It’s not uncommon for mass shootings, like the deadly incidents in Parkland, Florida, last month, or in Las Vegas, last November, to dominate the national news cycle for weeks. But not every workplace shooting makes national headlines.
Last year, several restaurants across the country found their staff and clients in crosshairs, yet failed to gain national attention. For instance, last February, a gunman shot two people at Austin’s Bar and Grill in the Kansas suburb of Olathe. In Arizona, the fire captain shot his ex-wife and killed another man before turning the gun on himself at the Firebirds Wood Fired Grill during a busy Friday night last April.
A disgruntled employee killed a former co-worker at a popular Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant at lunchtime in August.
The frequency of violence incidents in the workplace is no longer surprising, says Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for protecting the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure. “We’re in a period of elevated risk,” he says, adding that DHS encourages all employers to have a program in place to recognize, prevent and respond to workplace violence. The agency offers a number of free resources to help employers prepare their workforce for an incident including a video on how to respond and separate video on how to put together an emergency action plan. “The analogy we use is fire safety,” Kolasky says. “It’s not the perfect analogy, but training toward fire safety has reduced the risk of fires in the workplace.”
“The more prepared you are, the better you will respond to an event.” -Julie Quinn, partner at QuinnWilliams
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DHS recommends that if an employee is caught in an active shooter incident, he or she should evaluate the situation and then decide whether to run (leave the building), hide (find an area out of the shooter’s view) or fight (as a last resort, try to incapacitate the shooter). In a restaurant, that could mean using an improvised weapon such as a knife, a heavy pot or a pot full of hot liquid that be thrown at the shooter, says Jack R. Plaxe, founder and managing director of Security Consulting Alliance LLC in Louisville, Kentucky.
The staff needs to understand there are different options they can take during an incident and that running may not be the best option in every situation, Plaxe says. For instance, he says, if a restaurant host is standing at the front door when a gunman comes in, the host might not be able to run or hide but the host can alert the rest of the staff by yelling out. “You might need to do ‘run, fight, hide’ in a different order, or more than once,” he says.
Staff will respond more quickly during a violent incident if they have had a chance to think about what they would do before an incident even takes place, says Julie Quinn, a partner with QuinnWilliams, a research and analysis firm based in Los Angeles that focuses on security and emergency management. Quinn, who recently helped restaurants in Los Angeles’ Union Station prepare for an active shooter incident, recommends that every restaurant owner and manager ask their staff to consider what they would do if a gunman came into the restaurant and to make sure the staff know where the exits are and whether the building has a safe room with a lock where they can potentially hide from a shooter.
“The more prepared you are, the better you will respond to an event,” she says, recommending a restaurant invite the local police department to come and speak with staff. “You also won’t live in this constant fear that something bad might happen.”
Don’t overlook the connection between workplace violence and a domestic dispute, Quinn says. In many workplace violence incidents, the shooter has a link to one of the employees. Encourage your employees to tell you if something isn’t right at home, if they’re worried their spouse or domestic partner might show up at their workplace with a weapon or if they have a restraining order against someone. “If you have a connection with local law enforcement, you can tell the police officer what is going on and ask them to help monitor it,” Quinn says.