Early Warning Signs of Workplace ViolenceAdam Smith
Yousef Badou is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and one of the leading experts on the subjects of behavioral profiling and situational awareness. He was instrumental in the creation of the USMC Combat Hunter program, which helped Marines recognize and prevent developing threats from insurgency groups overseas. You can read more about his background in our Spotlight interview, but suffice to say he has substantial experience picking up pre-disaster warning signs. Yousef recently wrote an article on EmergenceDisrupt.com titled “3 Warning Signs of Workplace Violence,” and it contains three early warning signs of an active shooter or other mass-casualty event at your workplace.
We’ll share a few relevant excerpts from Yousef’s article below, but we encourage you to read the whole thing if this subject interests you.
1. Gathering Specific Supplies
It’s not uncommon for an attacker to stockpile weapons and ammunition in preparation for their assault. In fact, this is could be one of the earliest warning signs that someone may be planning to launch a violent attack. If you notice someone making or stockpiling firearms, knives, or other weapons, it’s important to view their behavior within context and relevance. Are they an avid hunter or sports shooter where these supplies would be normal? Or are they loading a deer rifle into their vehicle on a Tuesday morning of a school day?
More specific warning signs of workplace violence and dangerous behavior include seeing an employee or other person with supplies like chains, handcuffs, or any other material meant to lock doors, restrain someone, or tie something down.
These are items that might typically be purchased in military surplus stores, security stores, spy shops, construction, or hardware stores. The key is to spotting these items is to always be aware of levels of appropriateness to a situation. Examples of active shooter bags and kits to look out for would be, seeing someone wearing a tactical military bag in a church service or carrying a hockey bag at a school with no hockey team.
Metal gun parts tend to poke through materials and can rip through or leave a visible print or bulge on the outside of an active shooter bag or jacket. If an active shooter has filled the bag with a lot of ammo, explosives, or guns it can sometimes creak and crease at the shoulder straps and look very heavy.
If you see a person at your workplace with anything like that, trust your gut feeling. They are a definite cause for concern and should be scrutinized more deliberately.
2. Practicing The Attack
A practice run is one of the last few steps before the actual attack begins, so it’s important to know this and take precautions if necessary, like letting security know of their presence and what you’ve seen them doing at the business. Active shooters will sometimes practice their assault before carrying out an act of workplace violence. This could involve target shooting or even staging the attack itself.
Above: In 2007, an unarmed 19-year-old entered a department store in the Omaha Mall, scanned for a few moments, and left only to return 6 minutes later with a rifle to begin shooting.
It’s important to remember that not all practice is bad – many people enjoy practicing martial arts or firearms for sport. However, if you see someone who is practicing in a violent or destructive manner, this is definitely a cause for concern.
In 2007, an active shooter killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Prior to the shooting, the killer had been diagnosed with a mental illness and was deemed a danger to himself and others. In the weeks leading up to the massacre, the killer began behaving strangely and stockpiling weapons and ammunition. He also sent violent threats to his classmates and professors.
One of the final events the active shooter conducted was to go to a local gun range and bought multiple life-like paper targets and laid them face down on the floor of the range. He then proceeded to walk between them firing the two pistols he was holding into the targets. This event was noticed but the witnesses did not share the information thinking it was just another “odd” customer.
3. Verbalizing Threats or Making Odd Comments
One of the easiest ways to identify an active shooter before they strike is by listening for any verbal threats or comments. In many cases, attackers exhibit strange behavior, act manic and out of control, make menacing comments, or talk about their plans prior to carrying out the assault. This may be in the form of written threats or warnings, online posts, in-person, or another form of communication that they can deny when confronted.
If you notice someone making repeated threats, violent comments about wanting to hurt other workers or managers, or bragging about their plan, it can be a warning sign of a serious problem. These types of statements are warning signs of workplace violence. They should not be ignored and should be reported to authorities immediately.
if you see any of the following exhibited by any employee at your workplace, you must take the important step to alert security before any violent act can occur.
- Bullying other workers in the workplace
- Starting rumors and showing a high degree of pettiness
- Problems with drugs and alcohol
- Marked changes in their personality
- Inability to accept blame or follow procedures
- Showing disdain for most people, especially managers and authority figures
- A noticeable negative change in their attitude towards their jobs, your business, managers, or other employees
How to React to Warning Signs of Workplace Violence
If you are threatened by someone, it is important to remember to stay calm and try to get as much information as possible. Ask the person making the threats what they plan to do and why they are doing it. It is also important to try and get a description of the person making the threats, including any identifying information such as tattoos or piercings. If possible, take pictures or videos of the person making the threats. Once you have gathered as much information as possible, it is important to report the incident to authorities.
No one ever expects to receive a threat in person or on social media, especially from a fellow employee at their workplace, but it can happen to anyone. Do not ignore these kinds of warning signs. If you receive a threatening message from another person, the next thing you do is the most important step to keep yourself safe. Don’t retaliate or respond to the threat. That could make the situation worse. Instead, save the message and any other evidence, block the person who sent the threat, and report the threat to security at your workplace or to the authorities, if necessary.
For more information on workplace violence, threat identification, and situational awareness, read the full article at EmergenceDisrupt.com.
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