Busi­nesses har­den de­fenses in wake of work­place shoot­ings

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Sean Murphy

Ok­la­homa City – Se­cu­rity is not sub­tle at the sprawl­ing cam­pus of hu­man re­sources tech­nol­ogy gi­ant Pay­com in Ok­la­homa City.

Off-duty po­lice of­fi­cers roam the grounds, bol­ster­ing the com­pany’s own force of armed guards. A base­ment com­mand cen­ter that looks like some­thing out of a spy movie is filled with video screens show­ing feeds from hun­dreds of se­cu­rity cam­eras at com­pany of­fices across the coun­try.

While heavy se­cu­rity has be­come com­mon at air­ports and sta­di­ums to de­ter ter­ror­ism, ex­treme mea­sures have been out of the or­di­nary at most com­pa­nies ea­ger to main­tain a com­fort­able work en­vi­ron­ment and a wel­com­ing at­mo­sphere.

But that may be chang­ing, as more are now hard­en­ing their de­fenses with new tech­niques, and even new le­gal au­thor­ity, to deal with grow­ing fears about vi­o­lence on the job.

As mass shoot­ings have be­come fre­quent, more com­pany lead­ers have con­fronted an ab­sence of clear plans for pro­tect­ing work­ers from a dis­grun­tled col­league, even af­ter a threat is re­ceived.

Now, spurred by an in­ci­dent at Pay­com, the com­pany has pro­duced a for­mal threat assess­ment and re­sponse guide that serves as a na­tional model for ways to keep a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous per­son away from other work­ers.

The com­pany’s ap­proach also in­cludes a new mea­sure based on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence laws.

“This is a huge leap for­ward in pub­lic pol­icy for safety in this coun­try,” said Larry Bar­ton, a Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida pro­fes­sor who teaches cour­ses in threat eval­u­a­tion at the FBI Academy. “This is a case study, for me as an ed­u­ca­tor, that I be­lieve will be taught in busi­ness schools and in crim­i­nal jus­tice cour­ses for decades to come.”

The guide was the prod­uct of brain­storm­ing ses­sions con­vened by the com­pany with work­place vi­o­lence ex­perts, law en­force­ment and civic lead­ers, af­ter an ex-worker made threats against em­ploy­ees.

A new law, en­acted by the Ok­la­homa Leg­is­la­ture this year with Pay­com’s guid­ance, al­lows busi­nesses to pe­ti­tion the court for a vic­tim’s pro­tec­tive or­der much like one that a woman might ob­tain against a for­mer boyfriend. A judge can or­der a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous per­son to stay away from a busi­ness or its em­ploy­ees, which com­pa­nies couldn’t do be­fore.

Bar­ton, a safety con­sul­tant for pri­vate com­pa­nies, said dozens of busi­nesses as well as pol­icy mak­ers have ex­pressed in­ter­est in both the guide and the new law as a way to pro­tect them­selves.

Al­though the num­ber of peo­ple killed in work­place vi­o­lence has re­mained steady at be­tween 400 and 500 per year, Bar­ton said there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of on-the-job shoot­ings in­volv­ing four or more vic­tims.

“This has been an es­pe­cially dis­turb­ing year,” Bar­ton said. “We’re track­ing now about a 19% in­crease in mass shoot­ings, which is very note­wor­thy.”

Among the re­cent high­pro­file in­ci­dents are a mass shoot­ing in Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia, in May, in which a city en­gi­neer killed 12 peo­ple at his of­fice, and the fa­tal shoot­ing of five em­ploy­ees at an Aurora man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Fe­bru­ary by a co­worker.

Ok­la­homa has its own his­tory of work­place vi­o­lence. In 1986, a dis­grun­tled worker shot 14 peo­ple at a post of­fice in Ed­mond. Five years ago, a woman was be­headed at a food pro­cess­ing plant in Moore by a co-worker who had just been sus­pended.

In the case of Pay­com, which em­ploys about 3,200 peo­ple na­tion­wide, the for­mer worker was ar­rested last year and is fac­ing felony charges in con­nec­tion with threat­en­ing mes­sages and so­cial me­dia posts. The case has been moved to men­tal health court, which is de­signed to di­vert in­di­vid­u­als with a men­tal ill­ness from jail or prison.

The new threat assess­ment guide lays out a se­ries of fac­tors that com­pany of­fi­cials should con­sider in judg­ing a threat and how to re­spond.

In­cluded are ques­tions about whether an em­ployee has been un­der­go­ing per­son­al­ity changes, has a trou­bled per­sonal life, ex­hibits con­fused think­ing, is abus­ing drugs or al­co­hol or has ac­cess to firearms.

De­pend­ing on how many ques­tions are an­swered “yes,” re­sponses can range from a one-on-one meet­ing, to ter­mi­na­tion to ob­tain­ing a pro­tec­tive or­der or call­ing 911.

SUE OGROCKI/AP

Pay­com per­son­nel mon­i­tor phys­i­cal and IT se­cu­rity at the com­mand cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City on Mon­day.

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