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School And Workplace Violence Really Is Preventable

My niece teaches in Benton, Kentucky. When she heard gunshots on the morning of January 24, she grabbed a student and ran into a classroom to hide. She found out later one of her favorite students suffered a gunshot wound to the face. Imagine my sense of relief when I heard she was okay. However, I then thought about the parents of the children killed during the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, some of whom I had the honor to meet. I’ll never forget the pain and suffering on their faces. Those families have a senseless feeling of loss that will last for the rest of their lives. And I think about the families of the three lost in a workplace shooting in Maryland in October, and many others.

I can’t understand why people across our country don’t realize that both workplace and school violence is very often preventable. I believe it is past time to understand that violence prevention is possible, and take the steps necessary to implement the proven prevention programs that already exist.

Contrary to public opinion, virtually no one makes a sudden decision to show up one day at a school or a workplace with a gun and begin shooting. The motivation of almost all violent perpetrators is to get revenge against those that they feel have harmed them. They want to get even with their target. This is called Targeted Violence, and assailants plan their attack, sometimes for months.

Potential perpetrators move through the steps of a process called the Targeted Violence Continuum. First comes ideation. They convince themselves that they must get even. Next, they plan how they might carry out the idea, selecting a date, a location, a weapon, or a target list. Then, the assailant prepares - They locate a gun, make sure they have plenty of ammunition, and choose a time to attack when they can be certain the targeted individuals will be at the workplace or school. Working through this continuum takes the perpetrator some time, but eventually they reach the last step, implementation, and carry out their plan.

The first step to prevention is to set up a network of intelligence gathering. Teach workers or students what to report, and exactly who to report it to. You are looking for certain behaviors here, like unusual moods, change in moods, or threatening or strange writings or comments. Make sure your system constantly gathers all the information it can.

Next, establish a Threat Assessment Management Team. Team members should include representatives from security teams, management or administration, local law enforcement and local mental health agencies. The team is charged with collecting the information and determining how to best proceed. Is the person of concern just having a “bad day” or is there something deeper going on?

The ultimate goal is to intervene before the potential perpetrator moves through to the final stage of the continuum. Many times, the issues causing their feelings are resolvable. There may be mental health, or other underlying issues to contend with. And, law enforcement may even have to step in. Your organization must be proactive to prevent the occurrence of workplace or school violence, and not simply sit back, like the majority does, and presume it won’t happen here.

Everyone should be asking his or her human resource office and local school officials what they are doing to prevent violence. Ask around in your community, too.

I’ve studied Targeted Violence for years, and now I have come closer to it than ever before, as a family member was onsite during a school shooting. It leaves me shaken, but also more motivated than ever to use what we’ve learned here at Findlay to help everyone improve the safety of their schools or workplaces.

Since 2002, Findlay All Hazards has been helping organizations all across the county develop workplace violence prevention and improve school safety and security programs. We can help you too. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to find out more.

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