stopviolence21Author’s note: Between the tragic shooting this year at the Empire State building in New York City, to the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and scores of others, fatal mass shootings in the workplace and schools have become all too common in recent years. What can be done? An expert on the issue weighs in. This topic is discussed in greater detail in the March issue of “Employee Assistance Report” – www.impact-publications.com

By Bruce Blythe

Whether you’re sitting in a classroom at school, or at your workplace, when shots ring out in your general vicinity, the issues and consequences are the same.  People are in grave danger.  It’s unexpected and frantic responses ensue.  

In the school setting and workplace, the perpetrator most often gives warning signs before the incident occurs (e.g., threats, insubordination, preoccupation with violence, etc.).  Almost always, the perpetrator feels unfairly treated in some manner.  

Even rudimentary methods of prevention will help.  Three basic components include:

  1. Policy: The school or workplace should have a violence prevention and response policy that is well publicized on a periodic basis. 
  2. Threat Notification System: There should be a threat notification system in place that people feel comfortable in using.  Family members should be included so they know how to make notifications.
  3. Threat Response Team: The school or workplace should have a multidisciplinary trained and available team (e.g., representatives from HR, security and legal, at a minimum) ready to respond when threatening situations arise.  External threat professionals and/or law enforcement should be included.

While gun control advocates and mental health professionals debate methods to mitigate these violent occurrences, the schools and workplaces can take charge by being ready to respond to threatening situations before violence occurs.  In addition to the three methods listed above, threatening individuals can usually be defused through effective intervention. 

Effective two-way communication is typically the single best method to defuse escalating hostile reactions.  This involves making contact to hear and understand the concerns and mindset of the threatening individual.  It involves respect for the dignity and self-esteem of the threatening individual.  By making contact, negotiations to establish alternative methods for resolving perceived grievances can often be established that “soften” the individual’s focus on a vengeance.  Even in cases where the individual is a substance abuser, mentally deranged, or antisocial, a mitigating relationship can often be established by a person skilled at defusing threatening individuals. 

Now is the time to establish the systems and personnel (internal and external to the organization) to address threatening situations before they become violent.  Assault weapons can be limited or an armed police officer can be placed in every school and workplace.  But, whether these proposed ideas are implemented, or not, a prepared organization that is skilled at defusing situations as they escalate is a vital component for preventing people from being gravely injured or mentally traumatized by a violent school or workplace incident. 

Are comprehensive systems effective for preventing school / workplace violence?  The former poster child for workplace violence (U.S. Postal Service) implemented such a program.  Even with a long history of many mass shootings and approximately 750,000 employees at the time, they went over 8 years without an employee/ex-employee shooting after implementing their workplace violence program.  These programs are effective.  Lives can be saved.  And, a vital component of prevention is within the control and influence of school and workplace leaders if they prepare now. 

Bruce Blythe (bblythe@cmiatl.com) is an internationally acclaimed crisis management expert. He is the owner and chairman of Crisis Management International that has assisted hundreds of organizations worldwide with crisis and school/workplace violence planning, training and exercising. CMI provides workplace violence preparedness programs and threat of violence consultations through a specialty network of threat management specialists, including former FBI and Secret Service agents. Crisis Care Network (another Blythe company) responds to corporate crisis situations 1000 times per month through a North American network of crisis behavioral health professionals. Widely regarded as a thought leader in crisis management, he is the author of Blindsided: A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace. He has served in the Military Police for the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s a certified clinical psychologist and has been a consultant to the FBI on workplace violence and terrorism.

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