have continued to work on-site during the pandemic have faced increasing levels of violence.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 233 mass shootings recorded in the first five months of 2022. In that same time period, gun violence has accounted for more than 18,000 deaths.
As more facilities begin to reopen and operate at full capacity, facility managers (FMs) should initiate processes and safety measures to help keep their occupants safe.
To note, mass shootings are defined as shootings in which four or more people are killed or injured, not counting the perpetrator.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance on how employees should react in an active shooter situation. Wallet-sized cards are downloadable from the DHS website.
Running out of the building is the best option, if possible. Hiding can also be an effective strategy. Stay out of the shooter’s view and lock doors; silence cell phones and pagers. The DHS recommends that non-law enforcement personnel attempt to incapacitate the shooter as a last resort, and only if his or her life is in danger.
Identify an escape route and leave belongings behind. If within sight of the shooter, run in zig-zag patterns while looking for cover.
If on a higher floor, take the stairs, not the elevator; if on a lower floor, be prepared to jump through a window.
Look around for the two nearest exits. If you’re in an office or room, stay there and secure the door.
If you have time to choose a hideout, look for a room near the elevator core, especially if they can be barricaded. These rooms often have load bearing walls that bullets cannot penetrate.
Confront the shooter only as a last resort.
If you have a weapon, attempt to incapacitate the shooter.
Act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.
Working with Law Enforcement During an Active Shooter Situation
An active shooter situation is an extremely stressful and confusing situation. When your employees encounter law enforcement personnel, it’s important that they remain calm and follow instructions. Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating.
To avoid cases of mistaken identity, your employees should:
- Put down any items in their hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
- Raise hands and spread fingers
- Keep hands visible at all times
- Avoid quick movements toward officers such as holding on to them for safety
- Avoid pointing, screaming, or yelling
Employees should also be prepared to share any relevant information they may have with law enforcement, such as the location of the active shooter or shooters, number and type of weapons held by shooters, or the number of potential victims at the location.
An active shooter preparedness plan should be part of every company’s planning for emergencies, in the same way that we plan for other emergencies such as fire evacuation, severe weather, and bomb threats. This plan should include training for employees in how to respond to active shooter situations, as well as enhanced security practices that can make the workplace safer for your employees and visitors to your facility.
Assess the facility and its perimeter. See what can be done to make the facility more secure within and around the building. Consider facility modifications, such as means of egress or ways to secure doors. Ensure that meeting room doors can be secured from the inside. Determine whether any additional security staff should be hired or whether additional security equipment like cameras, keypads, or sensors should be installed.
Controlling Access to Your Building
Create a system for receiving guests and don’t allow visitors to gain entry with another employee or guest’s pass. Use unique and separate ID badges for staff and visitors. Restrict access to your office with locked or guarded paths of entry. Employees or staff should accompany visitors from the entrance areas to their locations.
Examine Personal Belongings Brought Into Your Office
The security checkpoint should also have a system for checking each new visitor’s belongings when visiting your office or building areas. This is a great safeguard against unwanted weapons being brought onto facilities, as well as other unwanted items like drugs, alcohol, and beyond.
Keep Operational and Functional Areas Off-Limits
Storage rooms, boiler rooms, telephone and utility closets, and other potential hiding places should be locked or off-limits to visitors. These areas can be great for criminals to hide contraband or themselves in preparation for an attack. Operational facilities can also be sabotaged to set off sprinklers, phone lines, or disabled phone lines.
Invest in a Workplace Security System
Door alarms can help prevent unauthorized use of emergency door exits or motion detectors to protect equipment and products from theft. Video surveillance can include digital video monitoring, coding, storage, and data analytics.
Emergency Action Plan
The Department of Homeland Security has developed an Emergency Action Plan Guide that helps companies train their employees to recognize behaviors on the Pathway to Violence, create a system for reporting that is tailored to your organization, and develop intervention capabilities to appropriately evaluate potential threats. Some companies and institutions also conduct mock training exercises with local law enforcement
Keep Your Eyes Open
As FMs regularly walk through the facility, be on the lookout for anything different in terms of people’s behavior and anything out of place in the facility, like items left in the hallways, furniture that has been moved, etc. These observations may be valuable in identifying security vulnerabilities or employees that may become a threat.
“Pathways to Violence” Training
In many cases, the perpetrators of these crimes have turned out to be current or former employees of the company or institution where the crime occurs. A majority were mentally troubled—and many displayed signs of mental health problems before setting out to kill.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Pathway to Violence Video provides information regarding the behavior indicators that assailants often demonstrate before a violent act. It includes law enforcement expert interviews that discusses engagement strategies and recommended responses. This video can be uses to train your organization to recognize the indicators of someone on a pathway to violence.
Some of these indicators include:
- Sudden and/or increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Unexplained increase in absenteeism or a pattern of vague complaints
- Depression or withdrawal such as severe mood swings and noticeably unstable or emotional responses
- Talking about wanting to kill others and/or themselves
- Talking about violence, firearms, and/or other dangerous weapons
Do Zero Tolerance Policies Make Sense?
Many companies have adopted Zero Tolerance Policies for all of their employees. Obviously, no company should tolerate unlawful harassment, dishonesty, workplace violence, bullying, or discrimination.
However, having a Zero or “No” Tolerance for such behavior might make employees more reluctant to report issues when they know that a single violation will cost a coworker their job.
These policies may also make it more difficult for supervisors, managers and HR to weigh the seriousness of the offense, mitigating factors, the history of the employees involved, and the appropriateness of the selected responses. It also might result in litigation if the employee does not receive some form of due process.
Workplace Safety & Health Law Blog
Best Practices When Firing Potentially Violent Employees
In some cases, the employee’s behavior may warrant termination. In those cases, it is important for HR Departments to follow an established protocol for how the termination is done:
- Consider a professional threat assessment.
- Consider using a neutral manager or outside security consultant to carry out the termination.
- If there is manager or supervisor who has been the object of threats or anger, that person should not be the person to conduct the termination.
- Have security nearby – not in the same office, but close enough to hear signs of a problem and to act.
- Do not take a break. There are numerous instances of an employee asking for a bathroom break or time to compose him- or herself, and using the break to retrieve weapons.
- Wait until the end of the workday to terminate, if possible. This protects the dignity of the fired employee and minimizes the number of employees on hand should a situation escalate.
- Minimize any reasons why the employee would have to revisit the workplace. Mail a check; have uncollected belongings sent to the person’s home via a delivery service.
- Allow the person as much dignity as possible, but be brief and to the point. Do not get into a back and forth.
- Emphasize any severance benefits and outsourcing help that may be available. Some organizations decide they will not contest unemployment or offer the option of resigning.
Many large facilities have multiple vendors working alongside your employees and visitors. The employees of these companies have access to sensitive facilities and some of them may represent a potential threat to your employees.
Applicants should follow these best practices for hiring personnel who will work at your facility:
Criminal Background Checks
The vendor should do comprehensive criminal background check on all applicants in all 50 states.
Confirm the Legal Right to Work in the U.S.
The company should use E-Verify to confirm the applicant’s status as a citizen or legal resident and examine all identity documents to prevent forgeries.
Pre-Hire Online Personality Evaluations
These assessments can help identify applicants who may have a difficult time getting along with other team members or who have negative attitudes about work.
Requiring Uniforms & Badges
Your staff should be able to tell at a glance that the person is a vendor’s employee. The company should maintain a list of currently badged employees that your HR staff can access online on demand.
When an employee stops working for your vendor, the company should maintain a protocol for collecting identification, uniforms, keys, and any other items that would give them access to your facilities.