Safe Rooms: A New Approach to Workplace Violence

Many companies are exploring ways that they can create “safe rooms” in their existing office—addressing the special challenges of corporate security. One of the greatest challenges: the attacker is very often someone familiar to the target and victims. As a result, security measures that are highly effective in many settings—like access control—are only one part of the puzzle.

Almost 80 percent of all workplace fatalities involve firearms. Increasingly, the cause of deadly workplace altercations is shifting away from economically motivated crime (like armed robbery), and toward personal conflicts where the victim and assailant know each other.

Consider domestic violence. Roughly 25% of all American women will be the victims of domestic violence. (By comparison, only about 1 in 10 men are assaulted by a partner—a nonetheless startling statistic.) Statistically, if a woman is murdered, her partner is most likely the culprit.

Domestic violence seeps out into every facet of the victim’s life. The number one cause of death for women in the workplace is homicide. In 90% of these cases, the attacker is known to the female victim (e.g., a family member, partner, or friend).

In other words, for a woman in the workplace, the most likely cause of death is a person that will be a “familiar face” to her coworkers. It’s entirely likely the receptionist will recognize the attacker, and buzz him in. And, likely, his target will not be the only person he harms that day.

The problem isn’t just domestic violence. An increasing number of workplace shootings involves disgruntled employees and former employees, conflicts between coworkers, or regular customers—all people who will be welcomed at the door.

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Creating Secure Space Throughout the Workplace

At one time, corporate security focused on C-suites and front-door access control. For a certain set of attacks, this continues to be a good defensive design. With a disgruntled worker or an ideologically motivated attack, access control is highly effective. Even if the entryway barrier is defeated, targets in management have ample time to seek shelter in core office spaces.

But in a rising portion of attacks, the target isn’t a manager or VP. It’s someone sitting in HR, or typing in a cubicle. She doesn’t even have an office door, let alone a bullet-resistant office. And even if she does sit behind the security of ballistic doors, most of her coworkers remain exposed.

Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards has seen a shift in his corporate clientele, who are working proactively to address these holes in their security planning with safe rooms.

“We saw this a little bit in the past,” Jim explains, “but we’re seeing increased interest in coming up with solutions to protect employees now. Yes, we’re still doing plenty of entrance ways, hardening the entrances. And we’re still seeing some C-suite requests. But now we’re seeing more instances where they are hardening conference rooms and other spaces on each floor. They’re creating designated safe spaces.”

In his conversations with corporate clients, Jim gets the sense that the goal is to “give their employees options.” This gives workers several avenues to seek safety, instead of having a single path away from the threat—one that might well be known to and anticipated by an attacker. For example, the gunman who attacked the Capital Gazette newspaper offices in 2018 knew the layout of the building and blocked a rear fire-exit in advance of his attack. His victims had no way to escape or seek sufficient cover.

Creating Employee Safe Rooms in Any Office

TSS can convert almost any space into a safe room. “It could be a storage room,” Jim says. “It could be a copy room—it could be anything. We’re able to create areas throughout the building where the employees can shelter. It’s no different than a tornado.”

Jim and his team have found conference rooms—even those with exterior and interior windows—to be especially popular choices. Be it reinforcing walls, replacing or back-glazing windows with bullet-resistant transparency, and replacing the door with a ballistic equivalent, “You can have a space that’s an attractive, normal meeting space daily—but also a life-saving safe room if the worst comes to worst.”

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