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.

The Dilemma of Conditioned Helplessness in Active Shooter Incidents

We have seen several instances over the last few years of normal citizens stepping up and acting to prevent a crisis. We are now seeing stories of passengers on a plane that step up to assist flight attendants with an unruly passenger. We hear of school staff who act to intercept an armed intruder preventing countless casualties. The stories of the initiative of bystanders seems to be an obvious response to helping our fellow citizens. The good news is that this is becoming more the norm, but there is still a tendency to defer action to those in authority. This default can lead to greater casualties and loss of lives when action is needed. Taking action by sounding the alarm, empowering personnel to protect themselves with training, and providing methods of countering an attacker have demonstrated time and again to be an effective response to a threat.

The reality is that we have been conditioned for years to not do anything. Flight 93 was the exception of the four flights on 9/11. The reason is that the other three planes had all crashed and once word reached the passengers on the plane they knew they had to act. As a society when terrorists were taking control of planes the best advice at the time was to be complacent and let the authorities handle the problem. We took that advice and spread it to all areas of our lives. In our schools, workplaces, and personal lives we have been conditioned to step back and allow the authorities to handle the crisis. This has resulted in an over reliance on external forces to control a situation where early intervention can have tremendously positive results.

There is a notion that without a gun you cannot confront a hostile intruder. The best option is for law enforcement to confront a violent attacker. The police aren’t always where you need them to be. The decision to confront an active shooter in schools or workplace is a personal decision. While I would never recommend attempting to take out an armed intruder without proper training and equipment there are plenty of things that can be done to delay, thwart, and incapacitate an attacker. The biggest obstacle to accomplish this is the personal feeling that any action would be futile. The truth is just the opposite. Most attackers are not prepared for resistance. All the training and preparation provided by professionals attempts to overcome the feelings of helplessness. Regardless of the maxim you use to describe the training the most important thing to remember is that with advanced notification and readily available options there are means to stay safe in a hostile event.

The principles at SafeDefend exemplify the idea that there are proactive steps that can be taken to prepare personnel for a hostile intruder. The idea that simply locking the doors and hoping that law enforcement arrives in time has failed for generations. A fundamental change needs to occur that addresses the idea of notification, training and response options as the most critical component of protecting people. SafeDefend has been working with entities across the country that have recognized this vital premise.

There is a Problem with Weapons in Our Schools

During a presentation at a school and campus safety conference last week I included a slide based on research from the CDC.  The report, Understanding School Violence, cited that 4.1% of students reported taking a weapon to school in the last 30 days.  For several of the school resource officers in the group there was a look of puzzlement.  For me to state that about 1 in 25 students was armed in the school was a bit of a surprise.  The next slide I presented was based on a quick Google search of two words, ‘school gun’.  The result was a list of news articles from the previous two days.  There were 8 news stories of arrests of students in middle and high schools that had brought a gun into a school.  My question to the group was: “If these are the weapons we know about, how many are really out there?”

An October 3rd headline out of New York is telling for what schools face across the country; NYPD stats: Crime down, but sharp spike in school weapon confiscation.  The article mentions the recent stabbing murder and aggravated battery of two students by another student.  While the story did make some national news there was an important revelation from the mayor; “The new statistics showed the number of weapons in city schools is up 48 percent, and Mayor de Blasio acknowledged students have, for years, armed themselves in schools.”  Students arming themselves to counter an onslaught of bullying is nothing new.  Last month, a student in Freemont High School in Washington state killed a fellow student in a small, rural community in reaction to what the shooter felt was endless bullying. This is reaching epidemic proportions across the country.

The reaction to these events is typical. A large amount of money is thrown at exterior security including access control, surveillance, and metal detectors.  While all of these measures have a role to play, if the intention is to deter violence and reduce casualties, then these measures have been shown to fail time and again.  The two things that we know work are notification and empowered staff.  When students recognize that teachers can and will protect them from a violent attacker then they won’t feel the need to arm themselves.  The SafeDefend system was developed in direct response to this principle.  As administrators consider how to tackle a problem that could result in the death or serious harm of a student they should realize that all of the current measures are only barriers to overcome not something to thwart or stop an attacker.

SafeDefend wants you to be safe and secure in a crisis

The staff at SafeDefend extends our deepest condolences to the families who lost a loved one during the attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured as they recuperate at home and in the hospital.  We would like to also commend the civilians, officers and emergency personnel for their valiant efforts at stopping this atrocious action and securing the lives of the victims.  There is no greater example of the American spirit than when people rise up to confront a crisis and persevere in the face of adversity.

At SafeDefend our goal is to prevent this type of calamity by working with communities across the country in order to educate people on the best practices for preparing and by providing a variety of tools and options for response to such an occurrence. Having a keen sense of situational awareness can dramatically increase your chances of remaining unharmed should something happen in a large crowd.  Your personal safety and security can be accomplished with reasonable effort.  There are a few principles that when followed we enhance your own sense of safety and prepare you should something happen.

Prior Planning is Critical

Prepare as you arrive by becoming familiar with the venue. Once you arrive at your seats or viewing area check for the closest exits and places of shelter.  Often, the place we entered the venue is the one we intended to exit.  In an emergency, this might not be the closest or even accessible exit, especially if everyone is heading that way as well.  Understand where you are in the forum and look for areas of exit or shelter as you move around for concessions or personal relief.  Realizing that getting outside is only the first step you should also prepare in advance where you are going to go once outside.  Evacuating is the first thing you should consider when violence or a calamity occurs.  Move with haste and purpose toward an exit being mindful of the distance between you the other people so you don’t get stuck in a crowd.

Observe Your Surrounding

Be alert to things that are out of the norm or unexpected. We tend to focus our attention on our friends and the event with little regard for those around us.  Generally, people attending events act in a similar way.  The crowd is there to enjoy the entertainment and participate in the activities.  When a person is acting in a manner that is peculiar or nefarious we should report the activity to a person in authority.  The event staff is working diligently to coordinate everyone’s safety but can’t monitor everything.  Your concern is enough for them to investigate.

A lack of preparation leads to panic and indecision

The Department of Homeland Security uses the same basic principles of evacuation, sheltering, and take action. (Run, Hide, Fight)  If something happens your plan to evacuate will enable you to initiate immediately without having to consider what to do.  As you are attempting to leave you should consider what options you have to shelter or protect yourself if the circumstances change.  If you weren’t initially able to flee and have secured a place of safety you should be considering options to reinitiate evacuation or defend yourself.  At all times, your plans should adjust to the events as they unfold.  Without a prior thought process, the typical reaction is to freeze from indecision or panic and run without considering the nature of the threat.

These events are generally fluid as the threat moves, police respond, and our location changes. We need to adapt to the environment and prepare for any eventuality. While the principles from the DHS are focused on a hostile event they can be adapted to other mass casualty events such as fire, structure failure, and weather disasters to name a few.  The best advice is to think of what options are available to you based on your location, move away from danger, and take action to protect yourself.

What does OSHA recommend for Workplace Violence? SafeDefend

At the beginning of 2017 OSHA issued a directive to provide guidance to field inspectors when investigating workplace violence. The directive cancelled the previous instructions from 2011.  The importance for employers is that it basically provides a road map to follow when instituting policies and preventative measures to address the threat of exposure to workplace violence.  There are three general components that OSHA will be reviewing after an incident; administrative controls, environmental controls and employee training.

Under appendix A of the report there are a list of general recommendations for all industries and administrative workplaces. The list is quite simple to follow.  The issue that most employers fail to meet concerns employee notification.  At the top of the list is the importance of an alarm system with reliable response options.  At SafeDefend we have been espousing this exact thing for the workplace.  We have alarms for fire, weather and other hazards but don’t think to provide employees with notification in the event of a hostile intruder.  Overlooking this security measures has cost businesses millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements after an exposure to a workplace violence incident.

Administrative controls refers to the policies and tracking of employee behavior. It is imperative that early recognition, documentation and intervention be a part of the employer’s responsibilities.  These programs have been shown to effectively reduce the incidents of workplace violence.  Empowering employees to report inappropriate behavior is instrumental in diffusing hostility before it can escalate.

As a subset of administrative controls a training component for all employees is vital. SafeDefend has been working with schools, governments, and businesses across the country to prepare staff to respond in the event of a hostile event.  Awareness of threats and an understanding of how to react can reduce casualties in a crisis.

The OSHA recommendations for workplace violence are universal to every workplace. The importance for employers is to recognize the need.  While the chances of a hostile intruder in your workplace are small, the failure to prepare can have catastrophic consequences in the loss of life and be terminal for the company.

The Students as the Shooter

The school year started off with the typical fanfare for students and teachers. Lost in the coverage of the hurricanes that hit the gulf coast were the stories about students bringing guns to school.  These stories suggest that there is a serious problem in our schools that we are not addressing.  Primarily, the internal threat in our schools from our students.  The underlying cause of these occurrences varies based on the individual case, but these incidents demonstrate that there is a crisis that needs addressing.  It is being met with the usual practice of adding cameras and securing doors.  The same approach that has failed to stop these events for the last 35 years.

It is understood that cameras and exterior security have a place in our schools. The surveillance addresses issues of theft, bullying, fighting, and vandalism.  In the instance of school violence, however, we have seen that most perpetrators indicate that they want the world to see what they have done.  The idea for them is that the shooter will become infamous for the actions taken and shown across the world. The recent shooting in Washington state at Freeman High School is a good example.  The student shooter has confessed to police that he wanted to teach everyone a lesson about bullying.  Like many other school shooters his intention was to not survive the attack.  The student shooter left a suicide note at his parents house before taking two guns to school in a duffel bag.  This atrocity was minimized, fortunately, by the malfunction of both weapons.  A massacre in the making was avoided.

The CDC puts out an annual report on Understanding School Violence.  The three page report is a must read.  The striking statistic is that students are arming themselves for protection.  Almost 1 out of every 20 students has brought some type of weapon to school in the last 30 days.  Administrators and elected officials need to start recognizing the only true deterrence is for the students to feel that the staff can protect them.  Empowerment of staff and quick notification to the police have been shown to halt hostile intruders.

According to the FBI Active Shooter (2012 with 2013 & 2014 supplements) report 84% of school shooters are students.  This percentage has only increased since the studies release as the disproportionate numbers of incidents with students as shooters have occurred.

The SafeDefend system was designed to specifically address the two components of alerting staff and police and providing options for response. Most student shooters are unprepared for resistance and confrontation.  Preparing staff to respond quickly in a crisis has been proven to reduce casualties and save lives.

Parent Perception of the Active Shooter Threat

An article in USA Today details the nature of perceptions of safety in our schools today.  At one high school the students started feeling unsafe due to a series of threats and fights.  The culmination was a series of warnings of potential violence.  As a result the school allowed parents to pull their children from class.  The broader implication is that even though the school has security measures in place the perception is that it isn’t enough and the children aren’t safe.  This is not an uncommon feeling across the country.

A Ball State University study recently showed that 1/3 of parents with children in school expect a shooting at their high school.  While the numbers don’t present this as likely it is the insecurity and uncertainty that must be addressed.  In the study there was an interesting finding;

“According to the study, parents said the most effective anti-gun violence school policies are as follows: installing an alert system in schools, working with law enforcement to design an emergency response plan, creating a comprehensive security plan…”

The best perceived response is not the typical response of enhanced surveillance and access control. Parents want to know that the staff is prepared to respond and that coordination with police is in place. More importantly they want an alert system in place to notify everyone of the crisis. These are the critical components of school safety that must be addressed.

Interesting to note is that the coordination, plans and alerts are already in place in our schools for fire and climactic events. Every state requires periodic training and drills on fire alarms, bus evacuation, and weather related emergencies. Nothing is required for the threat of a hostile threat in schools and yet this is the most common threat that our children will have to face during their educational careers.

At SafeDefend we have recognized for years the reality regarding a hostile threat. We understand that the risk of an intruder is low but at the same time recognize that it is an unpredictable possibility. It’s the uncertainty that we must address. Failing to prepare for a crisis means that when it occurs the results will be catastrophic. When parents hear of a school fire or weather event at school they are confident the school is prepared to protect their children. Most parents, however, don’t feel this is true for armed intruders. Schools and businesses need to start preparing for the 21st century threat of school and workplace violence that are both on the rise.