The office building where I work was recently the scene of workplace violence that ended in a murder-suicide. While company policies and security measures attempt to prevent such things, we all know that it is nearly impossible to stop people who are bent on destruction; rules and policies are simply ignored, and security can be circumvented. Like I did before this occurred, you may view workplace violence as something that happens somewhere else, maybe in large cities or in other states. But we experienced it in our community, at our workplace, so I want to remind SB readers that it can happen anywhere, at any time, and it is prudent to prepare for it.
Should the unthinkable occur, the primary objective is rapid, safe evacuation of your team and yourself. Unless your role is one of emergency responder, then your thoughts and preparations must be on moving to safety first and not confronting the perpetrators, securing the facility, fighting the fire, or providing medical care. Once the immediate threat is over, then medical assistance can be given and the other issues dealt with.
Thinking back to the day and its events, I have concluded that there are actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of serious injury or death. Some of these actions I took, while others I should have taken:
- Treat every warning or evacuation order seriously: We have to consciously resist normalcy bias. In our hearts and minds, we believe that the events of each new day will be similar to previous days and go as planned. When given a strong indication, such as an alarm or verbal order to evacuate, we must quickly flip a mental switch that it is no longer “business as usual”. While fire drills are useful exercises to learn procedures, egress routes, rally points, et cetera, they can create a sense of complacency; it’s only a drill, after all. To improve your prospects of survival, commit to yourself that you will consider any alarm or warning as deadly serious.
- Look all around as you evacuate: Although your primary objective is to vacate the building, as you move implement extreme situational awareness. Look behind you, to the sides, in front, above, and below. Look for threats, victims, people that need assistance to evacuate, hazards, obstacles, et cetera. Help where you can, but keep moving.
- Keep critical personal items on your person: During a hasty evacuation, you likely will not have time to locate and gather your cell phone, car keys, purse, medical items, et cetera from a distant desk, locker, or conference room. Best practice is to maintain these items on your person: in your pocket, on your belt, or in your brief case.
- Consider evacuation to be permanent: There are many circumstances, including fire, chemical contamination, et cetera, that will prevent you from ever returning or retrieving critical personal items. So plan the management of critical items accordingly.
- Every day carry (EDC) items: There are items that can be carried to support your safe egress and comply with common weapons-free work environment policies. First is a flashlight. I see many people depend on the flashlight function of their cell phone, but I believe best practice is to carry a dedicated battery-powered LED flashlight. At a minimum, a pen sized light with two high quality AAA batteries is recommended, or better yet an LED light using DL123 or rechargeable 18650 batteries. While a larger light clearly provides superior illumination, it must be a light that you will commit to carrying at all times. Other items that can be every day carried are a basic first aid kit, tactical pen that can serve as a covert weapon, and a ballistic insert for your brief case or backpack.
- Spare car key: I strongly suggest that a spare key be duct taped or magnetically attached to the underside or hidden in an external area of your vehicle. If you can get to your car, even without a key, you need to be able to open the doors, remove items you have in it, and drive it away. With older vehicles, it is a simple matter of having the local hardware store cut a duplicate key. With newer cars, the keys often contain “chips” and are not easily duplicated. Spare keys can be purchased at greater cost from a dealer. This measure can also serve you well in less critical times, should you lock your keys in your car or loose your keys.
- Rehearse evacuation: Although it seems like an obvious thing to do, few people make a concerted effort to identify the locations of fire alarms, fire extinguishers, defibrillators, and emergency exits prior to an emergency. Schedule time on your calendar, or take whatever effort is needed to devote adequate time to review your facility and its emergency features.
- Account for your team: Once you have evacuated the danger zone, turn your attention to accounting for your team members. Gather them together, and identify any missing people. Make emergency personnel aware of anyone who is missing.
Although every situation is unique, I hope that this experience and these suggestions can make a positive difference for those who might experience workplace violence. Many preparations and the mindset for surviving small scale workplace violence also apply to larger scale disasters. Please consider and implement steps that would improve the your chances of surviving workplace violence or other sudden calamities.
“A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Proverbs 27:12