The nation was still reeling from news of a shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia early Wednesday morning when reports of yet another shooting began to trickle in. Just a few hours after the Virginia shooting, on the other side of the country, a man walked in to a UPS sorting facility just south of downtown San Francisco, California. The shooter killed three people and wounded two others before turning his gun on himself.
Although shootings with high-profile victims (like Congressional representatives) or multiple casualties make headlines, gun-related workplace violence frequently strikes on a much smaller scale, involving a single shooter and a single employee (for example, in a robbery). Regardless of the cause or the number of people involved, these incidents generally fall into the category of “critical incidents,” and you can train workers to respond to them in ways that minimize the harm they suffer as a result.
Planning for Critical Incidents
According to federal OSHA, a “critical incident” is an event that includes “having to witness or experience tragedy, death, serious injuries and threatening situations.” The definition includes not only violent situations, but also disasters such as chemical leaks, fires and explosions, and some types of natural disasters.
Critical incident planning, then, has some features in common with emergency action or disaster planning. In order minimize the damage caused by critical incidents, employers should:
- Map the workplace. A detailed map can be used to analyze vulnerabilities – for example, does the building have any unsecured entrances? Could unauthorized persons easily gain access to restricted areas? It can also be used to develop an appropriate response – for example, by determining whether communications and emergency notification systems are adequate, and by identifying safe areas, emergency exit routes, and assembly points.
- Equip the workplace. Once you know where your vulnerabilities and gaps are, you can address them by improving security and communications as needed – for example, by securing building entrances, creating safe shelter-in-place locations for anticipated incidents (anything from tornadoes to active shooters), clearly marking exit routes, and adding emergency equipment, from fire extinguishers to AEDs, in key locations.
- Train your personnel. Workers need to know what kinds of emergencies they may face, and how to activate emergency response systems for different types of emergencies. They need to know where the safe areas and assembly points are, and what their closest exit route is. Depending on their job tasks, they may need to know how to identify and deescalate tense interpersonal situations, or how to safely escort non-employees or physically disabled coworkers out of the workplace.
- Coordinate with local emergency responders. In a medical emergency, ambulance response time is critical; in an active-shooter situation, law enforcement response time is equally critical. Involve these agencies in your planning – invite them to your facility to familiarize themselves with entrance locations, buildings and interior layouts, and other information that may help them to respond more efficiently to an emergency at your site.
- Drill. Have workers practice implementing the skills they will need to stay safe in a critical incident. Knowing what to do in advance, rather than having to decide in the moment, will help them to respond in situations where they might otherwise freeze in indecision.