16 April 2007

Workplace Violence: Hokies in Mourning...

As the details of the event unfolds at Virginia Tech, one is reminded that violence of such magnitude is an operational risk in universities and colleges across the globe.
The Virginia Tech shooting occurred on April 16, 2007 at Blacksburg in the U.S. state of Virginia. At least 32 people were killed, including the gunman, with at least 28 injured,[2] making it the deadliest school shooting in United States history.

As the evidence is collected and the investigations determine what could have prevented such a tragic incident there will also be questions about the response. Workplace violence or campus violence is similar in nature from the standpoint that you plan and prepare for such random incidents. The point is that it may never happen but if it does, are you prepared?

Were the three bomb threats in advance of the incident just active surveillance by the shooter? What proactive measures were taken by law enforcement between the first shooting and the second scene where a majority of the deaths occured? The measures taken on that multi-hour timeline will be scrutinized to find out why the buildings on campus were not secured. Was a crisis plan enacted from the point of the first incident and if so, how effective was it?

A few details emerged from the news conference. At 7:15 a.m., an emergency 911 call came in to University police department about a shooting at a campus building, West Ambler Johnston, a dormitory for about 900 freshman students. About three hours later it was followed by a second shooting at a classroom in a science and engineering building on the opposite end of campus, Norris Hall. The shooter died there, the police said.

Suicide bombers and those with a death wish are the ultimate threat. No level of security or proactive measures can defeat this kind of attack. This fact has been proven over the past few decades on and off the battle field. In the aftermath we can only hope that more is done to heighten awareness about "At Risk Behavior" whether it be in school or at work. The cues and clues that bring people to a point of violence are usually noticed by fellow students or co-workers. However, once the event takes place, those individuals who noticed these behavioral warning signs feel the worst about the incident.

The behavior psychologist's will tell you that the signs are there, you just didn't recognize them in time. Besides the obvious drug or alcohol abuse warning signs, some are more subtle.

Other problematic behavior also can include, but is not limited to:
• Increasing belligerence
• Ominous, specific threats
• Hypersensitivity to criticism
• Recent acquisition/fascination with weapons
• Apparent obsession with a supervisor or coworker or employee grievance.
• Preoccupation with violent themes
• Interest in recently publicized violent events
• Outbursts of anger
• Extreme disorganization
• Noticeable changes in behavior
• Homicidal/suicidal comments or threats

Once the determination is made what motivated this individual to carry out this act today, we will use that information. It will become a new or even repeated warning sign that we have become complacent to in our day to day interactions with others on the job or in the class room.

How will the new crisis programs and workplace violence programs be communicated across the nation incorporating these lessons learned? To begin the process of finding out what is in place and what needs to be done, here is a very relevant self-audit from The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence.

Workplace Violence Prevention Audit Questions:
  1. Has a specific management level person been designated as the person responsible for coordinating the company's workplace violence prevention initiative?
  2. Has an integrated workplace violence prevention team (also known as Threat Management or Threat Assessment Team) effort been established that includes representatives from the following functions: security, occupational safety & health, risk management, legal, public relations/corporate communications, human resources and operations management?
  3. Does the company have a workplace violence prevention policy?
  4. If a written workplace violence policy exist, does it include provisions addressing how to deal with domestic violence in the workplace, mobbing and bullying behaviors?
  5. Does the company have a written plan describing how the workplace violence prevention plan will be implemented?
  6. Has a pre-established emergency protocol been put in place with local law enforcement and a specific individual (and back up) been designated to contact the police during a critical incident?
  7. Have all managers been trained in workplace violence prevention?
  8. Have all employees been trained in workplace violence prevention?
  9. Does the company have a policy prohibiting the possession of weapons on the company's premises and while an employee is performing their job?
  10. Has the company conducted an organizational violence assessment to determine if 'the common factors of violence prone organizations' are present?
  11. Has the company conducted a Facility Risk Assessment of all of it work areas?
  12. Does the company have a process and procedure in place for conducting Individual Threat Assessments?
  13. Has the company pre-identified and pre-qualified an external workplace violence expert and critical incident debriefing team to assist the organization, if needed?
  14. Are their known workplace violence hazards that employees are exposed to, and/or are similar businesses or companies in your industry or geographic area known for having workplace violence hazards?
The questions will remain for years to come as the answers are discovered in conference rooms and court rooms across the country. Was this the wake-up call that we all needed? And for those who are seeking proven solutions to this Operational Risk, consider Defywire.

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