Workplace and School Violence Really Is Preventable

Keeping our schools safe

This week’s Tuesday Training was written by Randy Van Dyne, Executive Director at Findlay All Hazards. 

My niece is a Teacher at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky. When she heard gunshots during last week’s shooting, a tragedy that would kill two and injure 18, she grabbed a nearby student and ran into a classroom to hide. She found out later one of her favorite students suffered a serious gunshot wound to the face.

I hope that is as close as I ever get to the personal side of this issue. Imagine my sense of relief when I heard she was okay. However, I immediately thought about the parents of the children killed during the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012, some of whom I had the honor to meet. The pain and suffering on their faces and in their eyes is something I will never forget.  The families of those children have a senseless feeling of loss that will last for the rest of their lives. And I think about the families of the three who lost their lives in a workplace shooting in Maryland in October, and so many others.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people across our country don’t realize that both workplace and school violence is very often preventable. I believe it is past time to wake up, understand that violence prevention is possible, and take the steps necessary to implement the proven prevention programs that already exist. I’m not talking about Active Shooter Training. That kind of training is good to have, but it teaches you what to do when someone arrives at your location with a gun. I’m talking about preventing the person from showing up with the gun to begin with.

Contrary to public opinion, virtually no one makes a sudden decision to show up one day at a school or a workplace with a gun and begin shooting people. The motivation of almost all violence perpetrators is to get even with an individual, a group of people or some institution that they feel has harmed them in some way. They want to get even with their target. That is why it is called Targeted Violence, and assailants plan their attack, sometimes for months.

Potential perpetrators move, over time, through the steps of a process called the Targeted Violence Continuum. First comes ideation. They convince themselves that they must get evenNext, they plan how they might carry out the idea, selecting a date, a location, a weapon, or a target list.  Then, the assailant prepares… They locate a gun, make sure they have plenty of ammunition, and choose a time to attack when they can be certain the targeted individuals will be at the workplace or school. Working through this continuum takes the perpetrator some time, but eventually, they reach the last step, implementation, and carry out their plan.

The first step to prevention is to set up a network of intelligence gathering at your organization. Teach workers or students what to report, and exactly who to report it to. This is the dependable ‘see-something-say-something’ approach. You are looking for certain behaviors here, like unusual moods, change in moods, or threatening or strange writings or comments. Make sure you have your system set up to constantly gather all the information you can.

The second step is to establish a Threat Assessment Management Team. Team members should include representatives from security teams, management or administration, local law enforcement, and local mental health agencies. The team is charged with collecting the information from staffers and determining how to best proceed. Is the person that others are concerned with just having a “bad day” or is there something deeper going on?

The ultimate goal is to intervene before the potential perpetrator moves through the continuum to the final stage of implantation. Many times, the issues causing the “I must get even” feelings are resolvable. There may be mental health or other underlying issues to contend with. And, law enforcement may even have to step in. Your organization must be proactive to prevent the occurrence of workplace or school violence, and not simply sit back, like the majority does, and presume it won’t happen here.

Everyone should be asking his or her human resource office and local school officials what they are doing to prevent violence. Ask around in your community, too. What are the local organizations for seniors or organizations like the YMCA doing? How about churches or other organizations you may be in involved with? Ask them all.

I’ve studied Targeted Violence for years, and now I have come closer to it than ever before, as a family member was on-site during a school shooting. It leaves me shaken, but also more motivated than ever to use what we’ve learned here at Findlay to help everyone improve the safety of their schools or workplaces.

Since 2002, Findlay All Hazards has been helping organizations all across the county develop workplace violence prevention and improve school safety and security programs. We can help you too. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to find out more.

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