Magazine article Risk Management

In the Crosshairs: Limiting the Impact of Workplace Shootings

Magazine article Risk Management

In the Crosshairs: Limiting the Impact of Workplace Shootings

Article excerpt


In June of this year, Wesley Neal Higdon was sent home from his job at the Atlantis Plastics plant in Henderson, Kentucky following a dispute with a co-worker. Higdon got a gun from his house, returned to work and fatally shot five coworkers, including his supervisor and the co-worker he had originally argued with. He injured another co-worker before finally turning the gun on himself.

Even more tragic than the lives lost at Atlantis Plastics is the fact that workplace shootings like this occur again and again. Predicting who will become the next shooter is extremely difficult as the warning signs often emerge only after the fact, as was the case with Higdon. But there are proven methods to prevent or limit the impact of a shooting once it has begun that can save lives and protect a company's fortunes.

In terms of security, there are a few simple methods that can thwart a potential workplace violence incident. Whether a shooting is the result of a dispute or domestic violence, the shooter has usually been to the workplace on several occasions. They will know where the guards are, where the person they are looking for is usually located, and where key personnel offices are. Expensive security measures and metal detectors will not deter the emotional shooter.

Some strategies that can stop the crisis before it starts combine simple procedures and existing security technology. The first is to provide the receptionist with a coded phrase such as "Mr. X is here to see you as soon as humanly possible" that will allow security to be alerted without alerting the shooter that he or she has been identified. This is important because a shooter will usually start shooting from the moment that he or she is identified or feels threatened. The receptionist might also be instructed to use the public address system to announce that a caller is holding on line eight or another fictitious number beyond the number of lines that actually exist.

Another effective measure is to move the guard away from the metal detector. Companies that have metal detectors often post a security guard near the detector so they can observe what items a visitor removes before entering. The problem is that this forces the shooter to interact with the guard immediately and possibly begin shooting. Stationing guards away from the metal detector and allowing them to observe visitors on a monitor is far more effective. Now the shooter must go through the metal detector or attempt to engage the armed guard from a greater distance. This allows the guard--and the employees--more time to react. In most active shooter situations, the shooter has planned the attack and has visualized how things will unfold many times. Once the shooter is confronted in a way that is unexpected, however, he or she becomes reactive and their plan starts to unravel. If a shooting event cannot be prevented, this is the next best way to limit casualties.

Shooter on the Premises

So what can be done about an active shooter? The main priority is to minimize the shooter's ability to create mass casualties. The best way to achieve this is to isolate him or her from the workers and create an environment that assists the police and medical staff to respond quickly enough that the shooter is on the defensive in the shortest amount of time possible.

The first part of the plan is to move into the first available room and lock the door. If the door does not lock or if there is a window near the door lock, furniture should be placed against the door. The lights should be turned out and the blinds drawn shut in order to limit visibility from outside the room. Everyone should move away from the door so the shooter cannot shoot through the door and create more injuries.

Every room should contain the following simple items: luminous (glow-in-the-dark) tape, a grease pencil, a detailed diagram of the building, gauze or other material designed to stop bleeding, a thermal blanket and a flashlight. …

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