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  • Drew Neckar

The aftermath: organizational response after an incident of extreme workplace violence.

In the immediate aftermath of a workplace shooting or other act of extreme violence, the initial response to neutralize the attacker and provide care for the injured should be the paramount concern. After these tasks have been accomplished the organization will need to turn its efforts to crisis management with the express purpose of managing the long-term mental health of the affected staff and the incident’s impact on the organization’s business.


First steps will include a communication plan, not just to the media who the organization will be inundated with information requests from, but also to the organization’s employees, customers, and family of the victims. Within minutes of police being called the news media will likely be aware of the incident, with the potential for national or international reporting within a short period of time.


During the crisis itself and until the suspect has been neutralized and initial law enforcement and EMS response is completed it is typically best to allow the responding public safety agencies to manage all press inquiries so as not to jeopardize their response or initial investigation. Once the immediate situation is resolved it will be important for the organization to rapidly implement their own communication plan with a statement to the media, made in coordination with the responding public safety agencies.


Organizations should have a pre-developed incident response playbook that specifies a single point of contact who will be responsible for delivering official communications regarding the incident, and all other employees should have been trained to defer any questions to the official spokesperson. Many workplace shootings and other acts of extreme violence result in litigation arising from the incident, this necessitates involving professionals in crisis management and legal fields immediately to avoid making mistakes that could lead to increased liability down the road due to statements made in haste.


The statements delivered by the spokesperson should be developed in coordination with someone familiar with crisis communication in response to major incidents, if the organization does not have an internal resources there are a number of crisis management firms that can be engaged, but as with everting else in emergency response these relationships should be developed prior to the incident so staff have an immediate resources rather than paging through the Yellow Pages or scrolling through Google search results as they are trying to deal with the crisis. This will help the organization deal with the inevitable “Monday morning quarterbacking” and second guessing that will likely be rampant regarding the potential for the organization to have prevented the incident and of any “red flags” that were potentially missed or mishandled.


Crisis management experts will also be able to provide resources for the ongoing support of mental health for the organization’s affected staff. The effects of an incident on staff are not just limited to those who were present at the time of the incident or who work in the facility where the attack occurred, staff across the organization are likely to feel differing degrees of impact and resources should be available to assist any of them.


The location where the attack occurred will be considered a crime scene and the investigation may well keep it closed for weeks or months after the incident. The organization will need to consider whether the services provided at this location were essential to its’ business how if so how to resume them during this time. If the organization has multiple facilities that provide similar services this can be as simple as displacing the activities that would have occurred at the affected location, but if not thought must be given to locating an alternate site for use until the affected facility can resume operations. When locating an alternate site consideration should also be given to the potential that it may be best for organizational reputation and the mental health of affected employees to permanently relocate away from the location where the incident occurred so the potential of the new location as a permanent replacement should be taken into account.


The relocation of services gives the organization another opportunity to communicate with customers, framing the conversation around the new location and the measures the organization is taking to ensure everyone’s safety. A key measure is to again involve professional Crisis Communications teams in the messaging and to show compassion but avoid statements that could be construed to imply that the incident occurred because of failures on the organization’s part.


In the wake of an attack there will also often be a strong instinct for the organization to demonstrate how seriously it takes the safety and security of its staff and customers by drastically altering the level of security that it provides for its other locations or for the effected location once it reopens. The organization should be wary of knee-jerk reactions that implement unsustainable security levels which are not based on actual risk just to help perception. The potential need to draw down that level of coverage in the future because of unsustainable cost can lead to increased liability if the organization cannot articulate a risk driven rationale.


All security programs should be flexible and should adjust as the threat environment changes, the fact that a shooting occurred will almost certainly provide information on gaps in the program that the organization may not have been aware of and that should then be addressed. From a public perception standpoint any visible changes to the security stance of the organization can help play a role in decreasing employee and public perception of danger, so statements backed up by action showing that the organization does take the safety of its staff and customers seriously can play an important role in its response and eventual business resumption.


One option is to engage the services of an independent Security Consultant to assess the organization’s security posture and recommend potential improvements, this allows the organization to show that they are “doing something” but does not immediately tie them long term to measures that may not be risk based.


While the organization will be forced to deal with a myriad of necessary tasks in response to an act of extreme violence the most important thing to remember is that all of these will be much more likely to be successful if forethought has been given to them. If the organization has thorough crisis communication and business continuity plans and the individuals who are responsible for leading the response have been trained in these plans and have step by step instruction available all aspects of the response will be much more likely to be effective.

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