The Potential for Violence is All Around Us, Even in The Workplace

By Lt. Thomas Waltz

The potential for violence is all around us, even in the workplace. Preparing for the possibility of a workplace violence incident will help your employees understand that a violent incident may occur and possibly increase their chances of survival. This article will touch on a few of the topics that should be included when preparing for a workplace violence incident.


Situational awareness is the ability to comprehend what is going on around you and interpret that information so as to predict what might happen next. In the law enforcement world, police officers are trained to constantly be aware of their environment, evaluate their surroundings and observe the body language of individuals they interact with. This allows them to identify the subtle indications of an impending attack. The concept is not new, and is actually a part of our human nature that only needs to be developed.

When putting together a training plan, the first item you should address is situational awareness within your organization. This means that every employee is involved, from the reception staff to the supervisors and managers. Threats can be both external and internal. External threats may include clients, patients or individuals who hold a grudge toward your organization. Internal threats include workplace bullying, disciplined employees, workplace romances gone badly, as well as employee relationships that are outside the workplace. Regardless of where the threats come from, they might make your organization a target for workplace violence.

The following is a short list of behavior your staff should be aware of. All of these situations have the potential to lead to violence.

  • Threats made by clients, patients or individuals who are upset with the organization. All threats or like behavior should be reported to staff. Staff should report threats of violence to law enforcement immediately.
  • Threats or targeting of individual employees (Stalking, threatening behavior, assault, etc.) should be reported to staff and law enforcement.
  • Disputes between employees
  • Dating relationships in the workplace
  • Employees who may be going through (outside workplace) relationship problems, which may include domestic violence, child custody disputes and restraining orders.

Prepare your facility

When preparing for violence in the workplace, facility security is often the area most ignored. This is true for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it costs money and causes inconvenience. If a proper security evaluation of your facility is done, organizations can often make necessary changes at a minimum cost. When preparing your facility against a violent intruder, the goal should be to prevent entry and delay their progress. Any obstacles that prevent a violent intruder from moving freely inside your building allows time for your employees to escape. The following are some areas of your facility that may be worth looking at.

  • A main entrance should be provided to the public, all other doors into the building should remain locked.
  • Reception area should have a barrier to prevent/delay an intruder from jumping counter and gaining access to employee work areas. This barrier can be glass or other esthetically pleasing material.
  • Locks on doors should function. Locked doors can prevent or deny an intruder freedom of movement.
  • First floor windows and doors should be able to be in working order to provide an escape route if needed.
  • Security Camera Systems should be maintained and operational

Practice your Response

Preparing employees on how to respond to workplace violence must include meeting with them in a group and having a discussion. The group discussion should include what each employee will do if faced with a violent intruder. Employees should be encouraged to walk around the office to locate the best escape routes and hiding places. Office wide scenario training might also be useful. Scenarios can be as simple as a walkthrough drill, with each employee moving through their escape plan.

Law Enforcement encourages the following response if confronted by an active shooter/violent intruder.

  • Run – If you can, run and escape. Run as far away from the location and call for help. Having an escape route planned in advance increases chances of survival.
  • Hide – If escape is not an option, then hide. Offices, closets, restrooms conference rooms will work, but if necessary hide under a desk. Doors should be locked and barricaded if possible.
  • Fight – It may be necessary to fight the attacker. Remember that you have the right to defend yourself. Objects such as office equipment, chairs, and fire extinguishers can be thrown or used as weapons if necessary.

Best Defense is to Practice

Benjamin Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail“. I would ad that by failing to prepare, we are also failing our employees. As business owners, managers and supervisors, we have a duty to provide a safe work environment. By preparing for workplace violence, we demonstrate our pledge to carry out that duty while also including our people in the process. By doing so, we might just lessen the impact of a workplace violence event, or prevent one altogether.

Lt. Thomas Waltz is a use of force and firearms coordinator with his agency. He has provided businesses, churches and government organizations with workplace violence awareness, as well as active shooter response training.