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Preventing Workplace Shootings Requires Proactive Measures

Protocols help companies intervene early when individuals exhibit warning signs.

Source: Shutterstock

On February 26, a gunman brought a firearm inside the Milwaukee campus of Molson Coors, shot and killed five people and then turned the weapon on himself.

The tragedy marks yet another workplace shooting – incidents that, like school shootings, have been steadily increasing. In response, more and more companies are fine-tuning protocols to best help save lives in the event of such a crisis.

They would be wise to recognize the necessity of preventive measures that go beyond just responding to impending threats, but seek to identify the earliest indications of a potential crisis. Because when someone enters the workplace with a gun, and an intent to kill, it’s already too late.

Effective prevention of workplace shootings begins by creating multidisciplinary threat assessment teams to identify at-risk individuals. These teams must receive training, meet regularly, and utilize established protocols for tracking “red flag” behavior – for example, a high volume of disciplinary actions, erratic behavior, and an affinity for guns and violence.

The key distinction among preventive models is that these early-warning signs set off necessary procedural alarm bells, triggering team members to immediately conduct non-punitive investigations, perform threat assessments, and determine the best methods for intervention, possible community notification, and response.

While it may seem like common sense, this approach is rarely embraced. Institutions are often wary of taking action in advance of clear evidence that an individual poses an immediate threat. It is for this reason that shooters frequently exhibit red flag after red flag – a seemingly endless trail of warning signs that, in retrospect, appears obvious, but nobody pieced together or connected the dots before it was too late.

The best preventive threat assessment protocols go further than identifying would-be shooters, by assessing each situation with an eye toward seeking early and appropriate support and possible treatment options, as well as engaging families, as appropriate. This rehabilitative rather than disciplinary approach creates avenues for inviting formerly at-risk individuals back to work, as appropriate, once benchmarks measuring therapeutic progress are met. It also serves to encourage colleagues to report concerning behavior, as people usually hesitate to notify supervisors about early-warning signs when the most likely outcome for the individual in question is termination.

It is natural that following a workplace shooting, leaders pour their energy into efforts like shortening emergency response times. Focusing on these reactive measures gives us a sense of greater control when faced with the terrifying thought that colleagues are at risk of joining the number of victims lost to mass shootings that have grown increasingly common.

There’s no doubt these measures reduce casualties and save lives. However, they must be paired with tried-and-true preventive and proactive approaches to best ensure workplace safety.