Few companies think about a violent attack inside their workplace until it happens. What could possibly cause, and what can stop such outrages, now known collectively as the insider threat? Cleared personnel must think and prepare accordingly. And it’s time to begin looking across the government and private sector for solutions on how to identify and address threats before they become realities.
One, perhaps unexpected but certainly viable food for thought on workplace violence is a federal government study titled The Safe School Initiative, Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. This was written as a response to school violence incidents. The findings of this document are remarkably appropriate to cleared facility concerns, and bear consideration. Imagine if our leaders, our suicide prevention human resources personnel, and even our substance abuse professionals – but above all each cleared employee – considered these findings. Perhaps we can save lives.
1. Incidents of targeted violence in schools rarely are sudden, impulsive acts.
Each company tries to have a chain of command aware of morale. If there is a budding problem with one employee, someone will know about it. The critical difference is whether the employees see their leaders as approachable, as caring. It is this perception that determines whether they will report a possible threat. The study goes on to argue that this perception of caring leadership must be tied to a belief that meaningful action will be taken after any report. The employee who believes problems will be dealt with fairly, discreetly, and professionally, will report them before real violence occurs.
2. Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attackers idea or plan of attack.
Employees know their colleagues, and will report to a trusted member of leadership. The requirement is to be that trusted leader, or know how to refer someone for help. Sadly, there are cases where a problem was known, and because the person was a friend, no action was taken to correct a difficulty before it was too late.
3. Most attackers did not threaten their targets, or make any threat at all.
This is why an awareness of behaviors, of what a person says or does outside of what is normal or unusual, is most valuable. This can only come from a command in tune with its employees, and colleagues who know their fellows. Too often a problem is never addressed for fear of ‘harming’ the person’s clearance, when indeed the opposite should be true.
4. There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
Attempts to profile a possible shooter are simply not to be found. Not a type of person, but rather their behaviors and communications are keys to understanding a possible threat.
5. Most attackers engaged in some behavior, prior to an incident, which caused others concern, or indicated a need for help.
Violent incidents don’t occur ‘out of the blue.’ In many examples, there were patterns of behavior that pointed to mental health and behavioral issues that should be addressed. The question is, will someone report it?
6. Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide.
Who knows better than a colleague when this happens? Secrets are rarely kept in the workplace. Proper training enables personnel to know what needs to be reported, and to whom. In addition, personnel should know there are resources available to them to help them cope with personal issues. Reducing mental health stigma in the workplace is key to ensuring a safe workplace.
7. Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
This sense of persecution can explain much, but can only be recognized by statements and behavior. It should also be noted that many spies were critical of their life, their colleagues, and the ‘system’. They were not reported because no one believed they would act.
8. Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to an attack.
In cleared facilities, in particular, the use or familiarity with weapons is likely not seen as a red flag. Familiarity with weapons does not breed criminal behavior, but an inability to follow policies and procedures around the proper use and storage of weapons is certainly a red flag behavior.
9. In many cases, other students were involved in the attack in some capacity.
Employees should be aware of who is asking for assistance, and why. Don’t be caught being collusive with a dreadful act by another. Ask why someone wants your help. Just because an individual is a colleague does not mean they should have access to information or office areas that are not authorized. Need-to-know still applies.
10. Despite prompt law enforcement response, most attacks were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention, and most were brief in duration.
The value of these findings is that they have already intercepted and stopped many incidents before they occurred in the education/civilian world. This works. The ten key findings of this study led civilian law enforcement officials to rethink how they view school safety. They began to think of large high schools as a type of neighborhood. The long ago practice of the neighborhood cop, knowledgeable of his ‘turf’, his people, and the daily comings and goings of life on the beat seemed to be utterly appropriate to policing schools like a ‘neighborhood’. This philosophy can help in private industry and the government, too. As one shooter said after an incident, “I only wish someone had told.” We can use these findings as a way to get the word out.
For all of us, the value of life is sacrosanct. What needs attention is how that belief translates into action. We must know our colleagues. To help accomplish this, it might pay to consider what has helped stop mass murders in other arenas of society.