Safety in the Workplace – Perpetrators of workplace shootings

Lost in the myriad of the news stories this weekend as we celebrated our independence was a spate
of unfortunate incidents of murder-suicide in the workplace. On Friday, in Belton, Missouri, a
Kansas City man shot and killed his estranged wife outside her place of employment then killed
himself a short time later. On Sunday, in Killeen, TX, a soldier killed his wife inside a Dollar
General store as customers looked on before killing himself. There were several other similar
unfortunate incidents over the weekend that occurred inside homes and apartment complexes. As
we see in the first two instances, there is little that can be done to control domestic problems from
following an employee to work. The question becomes how do we protect and notify our employees
and alert emergency services as quickly as possible? At SafeDefend Systems we think of this
everyday and have the answer.

The FBI recently released updated information (2014-2015) on active shooter incidents in the United
States. Unfortunately, instances of violence in schools and the workplace are steadily increasing.
Some of the startling information that needs to be pointed out applies specifically to the work
environment. We know from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 86% of workplace homicides occur
in privately owned businesses. The media focuses on those stories that occur in a public entity
where a grievance against government function is expressed. The reality is that the violence starts
much closer to the people we know. From the FBI report we have learned that 95% of perpetrators
of violence in businesses closed to the public are current or former employees. The other 5% is
generally made up of those involved in a domestic relationship with an employee. These are
considered your manufacturing, technology driven, or processing businesses with no direct customer
interaction. Employees from these businesses have left behind information on a variety of reasons
for undertaking a rampage. Notions of unfair discipline, termination, ridicule from coworkers,
perceived mistreatment for promotion, failure to receive a raise, love triangles, and domestic discord
to name a few have all been cited by perpetrators. Unlike school shootings, the suspect does not
often drop clues to the plan and often act after some triggered event. There appears to be a growing
trend to resolve problems with violence that is unforeseen in our country. What steps have you
taken to thwart an intruder that knows your day to day business operations?

In response to the increase in violence, companies have undertaken steps to reinforce the workplace
against an intruder. Enhanced fencing, camera surveillance and controlled access doors are the norm
for such an approach. Most of the shootings we have seen recently already have these in place. The
Naval Shipyard shooting is a prime example of how all the money thrown toward security cannot
prevent a determined employee from committing an atrocity. What is missing in each of these
incidents is the ability to notify staff and building occupants of a threat. As we have seen in
workplace shootings such as Excel Industries or Atlantis Plastics, for example, is that the shooting
started outside and the perpetrator then entered the building to continue the rampage. Office staff
were able to start the calls to 911 but there was no ability to notify employees inside the building.
This lack of notification cost lives. We are able to go back and watch videos of employees going
about their normal routine with no idea that the threat was literally walking up behind them.
Employees deserve to feel safe and secure at work. Companies have an obligation to notify their
personnel to a threat inside the building and provide accurate information on how to seek shelter and
safety. If you don’t have a means to do this you aren’t protecting your staff.

Safety Tips for the Virtual Classroom

Due to the Covid19 pandemic the change to our communities has been immense.  We are all working to keep our children safe.  With this in mind, as the new school year starts, there are several schools that are maintaining the at home learning programs.  Here are a few ideas that can easily be implemented to protect students.  School districts do a good job of keeping safety and security a priority.   Online safety is just as critical.  It is the job of the schools make sure that networks are free from hacking, threats from viruses are limited and access is controlled to staff and students.  Parents need to step up and make sure they are protecting their children while at home in the new virtual classroom.

We do not often think of the background behind us when we are connecting to our online meetings.  Privacy is a big threat if we aren’t careful.  When our children log on from their rooms the entire world can see things that might not need to be shared.  Messy rooms, hobbies, collectibles, discarded trash and any other embarrassing items could be used against a child.  Bullies, predators, and blackmailers have often compromised someone based solely on embarrassing information.  There are numerous examples of this online of unwitting victims revealing too much from a zoomed in reflection of a mirror, something left on the floor or an open closet door.  Parents need to realize the role as protector includes limiting the exposure the world has inside the bedroom of their children.  I strongly recommend that all students sit with their backs to a wall or in a less private room when taking online courses.  Those savvier computer users upload an imaginary background which is a feature of most online meeting platforms.

Parents should make sure their children know how to use the functions of the online meeting program.  We think of our children as being computer literate but often they are only simple users.  Demonstrating how to toggle camera and microphone buttons is a simple skill that is sometimes lost on children.  Keeping the microphone/camera off when listening to the teacher is a must.  Unless directed otherwise, the default should be for these to be off.  This can prevent unwanted humiliation from something being yelled in a household or a family member appearing on camera.  Whenever possible it is best if students conduct online learning in an open area of the house.  They will tend to be less distracted by phones, games, or television if they are being supervised by an adult.  An inexpensive set of earbuds or headphones will prevent them from being distracted by other family members.  Turned off cameras will focus students on the teacher and not the actions of all the other students.  We need to demonstrate the importance of remote learning and teach our children this is a skill that can be honed for later use in life either from online college courses, remote meetings or other virtual training.

The world is rapidly changing in order to meet the health and safety needs of the community.  The new way of learning and communicating comes with both pros and cons.  Protecting privacy, reducing opportunities for exploitation and enhancing the ability to learn remotely need to all be balanced for our students.  The school administrators will be diligent in their efforts to keep students safe.  Parents play an important role in protecting their individual children.

Police Reform will Impact School Security Preparedness

With the recent attention on law enforcement there has been an increase in the desire of communities to change the way police interact with citizens.  Minneapolis recently voted to disband the current policing system and attempt a transformation to a more civic minded approach.  New York City is looking to cut more than a billion from the police budget.  Denver public schools has cancelled all the assigned SROs across the district.  As these measures impact police agencies across the country there will be a pull back by police administrators to reign in less essential officers.  This could directly impact the number of school resource officers available to work within the schools.  Other communities with strong opinions of the police are starting to demand police be removed from schools altogether.  This inevitably will lead to a perception that are schools are less safe.  Schools across the country have operated without SROs for years, but most have taken proactive steps to increase the security within those schools.

Removing police from schools might accomplish political and societal objectives at the expense of security.  As administrators balance the different ideological goals it is important to remember that on site security personnel is not the only solution.  Impowering staff and enhancing notification is a cost effective and simple solution that can accomplish the same objective.  All staff need to have the ability to make a simple notification that will immediately alert emergency responders while at the same time notifying building occupants of a hostile intruder.  They should also have the necessary response options in the form of classroom protection and trauma response in the event an attack occurs.  Police officers in the building have not completely prevented intruders from harming students and staff in the past but a quick response by local police is still needed.  Removal of these officers will reduce the perception of security, but this can easily be replaced with a notification and response system that is directly connected to local responders.

It is understood that an officer in the building has a direct cost to the school or police agency.  Salaries, vehicles and equipment are recurring costs that must be budgeted for in order to have a police presence.  A replacement notification and response system is a one time expense.  The cost savings is a benefit while at the same time having the ability to empower teachers is a positive improvement to security.  Students will see that a system exists for quick lock down. Teachers and staff will be trained on response.  Parents will be informed of the new security and ability to quickly obtain a building lockdown while simultaneously alerting responders to the exact location of the crisis in the school.  Adding an alert system can easily off set the loss of an on site officer while increasing the benefit to the students, staff and responders.

SAFEDEFEND™ is a system that fundamentally changes the response to school threats.  With the touch of a finger we can alert police, notify building occupants, and provide accurate information exactly where in the building the threat is taking place.  Responding officers are given exact room, hallway, building, and address information so they know where to go once inside.  Staff are informed where the threat is so they can avoid that area and make the best decision to barricade or exit.  Saving lives is based on quick notification to everyone.

Alarms installed for School Safety should not be Silent

There is always room for discussion when it comes to school safety.  We need to look at other areas of security and determine how those apply to the school setting.  Our schools are too porous to apply the same model used in federal, state and local government buildings.  Window laminates slow the entry into a building but they aren’t bullet proof and can slow the exit as well.  More importantly, most school shootings start inside and the window laminate could slow a law enforcement response.  Alarms accomplish the two most important components when it comes to reducing casualties in schools; quick notification to police and alert to building occupants to lock down.  If you make alarms silent you remove the ability to notify staff to initiate the lockdown protocol.

Alarms are deployed all over for a variety of purposes.  Bank alarms address the threat of an intruder whose sole purpose is usually to quickly get money and escape.  There isn’t a direct intent to harm others.  The silent alarm works to inform police and allow them to respond and set up a perimeter.  Hopefully, the robber will flee and be apprehended on the exterior.  Police rarely enter a robbery location until they can make a determination that the incident won’t escalate into a hostage situation or worse a shootout.  The point of the silent alarm is to alert police without tipping the criminal that help has been summoned.

In the case of a home alarm a burglar is the most common type of intruder.  In this situation it is important to understand we want to alert the intruder that police are coming.  If the home is either unoccupied or occupied the hope is the criminal will flee upon hearing the audible alarm.  The alarm being set off and heard means that those inside have just been alerted to the threat and the police have been notified. The goal is to halt any further negative actions.

The same principle for alarms is used in a fire emergency.  By activating the alarm the building occupants are notified and responding emergency services personnel are informed.  Those inside can take steps to protect themselves knowing that help is on the way.  This same philosophy that should be applied to school safety.

When it comes to school alarms we want to follow the model of the burglar and fire alarm.  The alert should be universal.  Everyone in the building should hear and see some type of audible and visual signal that a threat exists in the building.  The activation of the alarm system will reassure those present that law enforcement are responding.  No time needs to be taken to attempt 911 calls or making public announcements because the alarm has done that for them.  The only concern is getting to safety.  Whether that is securing a barricade in a room or exiting the building the objective is to keep the casualties as small as possible.  If a silent alarm is used the students, faculty and visitors inside a school are unaware of the threat to their safety.  A hostile intruder that enters a school with a weapon has only nefarious intent and knows what they are doing.  We should announce to the world that a threat has taken place and provide as much information to those directly in the line of fire.  Silent alarms miss this critical component.

SAFEDEFEND™ is a system that fundamentally changes the response to school threats.  With the touch of a finger we can alert police, notify building occupants, and provide accurate information exactly where in the building the threat is taking place.  Responding officers are given exact room, hallway, building, and address information so they know where to go once inside.  Staff are informed where the threat is so they can avoid that area and make the best decision to barricade or exit.  Saving lives is based on quick notification to everyone.

Different Circumstances for Addressing Special Needs Students in a Crisis

Educators that have to deal with this specific challenge often ask about circumstances involving those with special needs in schools.  One of the often understood but overlooked components is that some of these kids do not react well to loud sounds and can resist instruction from strangers.  Schools have adopted to this by having the kids leave the school before drills (fire alarms) where the sounds can be overwhelming.  While agreement with this idea is common, it ignores the reality that in the event of a real incident the alarms and responding emergency services are loud and visually overwhelming to kids.  Schools need to prepare for the unknown reaction to a real event if these students are in the classroom when the alarm sounds or outside as vehicles respond.

Some considerations for staff working with kids that have mental challenges:

  1. Have emergency responders (SROs/deputies/paramedics) come to the classroom regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) so the children develop a modicum of comfort with people in uniform.
    1. The idea is that if they are only confronted with emergency responders in a negative environment the association of the presence of someone in uniform is detrimental.  Having more positive experiences compared to negative encounters is beneficial.
    2. Most agencies are happy to have officers/firefighters/paramedics swing by and say hello.  The visit doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes but is social in nature.  It should be treated as ordinary and not some special event so the kids continue to function in the presence of uniformed strangers.  Salutations and conversations are important but not required.
    3. This is a long term life lesson to develop as well since statistically these children will have a greater number of encounters with responders than the average citizen over their lifetime.
    4. If possible, different responders should come so emergency services personnel are introduced to a vulnerable member of the community.  Don’t just invite the same SRO every week or two.
  2. Have high visibility (orange or yellow) vests/sash for the kids to wear during all drills and in real life emergencies.
    1. Non compliant kids can quickly be identified by responders
    2. Failure to obey directions from responders will be met with understanding not force
    3. If the student wanders off or flees others in the community will recognize the sash and understand assistance might be needed.
    4. Responding vehicles make a lot of noise and the reaction is often unpredictable.  Other school support staff will be able to identify where this group has evacuated and come to assist.
  3. In the event of a hostile intruder, staff with students in this category may realize that the best way to keep everyone as safe as possible is to not evacuate and go straight to locking the classroom.
    1. In a hostile intruder situation the recommendation is to evacuate, barricade and protect yourself.  This is not a hard and fast rule as circumstances such as age, weather, mental faculty, obstacles and proximity to violence can alter the choices to stay safe.
    2. The ability to understand the situation and protect yourself is generally understood with kids over 4th Younger students make poor decisions and tend to scatter or not follow instructions.  Given these circumstances it can be better to secure in a classroom with only 1 teacher assisting several students.  The frequent visits by responders means emergency responders are already familiar with the location of the classroom and they understand the need for immediate assistance.

As a former law enforcement member with a family member that lives with extras challenges I understand the unique nature of working with this group.  I worked to bring the Crisis Intervention Training to our agency, worked at the state level to develop funding for programs that address these needs and acquired certifications as a trainer for mental health programs.

The hardest part for staff in these situations is to understand that personal safety is paramount.  You cannot risk becoming injured for the sake of one non-cooperative person if that means that others are put in jeopardy.  Attempting to keep a child from leaving a room or staying out of sight is important but not if it compromises your ability to protect others in the same room.

There are Good and Bad Ways to Conduct Active Shooter Drills

There have been numerous stories about the harm active shooter drills have caused.  A recent article from the Associated Press cited statements from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association that disavow unannounced drills or simulated gunfire.  Most of the time these drills are not thought out well enough to apply to the civilian population.  Teachers have been injured diving under desks, tripping in hallways, or attempting to protect themselves.  Property damage has occurred to doors, windows, and furniture without proper oversight by training safety officers.  In some cases, students have been traumatized by the site of simulated assailants pointing practice weapons at adults.  While these types of drills are essential for officers in training, they don’t translate well to school staff and students.

Administrators across the country defer to local law enforcement for active shooter training.  That training is designed to actively address the threat of an armed intruder.  This type of training doesn’t translate well into the school district.  We must train for the possibility but understand the probability is extremely low.  Of the 133,000 schools in the U.S. less than 100 per year deal with an armed attacker with a gun.  We don’t set the school on fire in order to practice fire drills and we don’t need to have a simulated attacker in order to practice lock down/secure in place drills.  Simply announcing there will be a drill, letting the teachers review the individual classroom protocols with those students and then initiating the drill is an effective means to accomplish the safety drill.  Drills should be designed to practice procedures; Door locked, lights out, safer corner, silence electronics, and prepare to protect.

Teachers need to know how to talk with their students about the drills.  Talking openly with students about active shooter situations in schools is an important component of the safety posture of the schools.  Almost every school has some portion of the emergency action plan that addresses steps to take in the event of a hostile intruder.  Administrators should make sure to discuss with staff what the expectations are for each roll.  Support staff should be told to look for straggling students in hallways or open areas and move them to safety,  if safe to do so, staff unattached to students should get outside and make sure any fleeing students are directed to safety, and teachers should know their primary responsibility for safety are the students under their charge so independent action must take the safety of those students into account.

Safety drills have always been a part of student life.  We come from an age where most adults had to practice ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’.  Generations of elementary students regularly went to the gym and rolled the length of the floor on a mat.  There wasn’t an epidemic of children bursting into flames but there were injuries from those with a lack of experience on what to do if they found themselves in such a situation.  It was not uncommon to practice ‘Duck and Cover’ drills in which students climbed under their desk with a book over their head to survive a bombing or nuclear attack.  Trauma comes from the type of drills performed not the existence of the drill itself.  We all came out okay from these drills, mostly.

Active shooter drills are better left in the realm of a mental exercise.  The drills should be announced.  Teachers should discuss with students what exit would be utilized if escape is the best option.  They should predetermine where the safer corner is within the classroom and have students practice heading to that corner.  Teachers should demonstrate how the room will be arranged to offer the most protection, and what to do in the event they are confronted by an intruder.  Parents have given their children advice that might conflict with the teacher’s plan.  If a student is trying to get out the door while the teacher is setting up a barricade this can be catastrophic.  The most important aspect is that the students understand that there is a plan in place, working together offers the greatest likelihood of not being injured and that help is on the way.  Students will look for leadership in a crisis.  It is best that this comes from the teacher.  Planning ahead so that everyone knows what to do is what will reduce casualties.

Time is a Factor in a Hostile Crisis

The shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA highlights a continued problem that schools face during an active shooter event.  After all the external security has been compromised and a perpetrator starts an attack, how do we quickly initiate a lockdown and get police notified.  Time and again we have seen that there is a long delay in getting accurate information to those that need to respond.  Whether it is the staff that should barricade/exit, police that need to respond or getting other schools that need to start the lockdown we see the continued inability of those in crisis to effectively communicate.

According to law enforcement officials the timeline highlights areas that can be improved.  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kent Wegener told reporters that “video footage caught the gunman firing the weapon in Saugus High School’s quad shortly after 7:30 a.m.” The first reported 911 call came in at 7:38 a.m. with officers arriving 2 minutes later at 7:40 a.m.  While the response time is impressive the delay in notification is concerning.  Previous incidents have shown that a quick response saves lives in both stopping the attack and administering trauma aid to the victims.  It cannot be presumed that officers would have been able to stop an attack that lasted less only 16 seconds, but it is obvious that victim’s have a better chance of survival if they receive life saving trauma immediately.

Relying on 911 calls to inform emergency responders of accurate information in a timely manner has continued to fail time and again.  Thinking that those immediately impacted by the crisis have the ability and wherewithal to quickly call 911, notify building occupants to seek shelter while also pursuing safety for themselves and their students is too much to ask.  The answer is a single stage notification system similar to a fire alarm.  While addressing school threats is a multilayered approach involving deterrence, detection, and prevention the aspect of immediate response is often overlooked. The SAFEDEFEND™   System was specifically designed to address this missing component for schools in a crisis