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.

How well do you communicate a hostile crisis in your building?

In order to mitigate casualties in a mass casualty event it is important to look at past incidents.  This doesn’t have to be a direct comparison

but rather should examine solutions that work and why they are effective.  Simply put the importance of mass notification is essential to alert people of a threat to their safety so they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves.

We see the need for notification clearly in a fire emergency.  When someone has an indication of a fire from sight or smell they only need to pull a fire alarm.  By doing this we know that emergency services are alerted and responding, building occupants are aware they need to protect themselves by exiting the building and the person activating the system is now free to attempt to put the fire out with available resources or head for safety.

In the Midwest the weather services sound alarms on phones, community sirens and media sources that inform us to head to shelter areas.  The mass notification system has shown to work.  For some reason we haven’t applied this step to hostile intruders and it is costing us lives.

In reviewing the recent reports from the federal commission, Broward County, and the Marjory Stoneman report there is a strong analysis of where the breakdown occurs in a crisis.  Typically, the notification protocols don’t work and this has resulted in unnecessary casualties.  These problems aren’t exclusive to any particular school shooting.  911 calls are delayed as students and staff secure their own safety.  Public address systems aren’t utilized as staff would have to expose themselves to danger w

hile on the phone or using the call button.  Speakers aren’t heard or accessible outside the classroom.  Information relayed to dispatch is confusing, limited or incorrect.  All of these issues can be eliminated with a single stage activation mass notification system.  Alarms work in a crisis to get staff to act and students to seek shelter.

Law enforcement needs to know where in the building to respond and staff need information to protect students.  In a fire emergency the alarms are zoned so responders know where in the building to go.  Police are all too often just told to respond to the school for a shooting.  Running in the front door and expecting the staff to direct them to the crisis is unreasonable.  Most staff should already be on lockdown and unavailable.  This has slowed their response and caused confusion of where to respond.  An interoperable alert system connected to dispatch and those officers can reduce response time.

Any notification needs to alert all building occupants; staff, students, and visitors.  Addressing security is a layered approach.  Each component adds to the overall safety posture, but no single improvement addresses every threat.  Deterrence, detection and prevention of violence are important.  Response is the component that is relegated to law enforcement in our schools.  We need to get them there as quickly as possible.

Thinking Training for the New School Year

As we head back to school most districts have already filled their schedule for returning teacher training.  You probably are even instructing your staff on the changes to Kansas Senate Bill 128 which changed the number of drills for schools.  The Kansas Department of Education Safe and Secure Schools Unit has valuable resources on their site. (https://www.ksde.org/Kansas-Safe-Schools)  The important thing to remember when conducting these drills is that we empower teachers, staff and students.  Too often the drills are conducted with little preparation or planning.  In order to reduce the anxiety and stress of these drills they should be discussed prior to being implemented.

One of the most critical components for a successful drill is for the students to understand their role in safety and security.  This can only be done if the teachers are speaking with their students long before a drill ever occurs.  They should regularly take time (every two months) to review the particulars of what safety actions should be taken in that particular room.  This is a quick refresher that can be done in less than a minute as a sort of question and answer session.

In a fire drill we exit the building in a tornado drill we go to the shelter.  Crisis drills are fluid and unpredictable, so the response isn’t easily defined.  Classrooms vary and thus the response varies.  Closets, exterior exits, large windows, open classrooms, etc. can all change the way students will be expected to respond in an emergency.  Teachers should point out where the ‘safer corner’ is located.   Students should be told where they should go if they are in an open area such as a cafeteria, gymnasium or playground.  If exiting the building is part of the security plan students need to be told where to go once outside.  We can’t expect our students to listen to, comprehend, and initiate instructions in a crisis if they are hearing them for the first time when they are frightened.

We tend to conduct drills at a time when we know the students are properly supervised.  If it can be done practically there should be a crisis drill that is done during a transition, lunch or morning arrival.  This type of drill is a great experience for the students to recognize that sometimes you need to get in the nearest room with a secured door.  It will help your staff learn to corral kids that are in hallways and open areas.  These are skills where we expect our staff to act without ever asking them to perform these tasks.

Finally, the crisis drills shouldn’t always be catastrophic.  Classroom hold drills or school lockouts should be conducted as well.  If you have real life medical emergency, we don’t want students gawking and interfering with responders.  If an unruly parent is in the front office students should remain in their classrooms.  When the police are responding to a call near the school it would behoove us to secure the building until they are finished.  Scrambling to the safer corner and waiting for the all clear is not the only way to practice a crisis.

Do Armed Guards Make Kids Feel Safer in Schools?

In response to several school shootings there has been a large push to allow armed personnel or to add school resource officers on campus.  This is a popular approach that has gained traction over the last few years.  There can be a financial cost for additional personnel, training and potential liability.  Outside of these factors there are several important pieces of information that have been revealed within recent studies that should also be understood.

While the perception of safety from staff and parents to having more guns in school is generally higher the students don’t normally feel safer.  Students tend to see uniformed personnel as policing them not protecting them.  In schools that have implemented SRO programs the likelihood of police involvement in non-violent incidents has gone up.  An officer in the school is more likely to intervene in an event that would previously be handled by the administrative staff alone.  There has also been an increase in other uses of force from empty hand control techniques, deployment of intermediate weapons and arrests.  Finally, as the number of guns has increased our students are more likely to be involved in an accidental weapons incident than a real shooting.

It is also often stated that an armed personnel are a deterrent to school shootings.  There have been several recent instances of intruders attacking schools with armed guards.  Marshall County, KY, Parkland, FL & Sante Fe, TX all had armed campus officers at the time of the shooting.  Officers are usually not in the right place at the time of the shooting because the perpetrator plans around them.  Unfortunately, the hardest part for schools is getting the armed responders to the right place in the building.  This has been an obstacle that schools overlook when implementing policy changes.  Notification systems are a simple solution to resolve this breakdown in communication.

The perception of safety does not always correlate into a more secure campus environment.  School administrators should be cautious about measures that can severely impact the profile of security in school without adding a substantial benefit.  The best course of action in a crisis is getting the trained professionals to the exact location of the crisis and notifying staff to initiate the emergency action plan.  Until this can be accomplished the other issues ought to be considered secondary solutions.

More of the same a year after the Parkland shooting

The solution to school security is not more of the same

With the anniversary of the Parkland shooting there have been a lot of articles about the changes over the last year.  The interesting observation is that nothing has changed but rather a double down on more of the same.  The response to these events usually ends with the same options being put out as enhancements.  These options portray the impression to the public that our schools are safer without resulting in improvements that address the threat from an active shooter.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on the Parkland anniversary mentioned several expenditures over the last year.  The school added fencing to several schools.  The 45 acre Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus was fenced in at the time of the shooting.  Upgrades and additions to the security system were purchased.  The school has a robust camera system and the shooter’s every movement is captured on video.  A recommendation was made to have more armed personnel at all Florida schools.  One district hired combat veterans to patrol the grounds with rifles.  We forget that there was an armed officer on the grounds that was at the scene in roughly 1 minute 45 seconds but failed to confront the shooter.  The other armed responders were given confusing information and didn’t make entry until 11 minutes into the incident which was long after the shooter fled.  So the solution is to continue doing what we have been doing for years hoping for fewer casualties.

A true solution comes from looking at what has happened in the past and figuring out what will make a difference. Not hypothetical solutions but thwarted attacks or attacks where the shooter was interrupted.  The 2017-2018 school year was the worst year for the number of school shootings.  Outside of the three major shootings there were others with minimal casualties.  While the intent of the shooter appeared to be a mass casualty incident the impact was minimized by two things.  Notification to the buildings occupants to lockdown saved countless lives.  Actions by teachers to thwart or stop the attack was just as impactful.  If the new strategies for security don’t improve notification or empower teachers then your readiness for a hostile intruder or no better off with a hardened building.

We have had the same approach to school shootings since the 1980s when we started some of the current measures. There have been improvements to the technology for locked doors and surveillance.  These have never stopped an active shooter, they were not effective in Parkland, attempting to address a threat with these improvements will have similar ineffective results.  The SafeDefend system was designed to solve the notification process to building occupants and police while empowering staff to protect students until help arrives.

Train according to the possibilities not the protocols

With the changes to the crisis drill requirements in the country the addition of intruder response drills and lockdown drills have been an overall positive thing. Most school administrators had already added these types of drills to the preparedness training by staff.  At SafeDefend we encourage schools to regularly discuss response options and consider scenarios for notification in the event of hostile intruders.  The manner in which these drills are conducted, however, can greatly impact the way the information is conveyed and maintained.  The idea should always be to prepare not to scare.

Fire drills and tornado drills have consistent response protocols. Regardless of where the fire starts the goal is to exit the building.  A tornado warning clearly indicates the need to take shelter in designated areas.  Very little deviation from these protocols is required.  Practicing these responses and having students be familiar with expectations is necessary to achieve the goal of keeping everyone safe.

Hostile intruder drills cannot be so easily handled. There is no one response option that keeps everyone safe.  Real attacks have demonstrated that the events are fluid and require various responses.  Simply instructing staff to lockdown and wait is an option but it shouldn’t be the only option.  Teachers and staff need to understand that until help arrives their actions can have important consequences.  If you can get out safely then that should be an option as well.  If the intruder is trying to get into the classroom be prepared to drive them back out. In order to accomplish this the drills should revolve around mental exercises and discussions about options.  Having kids hide in a corner while the teacher locks the door and turns out the lights does not prepare them to adapt when the situation changes.

Staff should spend more time learning how to communicate a threat over the intercom with simple commands like ‘Lockdown, Lockdown, Cafeteria Intruder!’ Staff that are informed can make immediate critical decisions that will reduce casualties and save lives.  Simply hoping that police will arrive in time and locate the intruder has shown to fail time and again.  Empowering staff and faculty has had measurable results in numerous unreported low casualty events around the country.

Thinking School Security Solutions As We Head Back To School

In the flurry of back to school emails that I received from administrators, teachers, and staff was a notice about the new buzz in system being implemented at our district. The requisite apologies for inconvenience and lack of access were included for sincerity purposes.  It made me consider why we were apologizing for attempting to keep our kids safe but more importantly why this was considered the best use of limited security funds.

I certainly applaud the efforts of enhancing the security culture in our schools. What concerns me is the notion that continuing to approach security solutions with the same ideas that have repeatedly failed in the past has been the standard across the country.  It is paramount that we look at past incidents to determine what failed and how this can be improved.  Quick response by law enforcement and immediate lock down are the two factors that have proven to reduced casualties and save lives.  If these things aren’t in place the external security measures will be ineffective in addressing a hostile intruder.

The Spring of 2018 was an atrocious time for school violence. Lost in the aftermath of these incidents was the existing security measures that each of the schools had already implemented in the hopes of thwarting an attack.  In Kentucky, Florida, and Texas and many others the emphasis was on the access control, surveillance cameras and SRO as priorities for school security and safety.  Missing from this approach is the realization that more than 94% of school shootings start inside the building according to the FBI.  In the three major incidents the police response was delayed by a lack of information about exactly which room on campus was being threatened.  Responding SROs on campus had little accurate information about where to go.  More importantly the reliance on using 911 to notify police slowed down notification and resulted in confusing information for responding units.  Likewise, the schools were not able to communicate the need to go on lockdown in a timely manner.  Procedures to use public address systems or intercoms have not been timely in school crisis.  We developed a quick notification for fire emergencies that accomplishes notification to building occupants and emergency responders in one step.  We need to implement a single-phase notification system for violent intruders inside the building.

Physical security improvements have a place in our schools. Understanding the limitations of each is important.  Access control will stem the flow of staff, students and visitors but has failed in every active shooter event.  Cameras are great for bullying, theft, vandalism and fighting but has never successfully stopped an active shooter.  Two-way radios in a crisis are overwhelmed and little information is available.  Window laments slow a shooter down but most start in the building and can limit the egress of those inside.  School resource officers will respond but if they aren’t informed what room is in crisis the response will be slow as we saw in the worst three shootings this year.  These measures have their place but aren’t practical at saving lives in a crisis.

School security can only be addressed using a layered approach. Anti-bullying and awareness programs are step one.  Developing response procedures and emergency action plans is paramount.  Having physical security in place heightens the culture of safety.  The addition of a notification system with alarms is the critical element that is often omitted.  Our school staff members have demonstrated the ability to protect our students and step up to meet the challenge for protection but they need information and tools to do this.  The SafeDefend system answers the problem of quick notification with accurate information.