We have seen schools, shopping centers, movie theatres, political rallies, and many other locations all become sites of mass shootings. What all these locations have in common – beyond being places where people congregate – is that they are also places where people work. Almost by definition, there are workers wherever people gather, workers who serve the gatherers.
And so, those of us who are responsible for the safety of our employees and customers must assess our readiness to cope with potential violence in our workplace.
Let’s take a moment from our year-end activities and holiday celebrations to consider what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and apply the learnings to our own work sites.
What strikes me the most as I read the newspapers is how much went right after the gunman entered the school. Consider:
- Teachers and administrators immediately confronted the gunman after he apparently shot his way into the building.
- A custodian ran through the building giving warnings, and someone turned on the public address system to broadcast more warnings.
- Trained teachers in each room moved rapidly to protect the children (both teachers and students knew what to do in a lockdown).
- Many administrators, teachers, and even children demonstrated great courage.
- The authorities were promptly notified and arrived on the scene quickly.
- Local authorities took control of evacuating people and knew where to send them (the local fire station).
- Emergency health workers mobilized to the hospitals (though it tragically became apparent that their expertise would not be needed).
In fact, almost everything went right after the shootings took place. Nevertheless, 27 people died at the school. What more could have been done to prepare for this calamity?
Managers in Human Resources, Security and other departments responsible for workplace safety cannot do much about the mental health and gun control issues in our society as a whole. But we can work on preparedness within our walls.
The crisis management team at my company went through a planning exercise several years back that was eerily similar to the events of Sandy Hook. In our fictitious scenario, a gunman entered through the main door of our building, shot people in a nearby conference room, and proceeded down an open hallway. It didn’t take us long in working through the scenario to realize that we could not control such a situation and that our crisis management plan needed work.
Does your organization have a workplace violence and crisis management process in place? You can never predict the specifics of what might happen, but preparation can minimize injuries and death if your worst fears ever become real.