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Training for tense times: Security professionals at four companies discuss their violence response teams. (Focus on Employment).

ON JANUARY 9, local authorities found an extensive firearms cache allegedly belonging to David Reza, a fired nuclear power plant worker in California. The worker was reported to have made threats that he would get revenge by killing former coworkers at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in north San Diego County. Because the incident involved a nuclear facility, it ranks as one of the more frightening reports of a possible workplace violence incident. Fortunately, officials took the threats seriously, and this potential disaster was averted.

Workplace violence is an issue that must be faced by all companies regardless of industry. To find out what some companies are doing to address workplace violence, Security Management talked to security directors at four companies in different industries. Each has tailored a workplace violence response plan to its specific needs. Their experiences offer a range of lessons for other companies that have yet to develop a program.


Two years ago, Randy Bright, safety and security supervisor for North Memorial Health Care in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, was dissatisfied with his facility's response to workplace violence incidents. A gang member had been brought into the hospital's trauma unit, and rival gang members followed. The result was a total lockdown of the emergency room, spillover violence into other parts of the hospital, and injuries on all sides.

In analyzing the company's response plan, Bright determined that two major issues had to be addressed. First, staff needed to know who to contact to deal with each type of incident--calling security is not always the best option when a disturbance occurs. Second, the policy needed to ensure that security would be alerted before a physical altercation ensued. The existing practice was to wait for a fight before calling security personnel, but that approach made it less likely that the situation would be contained before it got out of hand.

Security officers were increasingly being injured when responding to calls, as were the patients and guests involved in the incidents. "I realized that we needed to take a look at the level of risk we were exposing security to and whether we were giving the kind of care that we profess to offer," says Bright.

Though the hospital does experience some internal workplace violence issues, more than 95 percent are related to patients or their families. To address this type of incident, Bright set up a workplace violence response team composed of a nurse administrator, a psychiatric registered nurse trained in crisis management, a social worker, and a security representative.

The response team is trained in crisis intervention and crisis management, so each member of the team knows what to do in any given emergency. Team members are appointed for each shift, so that a complete team is always available. (Security has also made arrangements with local ministers so that they can be called if members of their congregations are involved.)

During new-employee orientation, staff members are trained in workplace violence procedures. Employees are trained to telephone an internal emergency number whenever a situation is tense or when violence might be anticipated--such as in the case of gang injuries, for example. The call immediately goes to the switchboard. The switchboard operator pages all of the response team members.

All of the team members respond to the scene. Then, depending on what is happening, the appropriate person takes the lead. For example, with a disoriented patient, the nurse on the team might step up and talk to the patient.

To ensure that all hospital personnel understand the program, security questions employees on a regular basis. During annual safety checks, security randomly asks hospital staff what they would do in certain emergencies. For example, security might ask a nurse, "What would you do if you were faced with a violent patient?" If employees don't know the answer, security notifies the relevant manager and sets up a training session for that group.

Having a variety of members on the team has proven to be a successful strategy. For example, one morning a patient was being involuntarily committed for alcohol abuse. The individual had violated his court order. He was also a smoker and became angry when told that he would not be allowed to smoke in the hospital. Furious and going through withdrawal, the patient threw his food tray at a nurse and said he was leaving. Another nurse called the response team.

The team learned from the man's relatives that due to a glitch in the system, the court order requiring the man to stay in the hospital expired at noon. The man knew this. The team had to work to calm the man down and keep him in the hospital until the court order could be renewed.

The team member representing the legal department called the court to see whether something could be done to expedite the process. Meanwhile, a security officer walked with the man outside so that he could smoke. The officer listened to the man's complaints and calmed him down.

By the time security walked the man back into the building 15 minutes later, the court had renewed the order. The man was told that he must stay but that the hospital would work out smoking arrangements. At that point, he was calmer and acquiesced. "Before the new team, we wouldn't have had the benefit of legal or nursing involvement," says Bright.

In another example of how the team is working, several months ago, a young, unmarried mother brought her baby into the emergency room. The baby had died of natural causes, but once the father and his extended family arrived, the fingerpointing began. Within minutes, more than 30 people were involved in a heated argument. The duty nurse called for assistance from the emergency response team.

The entire team, along with additional nurses and security officers trained in conflict management, arrived and began gently separating the parties into smaller groups. Once the groups were smaller, the team could attend to the individuals.

Team members understood that these people were trying to find an outlet for their grief, and they were, therefore, careful not to say: "Calm down, there's no reason to be upset." The team called social services and the hospital chaplain. Social services determined, based on the doctor's findings, that the death had been accidental. Then social services personnel and the chaplain sat with the relatives and let them talk. The incident ended peacefully.

The workplace violence program has also led to changes in overall security policies. For example, because of problems with domestic and gang violence spilling over into the hospital, security implemented a nondisclosure policy six months ago. Under the policy, any assault victim who comes through the trauma unit can be placed in nondisclosure status. This designation means that, to the outside world, the injured person doesn't exist.

After the status has been assigned, a security assessment is conducted to determine whether the person needs an alias or a private room. Such decisions are based on information from the injured person and the police. A security officer then checks the patient's status daily.

The system is computerized so that all staff members are aware of the patient's special status and know not to do anything to compromise it. Security has even discussed the issue with local media, which agreed that news reports related to those cases would say only that the victim was transported to a local hospital.

Since the program was implemented in 2000, occurrences of workplace violence have remained steady. However, physical interventions are almost nonexistent and injuries have decreased. In 2001, the team received 86 calls for issues that ranged from angry people in detox to dementia, pain control, unstable blood sugars, and psychiatric issues. No injuries occurred in any of these incidents.


According to Roger Davies, security shift supervisor for The MITRE Corporation's Bedford, Massachusetts, facility, his company's two-prong approach to workplace violence helps security be more proactive. The company has approximately 5,500 employees worldwide at 20 U.S. and 10 international sites. The workplace violence plan started at Bedford-one of the company's largest facilities, which houses about 2,000 employees and approximately 1,000 contract Air Force personnel.

Since the plan's inception five years ago, it has been expanded to the company's Washington, D.C., facility and is being phased in at several other facilities around the world. However, the Bedford program remains the foundation of the company's workplace violence response. Some larger facilities with hundreds of employees also have a full workplace violence team, while others, with just a handful of workers, have only a security representative. At these smaller sites, security is directed to contact the Bedford team for help.

The Bedford facility has a 10-member workplace violence committee--the first prong of the program--that includes representatives from human resources, corporate security, and operations. The committee is charged with developing a workplace violence policy.

The response team--the second prong--is smaller and, while numbers fluctuate, the team includes members charged with physical security and document control as well as locksmiths and contract security personnel. The team responds to any workplace violence incidents.

Both committee and team members receive annual training on workplace violence prevention and response. According to Davies, who is one of the instructors, the committee's training focuses on policy development, prevention, and after-incident critique.

The response team also sits in on this classroom training. However, the team completes an additional day of scenario training. During that phase, the team acts out specific workplace violence drills to test the program.

The human resources department informs company managers about the existence of the workplace violence response team through announcements in the company newsletter and through other communications. Managers then take the message to their employees. In general, employees are trained to contact the team directly in case of an emergency, such as a violent altercation between staff members, but they are told to notify management of suspicions, such as a disgruntled coworker.

In its education efforts, the team emphasizes the proactive nature of the program. "The committee makes an effort to tell employees about the crisis-prevention emphasis of the program, says Davies. "We want to catch an incident before it becomes a problem."

The emphasis on awareness has worked well, says Davies. Employees have called in the response team on several occasions, allowing the team to head off trouble.

In one case, a domestic violence situation spilled over into the workplace. A female employee was going through a divorce, and her husband was making threatening phone calls. She reported the problem to human resources, who in turn contacted the response team.

The team set up special parking for the employee near the building. The woman already had a restraining order against the harasser, so the team contacted local police and let them know that the order was being violated. The man never entered company property, and after a few months, he stopped calling and left his wife alone.

In another case, a company vice president, sensing that there might be a problem, called the response team before a meeting he had scheduled with an employee. The employee was on long-term disability and had just turned 65, causing changes in his health benefits. The team met with the vice president and the company president to work out a plan before the meeting. They decided that the vice president should urge the man to work through existing company procedures to settle his problem, but if the employee became angry, the vice president was instructed to offer to set up a meeting with the company president.

This plan proved to be prophetic. During the meeting, the employee became angry and demanded to see the president of the company. In an attempt to calm him down, the vice president told the employee that the correct procedure was to go through human resources. The employee said: "That's okay. I know where he [the company president] lives." The vice president called the president and set up a meeting immediately. The employee got his audience with the president and was appeased.


When senior executives at One Price Clothing Stores, Inc., placed a new workplace violence team under the auspices of the legal department, security wasn't sure whether the program would work. However, Danny Watkins, the company s director of loss prevention, has found that the legal department helps the program flourish both by providing good advice and by lending its clout to the effort.

Over the past several years, the company had experienced an increase in workplace violence incidents. The company owns 640 stores and manages 4,500 employees, 90 percent of whom are women. This demographic had led to an increase in domestic violence incidents. However, before the program was developed, each department had to respond to incidents on its own. "We had no workplace violence team and no cohesive effort," says Watkins.

In late 2000, Watkins began looking at the workplace violence programs implemented at other companies. He then approached senior managers with the idea of forming a workplace violence team under the security department. Corporate executives were receptive but expressed concern about potential litigation.

After debating possible solutions, senior managers put the workplace violence team under the scope of the legal department. Security now works with the legal department on any workplace violence incident. This helps mitigate some litigation concerns. For example, says Watkins, because the team operates under the office of the general counsel, any information uncovered during workplace violence investigations might be protected under the attorney-client privilege.

The team was organized into two groups. One group remains at the company's corporate office to respond to critical incidents there. The company's general counsel serves as chairman of that group, with the director of loss prevention serving as vice chairman. Other members include the director of employee relations, the store operations manager, and the benefits coordinator. The national ream is supplemented by regional teams consisting of the regional loss prevention manager, the regional manager, and the district manager.

The program has been in place for more than a year and has dealt with six workplace violence incidents. In one incident, for example, an employee's husband came to the store where she worked and threatened her and other associates. After consulting with the legal department, Watkins learned that a California stature allows an employer to get a restraining order against the violent spouse of an employee. The restraining order would apply to the company's property, so if the spouse returned to the store, he or she could be arrested. The company obtained the order and notified the husband, who never returned.

In other workplace violence situations, the legal staff has helped employees file restraining orders and protect children. Security also helps the employee get to a shelter if appropriate or relocate to another store.

The company has also developed a policy to further protect employees against violent individuals. Security now implements a trespass notice when it feels that an individual might pose a threat. A trespass notice, legally acknowledged in most states, allows a private company to prohibit certain individuals from entering its property. The notice is issued by police, and the individual is sent a certified letter regarding the notice. Returning to the property can result in arrest.

The trespass notice is implemented as soon as an employee notifies security that he or she feels threatened. It provides interim protection while the threatened employee gets a restraining order. Both tools are used together to protect against workplace violence.

Because the program was set up using existing personnel, the company's costs were low. The company then spent around $200 on off-the-shelf workplace violence training materials that are used to train ream members. "We were able to keep training costs down by doing our own research and supplementing the program with information from our insurance company and from Web sites," says Watkins. Recently, the company has updated the training by including a scenario-based segment where trainees learn from real workplace violence incidents the company has faced.


The safety coordinator at a national hotel chain recently established a workplace violence team in response to incidents at other local companies. The company, which only recently bought the hotels, established a workplace violence team consisting of five existing members of the security team.

The most critical aspect of getting the team started, says the safety coordinator, was training them to deal with workplace violence issues. The training comprises several hours of classroom instruction followed by scenario and practical exercises. The safety coordinator conducts the training, which covers topics such as the use of controlled force, verbal conflict resolution, and the body language and mannerisms of potentially violent persons. Team members are trained in verbal techniques that can help them coax a violent person away from a populated area of the hotel and get him or her to leave the premises.

The safety coordinator also trains all hotel supervisors and managers. The three-hour classroom training session focuses on issues such as types of workplace violence, signs and symptoms of potential violence, and how security can help. The training includes techniques designed to help staff deal with the stress of a workplace violence incident. Security reminds employees of these same issues in a quarterly newsletter on safety issues.

The training was put to the test in one incident in which an employee's life was threatened. The employee's ex-husband had hired someone to kill her. The employee was tipped off by a friend and immediately reported the problem to security.

Security helped the woman file for a restraining order against her ex-husband and report the matter to the police. Security changed the employee's parking space, organized an escort to and from the parking lot, and increased surveillance in the areas of the facility frequented by the employee. The police successfully investigated the incident, and the ex-husband was convicted of attempted murder.

Because of the nature of the hospitality industry, security finds that it must also sometimes deal with potentially violent guests. In one incident, a female guest who had already been drinking came into one of the company's hotels and ordered more liquor. When the bartender refused to serve her, she started arguing with the server and then with the security officer who was called to the scene. The woman then lashed out at the officer and attacked him. Other officers responded to the scene and restrained the woman until police arrived. Though the woman had to be physically restrained in the end, the manner in which the team approached the issue reflected its new training, according to the the hotel's safety coordinator. "The situation was controlled," he says. "Team members were able to use physical restraining techniques that prevented injuries, either to the perpetrator or the officers."

Studies have shown that many companies still do not have workplace violence response teams. For example, of the 28 companies polled by Security Management for this article, only 43 percent had a response team in place. As these four case studies illustrate, it is well worth a company's time to set up a workplace violence response program. Doing so improves a company s ability to respond quickly and effectively to incidents, helping to reduce the potential for injuries and making the workplace safer for everyone.

Teresa Anderson is a senior editor at Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Anderson, Teresa
Publication:Security Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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