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Discovery Channel gunman takes workplace violence to a new level. Are you truly prepared?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I can't even keep up with the number of incidents involving workplace violence lately. While there are a number of themes that apply to most security professionals, preparing for and preventing workplace violence is one that seems to cross all sectors and should be at the top of the list for everyone charged with security. And, for the most part, I think it is. However, there is only so much one can do.

I just read a series of articles about the frightening attack at the Discovery Channel headquarters, where a man stormed the building with firearms and explosives strapped to his body. He took several hostages during the four-hour standoff, in which he was eventually shot and killed by the SWAT team.

Apparently, this man had threatened the television channel before over the quality of its programming and in February 2008 he had been charged with disorderly conduct for staging a protest. From that incident he had been ordered to stay away from the headquarters, but that restraining order ended two weeks ago. None of the hostages were hurt.

However, the extreme nature of this incident should certainly be concerning for security professionals. While I think most organizations have addressed violence in their policies and procedures, to what level should they go to be prepared?

I recently posted what I thought was a really interesting article about AutoZone's effort to prepare for an active shooter in its facilities. They have even gone so far as to designate "safe rooms" that can be barricaded from the inside and are stocked with medical supplies and food and water for those who can't evacuate the building. They also have an extensive training program for employees including a game they refer to as the "what if?" game. Basically, it's an exercise to get employees to think about how they would react if, for example, an armed shooter came down the hall right now. What would you do? Where would you hide? Where are the closest two exits? Actually, it's something I've started doing regularly myself and coincides with what my grandfather taught me as a kid. He was a Cincinnati firefighter and I remember him quizzing me when we'd go out about what I would do if there was a fire. He said that if you're in a restaurant/bar always go out through the kitchen. There's always an exit back there and a better chance you'll get out quicker than trying to fight through the crowd to go out the main entrance. Thanks for being so on top of it, Grandpa.

But I wonder: Is AutoZone's approach to workplace violence over the top? I'm guessing most organizations don't go this far, but should they? What are you doing to make sure that in the worst case scenario your organization and its employees are truly prepared?

Do threats of workplace violence still top your security concerns?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last year we conducted a survey asking our readers what risks they were most concerned about. And, nearly half (49 percent) of you responded that workplace violence topped the list.

"With the domestic issues we have in this country, both economically and financially, concerns about workplace violence far outweighs and is more prevalent than threats of terrorism," John Dowd, senior account manager for Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, told SDN.

Well, workplace violence has once again topped the news this week after a man in Albuquerque, N.M. forced his way into a manufacturing plant where his (ex)girlfriend worked, killed two employees and then himself. Four other employees were also wounded in the attack.

The Associate Press reported that it is still unknown how the shooter got past security at Emcore Corp., but his first victim was a person who confronted him on the way into the facility.

Then he went through the building firing shots at several employees and leaving behind a gruesome scene of blood and shell casings across the company headquarters. Responding officers had to step past several victims — one dead and several wounded — as they raced into the building to stop the gunman.

This is certainly one of those events that would be difficult to protect against, regardless of how solid a company's access control and security program. Plus, the gunman is reportedly a former employee, so it's assumed he knew the campus and facility well.

So what are companies to do? How can you possibly protect against someone so bent on harming others?

The article also stated that the woman targeted in this attack had told co-workers she planned to report domestic violence to authorities. But that never happened and that is where the process typically breaks down, said Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for ADT and the former executive director of the Washington, DC school system, in an interview yesterday (I'll post a longer story for newswire next week).

Fiel said that management often does not do enough to educate employees about issues of workplace violence. While it's likely that most company handbooks reference workplace violence, not enough organizations bother to do any type of follow-up or re-training about the procedures employees should take if they are concerned about a co-worker's safety. Fiel also said it is important for companies to have an anonymous tipline or hotline so employees feel safe reporting suspicions to supervisors.

It's also important for companies to do periodic background checks on all employees, something that Dowd said less than 5 percent of companies do.

And, of course, it's important to follow procedures when employees are terminated. Based on news reports, it sounds like this man pushed his way through security, but it's critical to ensure that terminated employees have their access cards revoked.

And while this is nothing short of a tragic incident, it certainly is a reminder to security professionals about the types of risks they should be addressing on a regular basis. Are you doing enough? I'm curious how many of you regularly conduct workplace violence awareness programs with your employees. You can vote in our Newspoll here.