Introduction: In this Guest Blog by Michael Dorn, we introduce the role of workplace violence from the standpoint of the workforce threat. YES, the workforce threat. While media attention focuses on the student “active shooter” the workforce threat make up a significant percentage of the school homicidal violence. Our common interest centers on the importance of preventing the threat posed by the disgruntled employee. I recommend a comprehensive approach and design to workplace violence prevention that considers the type of workforce, work environment, past incidents, known risk indicators and contributing factors.
Training and proper program management philosophy and strategies are important. Decisions to conduct training should be a collaborative effort engaging the training consultant’s expertise in coordination with realistic content and delivery formats.
Principals and District Management can take reasonable proactive measures in addressing potential at risk teachers and staff by hastily addressing all reports and observations without assuming or applying shortsighted logic. Sometime educational institutions overlook valuable internal data in reviewing current reports against existing internal and external data.
For example, statistical information pertaining to the 277 FBI-designated active shooter incidents that occurred in the United States from 2000 to 2018 offer valuable insight and analysis from where the emphasis or focus can be directed in validating the potential for violence. https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnership/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-incidents-graphics.
Michael Dorn’s contributions below forms the inescapable reality that educational institutions are also workplace environments for teachers, principals, administrative staff and school board members who are no different from any other employee and their environmental, societal and family risk factors.
What’s often taken for granted is the notion that the only perpetrators of school violence are the ‘mentally ill’ students.
But what about the disgruntled principal or teacher and the factors negatively impacting their mental well-being. Just like the student who has access to the school, who scrutinizes the at-risk factors and behaviors of the principal? Whether at a warehouse, manufacturing plant, office building or educational institution the workforce threat is a real and present danger. Therefore, Workplace Violence Prevention should be an ongoing process involving multiple intervention strategies that includes the entire workforce and students. It should be devoid of myths, assumptions or special treatment that limits critical assessment and application of threat assessment principles.
On May 6, 1940, the principal of South Pasadena Middle School opened fire at his school district’s office building and killed three victims. He then drove to his school and murdered two teachers. This tragedy is one of eleven fatal school attacks carried out by school employees in the United States to date. In addition to fatal shootings carried out by teachers and school administrators, our nation’s second most deadly attack at a K12 school was carried out by a disgruntled and deeply troubled school board member in 1927.
After most of the 2,000 pounds of explosives detonated blowing up the Bath School, the attacker drove his vehicle to the school and carried out a suicide bombing killing 43 students and employees.
These attacks make up a significant percentage of the active assailant and targeted school attacks at U.S. K12 schools. And while these attacks occurred many years ago, more recent attacks in the Lee County, Florida Public School System and at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville demonstrate that violent acts committed by school employees is still a concern.
Unfortunately, many K12 school systems and non-public schools have dedicated significant amounts of time, energy and budget on barricading training and devices while neglecting prevention measures for acts of violence that are far more common than an active assailant forcing entry to a locked classroom.
In reality, there has been only one fatal attack at a U.S. K12 school to date where an attacker forced entry to a locked classroom, entered the room and killed victims. This shooting occurred at a reservation high school in Red Lake, Minnesota. Having worked that case as an expert witness, I can state with relative certainty that neither barricading nor door blocking devices would have saved any lives in that attack. While this attack method could certainly be used in future attacks, it has simply not been a common attack method. In contrast, lethal attacks by school employees do represent a pattern that deserves more attention than it has received.
This is one of many examples of how easy it can be for any type of organization to fail to align prevention and preparedness measures with actual violence risk levels. This example also demonstrates how important preemployment screening measures, training programs, assessment capabilities and other approaches to prevent acts of workplace violence can be.
Has your organization carefully evaluated how well your violence prevention and preparedness measures align with actual risks?
Thankfully, there are skilled experts with advanced knowledge in this important area that can help organizations develop approaches tailored to fit their unique needs. I am appreciative that one of these experts has been kind enough to allow me to contribute this guest blog on this important topic.
Felix P. Nater, CSC of Nater Associates, Ltd. is a workplace violence prevention consultant who helps organizations through executive leadership how to develop and manage proper ways to handle threats of workplace violence through an educated, involved, coordinated and vigilant organizational response.