As an HR pro, you’re adept at juggling many stressors on a regular basis. But those day-to-day headaches don’t come close to the nightmare scenario that unfolded at a Walmart in Virginia, where a manager killed several employees in a workplace shooting.
Here’s a quick recap of what we know so far: The manager opened fire on workers in an employee break room, killing six and injuring six more, before he fatally shot himself. Survivors have reported that the manager appeared to be shooting at random rather than aiming at specific targets. Most recently, a report has surfaced that the manager left a “death note” on his phone, apologizing for what he would do and blaming other employees for mocking him. He had no criminal history, and the weapon he used was purchased legally.
It’s important to note that these are early details. Investigations into mass shootings often take months to resolve. In the days and weeks to come, we’ll learn much more as the investigation unfolds.
In the meantime, this tragic incident serves as a reminder that employers would be prudent to prioritize the development – and implementation – of emergency action plans as well as safety and security training for employees.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to endure this kind of tragedy at your company. But the fact is, gun violence continues to be a problem across the U.S. That’s why it’s crucial to prepare for the worst – just in case.
Workplace shooting guidance – Responsibilities for HR, managers
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has compiled guidance on active shooter incidents in the workplace that can help employees stay safe in the event of an emergency.
Preparing for and managing an active shooter situation requires a team effort. The feds outlined a strategic plan that divides responsibilities by department:
- HR’s responsibilities include: Conducting effective employee screening and background checks; creating a system to report signs of potentially violent behavior; prioritizing mental health and making counseling services available to employees; and developing an emergency action plan.
- Facility manager’s responsibilities include: Instituting access controls (keys, passcodes); distributing critical items – like floor plans, keys and personnel name/phone lists – to appropriate managers; assembling crisis kits containing radios, floor plans, staff rosters, staff emergency contact numbers, flashlights and first aid kits; and placing removable floor plans near entrances for emergency responders.
- Managers’ responsibilities include: Being familiar with and following the emergency action plan, remaining calm, locking and barricading doors, assisting with evacuations and aiding individuals with special needs.
Run, Hide, Fight
The guidance also covers “Run, Hide, Fight,” the recommended procedure for active shooter situations, which helps individuals determine the best course of action:
- Run: If there is an accessible escape path, quickly evacuate the premises.
- Hide: If evacuation isn’t possible, find a place to hide where the shooter is less likely to find you.
- Fight: As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the shooter.
What to expect when police arrive: 7 rules to follow
When it comes to preparedness training, one often overlooked area is what happens when help arrives. In a crisis, folks are likely to be stressed or traumatized. So they need to know what to expect – before an emergency happens.
When police arrive on the scene, they may:
- Be wearing either regular uniforms or external bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets and other tactical gear
- Be armed with rifles, shotguns and/or handguns
- Use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation, and
- Shout commands and push people to the ground for their safety.
The first officers on the scene won’t stop to help the injured. And they won’t stop to answer questions. Their first priority will be to contain the threat.
For these reasons, DHS says it’s crucial that folks know how to respond appropriately. Here’s what everyone should be trained to do:
- Remain calm, and follow the police officers’ instructions
- Put down any items in their hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
- Immediately raise their hands and spread their fingers
- Keep their hands visible at all times
- Avoid making quick movements toward officers and making physical contact with them
- Avoid pointing, screaming and/or yelling, and
- Avoid stopping to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating.
Once employees are in a safe location, they will likely be held there by police until the situation is under control. Officers will want to verify that everyone has been accounted for and will want to talk to witnesses. Employees should not leave until they have been instructed to do so by police.
An ounce of prevention: Red flags to look out for
Of course, the best approach is to prevent problems before things escalate to violence.
According to the DHS, people rarely “just snap.” In most cases, individuals display indicators of potential violence over time. If caught early, these behaviors can be corrected or managed. Some red flags include:
- Increased use of alcohol or illegal drugs
- Unexplained increase in absences
- Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance or hygiene
- Depression and/or withdrawal
- Resistance or overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
- Repeated violation of company policies
- Increased severe mood swings
- Noticeably unstable, emotional responses
- Explosive outbursts of anger or rage
- Suicidal; comments about “putting things in order”
- Behavior/comments showing paranoia (e.g., “Everyone is out to get me.”)
- An increase in talk about problems from home (domestic violence, serious financial issues, etc.)
- An increase in comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons and violent crime
Need more help? Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General released new guidance to help companies provide much-needed mental health support to employees. In it, the first action step prioritizes physical and psychological safety in the workplace.