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Corporate security is widely—and wildly—neglected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that workplace shootings are now 30 times more common than building fires. The bulk of mass shootings occur at a workplace, but only about 20 percent are adequately prepared for an active shooter incident.
“They all take it seriously once they have an event,” notes Joe Delia. “But once that happens, you have injuries and deaths, you likely have to pay civil damages, you have damage to your brand—and you still have to fix the problems that were there all along.” This is not the ideal way to approach corporate security.
Joe Delia is the Senior Director of Security Consulting Services for GardaWorld in the United States. He’s a former Deputy Chief of Police, who retired as a 27-year veteran of law enforcement. For more than a decade he was a Task Force Agent, assigned to the FBI, DEA, and IRS-CID task forces. Today, he regularly serves as an expert witness in negligent security lawsuits.
Delia sees three corporate security threat and safety trends that need your attention in 2020.
1. Addressing Warning Signs
The media tends to characterize mass shooters as “quiet guys” who “mostly keep to themselves” or “lone wolves” who were “off the grid” and “not on anyone’s radar.”
In reality, that’s almost never the case. Delia points out that, “If you look at the FBI’s data, 100% of school shooters told somebody they were going to shoot up the school before they did it. Think about that. Just let that resonate for a second.”
With corporate security and workplace violence, the FBI has found clear warning signs correlated with these events. According to their statistics, 70% of the time workplace violence is preceded by all of the warning signs.
“People miss the warning signs. The key is to intervene before the would-be attacker hurts somebody. You can save yourself a lot of problems if you train your staff to see warning signs, take them seriously, and communicate with each other about them.”
The 2019 Aurora, Illinois Workplace Shooting
Delia points to a shooting in Aurora, IL in February 2019 that received a fair amount of media attention. News outlets initially reported that the perpetrator “kept to himself,” “seemed perfectly fine,” and exhibited “no red flags.” Law enforcement likewise characterized the attack as not premeditated (and thus unforeseeable).
This turned out to be untrue: The shooter had an established history of violence. He’d served time in Mississippi for aggravated assault, and been arrested locally at least six times. Those local arrests included both domestic violence charges and violating a restraining order. And he had come to work that day armed and planning to kill:
“Look at the Aurora Illinois shooting, back in February,” Delia says. “That guy went in that day. He knew he was going to get fired, and he told a coworker while he was clocking in ‘If they fire me today, I’m going to shoot the place up.’” Most chillingly: “The coworker didn’t tell anybody.”
The attacker ultimately killed five employees, injured one other employee non-fatally, and shot six responding police officers.
2. Multi-pronged Approach: Employee Training and Physical Security
Corporate security in 2020 calls for a multi-pronged approach. First and foremost, this means training employees—especially first-line supervisors and HR generalists—to look for and note warning signs. (One of the people killed in the Aurora shooting was a 21-year-old HR intern on his first day of work.)
This training needs two prongs: First is identifying the warning signs (the Department of Labor offers some good resources for such training; we published an overview of the FBI’s five key warning signs in the “PREVENTION—Stop Attacks Before They Start” section of our 5-Minute Safety Topic: Corporate Active Shooter Training).
The second prong is to make sure everyone knows what to do when they notice a warning sign. Employees need something straightforward, like “Immediately talk to HR” or “Contact your supervisor.” Those in management and HR will need a more nuanced approach—but should never hesitate to contact law enforcement immediately. Local police are well prepared to make a determination of whether or not a situation is “serious enough”—and would much rather address a threat before it develops into an event.
“Remember,” Delia says, “You have a 7 out of 10 chance of preventing workplace violence by training your employees. Who wouldn’t take those odds?”
Corporate Security, Physical Security, and Foreseeability
Additionally, there’s a basic legal presumption of foreseeability: Would a reasonable person be able to foresee that this event was to occur? If so, then what actions did the organization take to mitigate or prevent this?
“Look at your physical security,” Delia explains. This includes access control on doors (both external and internal), monitored security cameras, security personal, even things as simple as outdoor lighting. “Is it adequate for the threats that you face? Look at all these active shooter incidents; since 2015 they’re on an upward climb. A good attorney can, and will, make the argument that you should know the data.”
3. Understanding the Impact of Targeted Violence on Corporate Security
Increasing corporate security means appreciating the reality of targeted violence. Over the last several decades, we’ve substantially reduced violent crime in America overall. But targeted violence—aimed at minorities and religious communities, or arising from family, domestic, or workplace disputes—remains steady, and is even increasing for some populations. In contrast to economically motivated crimes, targeted violence is harder to deter.
“This is targeted violence,” according to Delia: somebody is mad at someone specific, has a complaint, has been through a divorce, has lost a job, lost custody of a child, and so on. It is personal. A bank robber who sees a guard at the door will go across town and hit a less secure bank. A terminated employee who’s decided that violence is the answer will shoot at a guard, shoot at a receptionist, shoot at a bystander, and keep coming until they get to the person they believe “has it coming.”
“This is a major consideration, especially for women in the workplace. The leading cause of death in the workplace for women is homicide. You have to ask yourself, if you have security issues and employ women at your company, are you providing them the level of security they deserve? They are more likely to be victimized.”