Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Creating a Security-Conscious Community to Prevent Violent Acts in the Workplace

Posted by W. Barry Nixon on Tue, Nov 22, 2016

Crime scene.jpgThe time has come to shift our thinking about how to prevent violent attacks in the workplace. Business as usual will not keep our workplaces safe from terrorist attacks.

The focus on the active shooter over the last several years has heightened employers’ and employees’ awareness of this kind of violence, yet the run-hide-or-fight model will not be enough to prevent violence arising from different kinds of terrorist attacks. It is important to understand that the active shooter approach is, by definition, a reactionary approach that addresses what to do once an active shooting incident is in motion. It is not a prevention strategy.

Do we consider a workplace that keeps its employees free of violence 98% of the time a success model? Do we find it acceptable if 2% of employees are injured, as a result of workplace violence (note: if you have 1,000 employees this means that 20 people would be injured or worse)?

Are your management practices and systems built on the premise that it is an inevitable outcome of managing an organization that people will sometimes be in harm’s way while working? This is known as “collateral damage.” Or, are your management practices and systems built on the premise that having anything less than a completely safe and secure work environment is not acceptable?

It is not my intent to suggest that any CEO or senior management consciously plans on collateral damage; however, the stark reality is that if you are not proactively and aggressively implementing prevention efforts, the outcome will be collateral damage.

Intervention is Key to Prevention

Experience has taught us that effective management systems and processes can help identify safety and security issues before they result in injury. Appropriate intervention strategies can prevent or reduce worker assaults and deaths across all industries.

Prevention of terrorist attacks in your workplace is bigger than your organization. This means that it has to be a cooperative effort between employers, community organizations, government entities and the people of the local community. Joachim Gauck, current President of Germany, said it best at a memorial ceremony for the attack victims in Munich, “What we can do, however, is something we need to work on again—that is the alliance of government bodies and an alert and active civil society. This is the best possible cover against the rise of the cynical calculus of violent attackers.”

Most people will respond to a crisis situation based on the level of information and training they have received on how to deal with a specific type of situation. Just think about what you almost automatically do when you are driving and you hear a fire engine or ambulance siren. You pull over because this is what you were taught to do when you first learned how to drive. It is not something you have think about or ponder; you just do it. We need to get to being trained to the point where actions are instinctive. This is exactly why fire codes require facilities of all kind to hold regular fire drills. It is well understood that these drills that begin in our early school years prepare people, wherever they may be, to know what to do when the fire alarm is sounded. We must do no less to prepare our citizens for what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Citizens and employees need to be ready so that their instincts are driven by informed information and knowledge, which will significantly increase their chances of survival during an active shooter crisis, whether it is terrorist motivated or otherwise.

Meaningful program efforts must be led from the top of the organization. While this principle also holds true for workplace violence prevention initiatives, it is equally important that there must be significant violence prevention activities at the local level, done in conjunction with other local businesses, community organizations and the community in general. The time has come for us to move beyond focusing on securing our workplace to the greater goal of securing our communities.

Over the last several years we have seen an increase in the focus on ‘secure cities’ and joint public and private security initiatives. These efforts are moving in the right direction; however, they need to be significantly ramped up with the leadership from state and city top officials, working directly with CEOs and community leaders to forge an integrated strategy.

Community Training

Of course, this is no small undertaking. It is hard enough for organizations to overcome their internal silos and collaboration and communications issues, so the effort that is required will take breaking down silos between business organizations, across industries, and community organizations. The task is monumental; however, the stakes are human lives.

One possible area, where it may be easier than others to start to build a violence reduction coalition, is focusing on developing an education and training model with a curriculum that is offered jointly to employees and community residents to create mutual learning experiences. This will benefit employers because it simultaneously trains members of the community, which helps protect business and community organization assets. This type of initiative is what I call “enlightened self-interest” because it meets a goal that virtually all members of the community agree on—the need to significantly reduce violent behavior that impacts citizens of the community.

An example of an area of training that could be involved in such a program is called “Upstander Training.” An “Upstander” is a person who sees something happening that is wrong and does something to help address the situation. A person who does nothing is a bystander. An easy example of this concept is the person who “sees something” and “says something” by reporting it to their supervisor, security or law enforcement. This simple action could save peoples’ lives.

While the popular slogan, “If you see something, say something” prompts people to take action, we need to take it a step further and educate and train people on what those things are that they should say something about. We have to move beyond the situation where we leave it to individual judgement to determine what is unusual and let people know the specific types of things and behaviors that they should be reporting. We can accomplish this by offering training classes on “see something, say something” to the people in our communities. Local universities and business training departments could collaborate on the development of the classes. The training effort could be delivered online, using social media outlets to reach a broad audience quickly, along with offering webinars and classroom sessions to provide access to everyone and to accommodate different learning styles.

Another approach to promulgating the training could be to offer “train-the-trainer” programs for community residents, so that citizens could be certified as a trainer for the program, and then deliver to their families, neighbors, churches and/ or other community organizations, since the goal would be for everyone to be trained.

In addition, the courses should be added to the K-12 curriculum, so that the children in our communities start learning early about how to contribute to security and safety of the community.

The training on “see something, say something” is just an example of an area where the many stakeholders in the community could come together around a common cause to collectively focus on violence prevention. There is obviously a much broader curriculum that is needed to address the reduction of violence; however, this could be a way to get a community-wide initiative started.

Some neighborhoods have neighborhood watch programs that engage members of the neighborhood to be on the lookout for any suspicious behavior and to report it to law enforcement. We need to expand the neighborhood watch concept to entire cities or communities and to exponentially increase the communication sharing between community stakeholders. After the horrific terrorist attack of 9/11, one of the key learning points, for federal and state law enforcement and security agencies, was that they needed to work together and share information across their organization borders to maximize the information available in the attempt to identify developing threats. This same process needs to happen at the local level with the inclusion of the business, faith-based, support and other community-based organizations. I am not suggesting that law enforcement should share their intelligence with these community resources; however, clear channels of communication need to be developed for these community resources to provide important information to law enforcement. It is also clear that law enforcement (e.g., local police, FBI, etc.) need to invigorate their communication protocols and processes to better include community information and make it part of the information gathering that is used to put the puzzle together regarding potential violent threats. Mishaps like the FBI not seriously incorporating the information provided by the gun shop owner in Orlando, who called them to report a suspicious customer (Omar Mateen, the Orlando night club shooter, who was trying to purchase high-end body armor and ammunition in bulk), need to be a part of their threat assessment and intelligence process. Law enforcement needs resources to create the information sharing pool that I am recommending, and to define ways to incorporate community information into their intelligence gathering processes.

Aiming to Broaden the Focus

In the past, I have been a major advocate of organizations creating a security-conscious culture as a means to getting “all hands on deck,” and embracing the notion that workplace violence prevention is everybody’s business: management, supervisors and employees. I now believe the time has come to broaden the focus from a security-conscious culture within an organization, to a security-conscious community, that includes all stakeholders in the community. Our best chance to get ahead of violence and terrorist attacks in our local communities is to move away from the current every-organization has-to-fend-for-itself model, to a new model where community resources are working together for the collective safety of all.

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

About the Author
W. Barry Nixon is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence, Inc., a company focused on assisting organizations to effectively implement programs to prevent workplace violence. He is also the creator of the leading website on workplace violence on the Internet – and publisher of the Workplace Violence Prevention eReport. He is a frequent speaker on workplace violence at national conferences, the author of four books on workplace violence and a past recipient of Security Magazine’s Top People in Security recognition. He is a member of The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Workplace Task force. Barry can be contacted by email at

photo credit: Tex Texin "Crime Scene Do Not Cross" tape via photopin (license)

Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Workplace violence