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Every Crisis Management Plan Needs to Address Workplace Violence

As mentioned in a recent article (“Terrorism, Workplace Violence, and Insurance Implications”), the latest research suggests that 95 percent of employers are either completely unprepared or seriously under-prepared to handle a major crisis of any type. Effective crisis management planning, a major step in risk mitigation, is meant to consider every type of crisis and risk that an organization faces, as well as what senior-level response to a situation will be. And workplace violence response is a critical part of any response plan.

There are different thresholds for activation of a crisis management plan, according to Chris Flatt of March, Inc., a global leader in insurance and risk management. Some smaller-scale incidents might not trigger the plan, but an act of terrorism or an active shooter in the workplace certainly would.

If an event meets this triggering threshold, the plan activates a crisis management team. That team should include representatives from different functional areas of an organization. As a critical component of an effective crisis management plan, the team’s primary purpose is to coordinate an organization’s response to an event. This includes communicating with and assisting employees and their families in the wake of an incident, working with law enforcement and outside agencies, and numerous other actions. A comprehensive crisis management plan should encompass difference scenarios and procedures to address different forms of workplace violence, including active shooter incidents and other types of terrorist attacks. Employees should complete awareness training on what to do when faced with various types of incidents.

Types of Situations

According to Jim McGinty, vice president of training and safety at Covenant Security Services, Ltd. and a consultant with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it’s important to recognize the type of situation that is occurring. During an Active Shooter Awareness virtual roundtable held in Washington, D.C., McGinty explained that there are two types of active shooter situations: dynamic and static. A dynamic situation is rapidly evolving and includes shooting and moving; a static situation is one where there is no movement, such as when a person is barricaded in a room. At the roundtable, Samuel Mayhugh, Ph.D., a consultant with DHS, described three types of shooters:
1. The workplace or school shooter is usually concerned about some very specific problem, job termination, mortgage foreclosure, spouse issues or bullying. Specific persons are often targeted.
2. Criminal shooters are concerned about self and ego and they believe vengeance justifies violence. They tend to carry more ammunition and are generally cold and calm during the event. They have mentally rehearsed the event and often have practiced at gun ranges.
3. Ideological terrorists use violent acts to create terror in a particular population. They are not concerned for others or self; they tend to be cause-oriented.

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Training is Crucial

According to Jonathan Bernstein, a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer and owner of Bernstein Crisis Management, too many companies lack a crisis management plan and it often takes a serious event before they start getting better prepared. A good plan calls for routine vulnerability audits to look for red flags that indicate something may go wrong. He says that most of the time, there are huge gaps in preparedness for workplace violence and until the wheels squeak loudly enough and the issue applies to them personally, management often don’t even want to open the door to the creation of a crisis management plan. They see it as additional workload on top of their already busy schedule. They also see it as an expense, rather than an investment, because having a policy isn’t enough. There has to be initial and ongoing refresher training to go along with it, as well as sanctions for not following policy.

Once a crisis management plan is in place and training is accomplished, Bernstein recommends that table top drills be repeated yearly. All employees sit in one room during the exercise. A scenario is introduced. Team members relate to the trainer the steps they will take given the specific situation and actions called for in the crisis management plan. The trainer will introduce variables as the training continues to gauge how the team reacts. The exercise ends with a critique of the team’s actions and reactions.

It is also good practice to structure tabletop drills around various different types of incidents to more fully prepare the team. Bernstein states that, no matter how much work a crisis management plan may entail, in the long run it will save lives and protect property. If a business remains unprepared, just the cost of civil lawsuits resulting from an incident that is poorly handled could close it down.

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