The active shooter who killed eight people at Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Conn., Omar Thornton, revives sentiments among the employers and co-workers that come with every active shooter: how could this happen and why couldn’t we foresee it?

It concerns me just as much that such questions within the community are joined by a predictable refrain from the likes of me: Now that there has been one, expect others. An active shooter incident lowers the emotional burden for others to do the same, and both employers and law enforcement must be proactive in managing this low probability, high impact risk.

Local law enforcement agencies should be supporting efforts by their local companies by driving awareness and advising on how to manage the risks associated with workplace violence. If ever there was an instance where an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” this is it.  Workplace violence is an issue often understood with the attitude of “it can never happen here,” and yet those firms that do engage the problem often find that while there aren’t active shooter incidents, there are lower level instances of bullying, harassment and other issues that should be prevented.

Employers should actively manage employees who are going through negative events; this most recent active shooter was being given the choice to resign or be fired, and at the University of Alabama shooting earlier this year the college professor was being denied tenure. These are stressful events, and it is true that everyone has a threshold for violence. Negative events in a person’s career or employment have to be proactively managed and assessed jointly by Human Resources, the Legal Department and a senior-level security person. This enables the company to be pro-actively aware of internal situations that may escalate so they can take preemptive measures to protect their employees, customers and brand reputation. These measures range from something as simple as HR or a supervisor talking with the employee to a controlled termination of the employee with an escort out of the building by security personnel.

Systems must be in place for employees to raise concerns about their co-workers, not only concerns regarding their co-workers having a propensity for violence, but something as simple as a colleague who is clearly under stress. It is a purely personal opinion that employers have a duty to care for their employees. By their very status, employers occupy a role in their employees’ lives that significantly affect the employee and are in a position to do significant harm or good. A level of knowledge about employees that enables them to either act or provide support is both a necessary risk management measure to manage workplace violence and an investment in employee satisfaction, and therefore productivity.

The immediate action for all businesses must be to increase their internal awareness and security; one active shooter breeds others. Once this has been accomplished, firms must begin assessing whether their employee relations, duty of care, and support to their employees is of the necessary standard to reflect themselves as a business, as well as to protect their workers and brand in today’s uncertain economic times.

  • Guy M.

    Excellent article Sam. Very thoughtful and good suggestions.