Emerging Issues in Security, Facility Security, Policies and Training

Calming Employees’ Fears About Workplace Violence During the Holiday Season

Following a workplace violence or school violence incident where there has been a significant loss of lives, employees can become fearful about a similar attack taking place where they work. Although these events are both rare and catastrophic, they can create feelings of great safety and security concern for employees, who may or may not know what the organization is doing to protect them.

skynesher / Vetta / Getty Images

Sometimes employees can see news stories overseas related to terrorism and have fears that the perpetrators from there may use the same devices or tactics here. It can help to have the organization’s security professionals reassure them, especially for things that are highly unlikely here—like bombings and biological attacks—by using e-mails, meetings, and training sessions to provide realistic information and calm concerns:

  • “Bomb threats don’t mean there is a bomb in our facility. Not everything that looks like a bomb is a bomb, and even in the highly unlikely event we were to find one in our building, not every bomb an attacker makes and brings to a scene will go off, since they are often poorly designed. Touch nothing that looks like it might be a bomb, and get as far away from the building as possible, up to a quarter mile, before using your cell phone to call 911.”
  • “Biological agents like anthrax are rarely real, and they are mostly ‘powder hoaxes’ by angry, vengeful, or mentally ill people. Follow our room evacuation procedures, isolate the container, and tell the first responders from a safe distance what you saw or found.”
  • “The shooting event that happened in December 2015 at the San Bernardino County employees’ holiday party made many people uncomfortable about holding these events in unsecured company buildings or rooms or even at hotels. For any company function, make sure strangers, trespassers, or unauthorized ex-employees can’t get inside the building or the room where the party is being held. Know where the exits are, and be prepared to leave in a creative way in an active shooter emergency—run through the kitchen of the hotel or restaurant, break a ground floor window, or go up the stairs and hide out on one of the floors above the incident.”

As the end of the year approaches, here are some do’s and don’ts for workplace violence prevention for security department executives, managers, supervisors, and employee team members to remember:

  • Have and enforce a current and realistic workplace violence prevention policy.
  • Create a reporting “tip line” system for employees to report threats, weapons, or disturbing comments or behaviors.
  • Do what other successful firms have done and create a Threat Assessment Team, run by HR and security together, involving stakeholders from the senior leadership team, corporate counsel, risk management, safety, employee assistance program (EAP), Information Technology (IT) department, and facilities.
  • Pay more attention to threatening behaviors instead of just verbal threats. Most real perpetrators don’t threaten their direct targets; they threaten them through a third party, like a coworker.
  • Don’t ignore problem people inside or outside the organization.
  • Don’t allow our employees to trade security for convenience. You must always remind all employees to use company security devices and procedures even though it’s sometimes a hassle.
  • Don’t fail to address bullying behaviors in the workplace. Both bullies and their victims can be perpetrators of workplace violence.
  • Don’t ignore domestic violence involving employees as an “off-the-job issue”; if it affects the safety of people in the workplace, you have a duty to get involved and provide protection and advice.

The Threat Potential Equation for school, workplace, mass attack, or terrorism events includes two key elements: Motive and Opportunity.

The news media tends to be overly focused on the perpetrator’s motives, which could include irrational religious beliefs, racism, revenge, or a broken heart. We can’t fix motive; we can only interrupt the opportunity by using well-grounded and tested security policies, procedures, people, liaison relationships with our safety and security stakeholders, and continued vigilance.

You will not always know the motive nor ever be able to change it. Bad people are deterred by good security procedures and devices, constant awareness, sharing gathered or leaked information with others, and reporting suspicious indicators, hunches, or feelings.