Every day, between 5,500 and 7,600 Americans are victims of workplace violence. Among the workers most at-risk according to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) are those who interact directly with the public, handle cash or other payments, have to resolve complaints and disputes arising from overdue utility bills, or carry out enforcement duties (like cutting off a delinquent customer). This is a pretty spot-on description of the average work day for clerks and cashiers at utility payment offices of all types: gas, water, phone, cable, power, city and county clerks, and so on.
Consider this infamous two-minute video of what happened when a woman in Detroit was upset about her son’s phone:
That’s one clerk who was very glad to have a bullet resistant barrier between him and a less-than-satisfied customer.
Bullet Resistant Barrier Systems for Utility Offices
According to Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards, the incident captured in that video is par for the course in many utility offices. The news report chose to play it for laughs—focusing on indecent exposure, and quickly sailing past the fact that the woman had a knife and gouged at the case and barrier. “Unfortunately,” Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards notes, “what we’ve learned is that these kinds of incidents are rarely very funny. Especially for the people behind the counter.” To being with, more often than not the clerks are women working to support their families, and the irate customers tower over them. As one utility office manager explained to Total Security Solutions, “When a big man is standing at the counter, screaming and cussing at a female customer service rep who’s five-foot-four, there’s something wrong with him…You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Over the past several decades, Total Security Solutions has worked with all sorts of utility and payment offices, designing, fabricating, and installing bullet resistant systems that mesh seamlessly both with their office aesthetic and their business needs.
“Typically,” Jim explains, “they need two or three transaction areas—similar to a small bank office—with deal trays for passing documents, and some reinforcement of the counters. All said, they generally don’t need much more than a Level 3 system. These can usually be installed overnight—so minimal disruption of business—and are well within the budget of any utility or service provider.”
Getting the Right Level of Protection for Your Utility Office
“The biggest challenge,” Jim notes, “is helping utility operators understand the level of protection they need.” Because of the sorts of extremely violent incidents that draw wide 24-hour news coverage, many a small payment and utility offices begin exploring bullet resistant systems with the assumption they need a barrier that will stop heavy assault weaponry.
As a result, they suffer tremendous sticker shock: Level 5 through 8 systems—designed to stop bursts from AK-47s, AR-15s, and other tactical rifles—are government-grade installs. The materials involved are very expensive and challenging to work with: Level 5 bullet proof glass is more than two inches thick, with each window weighing hundreds of pounds by itself. They require special framing pieces and reinforced walls and counters. It’s the sort of installation that protects the windows of the Oval Office.
And, in case it doesn’t go without saying, the local cable or water payment office doesn’t need that level of protection.
“Fortunately,” Jim explains, “most acts of violence don’t go further than what you see in that video: A really emotionally overwhelmed person yelling and damaging property. Maybe waving a weapon around. That said, if there’s an opportunity, it’s not at all uncommon for a person like this to get physical with an employee.” When a barrier is in place—as it was in the case of that Detroit cellphone office—the clerk has someplace to wait out the storm.
“We find that most utilities are very happy with a Level 3 system. In the unlikely event a disgruntled customer or employee comes in shooting, this will stop the most common calibers of bullets. In any case, it will offer excellent physical protection. More importantly, the barrier functions like psychological armor, shielding your staff from the emotional violence this individual is spewing.”