Originally posted on December 2, 2016
To be fair, I’ll tell you right now that this is not an anti-media rant. I’m actually a fan of most forms of media, and do believe they can be useful in raising interest and awareness about difficult topics, like workplace and school violence prevention. Of course, there can also be a downside from too much media attention.
The Problem with the Media’s Reporting of Workplace Violence
If you believe that participating in an active shooter drill is the single most important thing you can do for your organization’s workplace violence prevention program, I would say that your planning has been overly influenced by media reports.
From Columbine (1999) to the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando (June 2016), these horrific events have dominated news reports, simultaneously fascinating us and creating significant fear. Although these events are still statistically rare, the increase in their frequency combined with the 24-hour news coverage has made the phrase “active shooter” part of our everyday vocabulary. Influence from media coverage of workplace violence incidents has created the mistaken belief that an active shooter should be our primary concern.
However, here are two things to consider:
- It is far more likely that your workplace will experience fist fights, bullying, sexual harassment and other more “routine” threats than an active shooter event. What steps have you taken to prepare for and prevent these types of threats? The American National Standard for Workplace Violence Prevention lists policies and procedures, safety audits,employee training on workplace violence prevention, and the creation of threat assessment teams among steps employers should take.
- Any training that introduces your employees to situational awareness and personal safety tactics (including an Active Shooter Response Drill) is a good idea. But it is not enough, and it probably should not be your starting point. The Monday after Thanksgiving 2016, our day started with news of an "active shooter" on the campus of the Ohio State University. As the story unfolded we learned that in fact the perpetrator was not using a gun. He used his car and an edged weapon (a butcher knife). It may seem that this attack was less serious because there weren’t as many casualties. Consider this: for the people that were involved, this perpetrator created plenty of fear, chaos, trauma and suffering. And I’ll bet that survivors will be asking the university to make it harder for someone to use their vehicle as a weapon in the future.
And, do you remember the event that happened in Nice, France earlier the same year? A terrorist with a gun used a truck to plow into crowds of people out enjoying fireworks on Bastille Day. Over 200 were injured, and 85 people perished. The murder weapon was the truck. Just as with the event in Ohio, the phrase “active shooter” was inaccurate to describe what happened in Nice. It can also be misleading in your prevention planning. We suggest instead the phrase “active aggressor” which will broaden your focus as you think about prevention planning.
Workplace Violence Prevention—A Complex Topic
Fifteen years ago, workplace violence meant "disgruntled employees"; today it also could mean "self-radicalized terrorists". As a topic, workplace violence is complicated and challenging, and critically important. We encourage you to do the right things and take the proper steps to help protect your employees and your workplace.
And don’t let media reports be the primary influence to your planning and preparedness.
Click here for a copy of Components of a Successful Workplace Violence Prevention Enterprise-wide Program