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  • Writer's pictureGordon Brennan

Where Your Workplace Violence Prevention Plan Intersects The Pathway to Targeted Violence

Updated: Apr 7

Unfortunately, we all know what workplace violence looks like in the news. We’re shown footage of the aftermath with law enforcement and EMS managing the incident, employees who have evacuated, and people gathering to see what’s going on.


Without question, this a horrible moment. Innocent lives have been violently cut short by someone who appears to have “snapped”, caught everyone by surprise and gave no warning signs that he or she would ever do something like this.


However, an investigation of the incident will show that the assailant progressed along what has been termed by the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, “The Pathway to Targeted Violence” (Amman et al., 2017). This progression is in fact a deterioration of the assailant’s ability to process and resolve events in their life that have caused severe emotional, mental, and physical trauma, or that have distorted their view of how they’ve been treated by society. We refer to this as a “Grievance”. If the assailant is unable to resolve these significant dilemmas through logical reasoning, (ie: reaching out to available resources like mental health professionals, occupational therapists, or benefiting from supportive family, friends, or others) they begin to lose hope of getting a resolution or fixing the problem they are facing, by using socially acceptable methods. Assailants often do not take responsibility for the injustices they suffered, but rather place blame on others. While in this state of mind they begin to see that the only way to “fix” the problem or get “justice” for what’s been done to them is to carry out an attack on the very people/institution that wronged them. This resolution becomes a complete fixation on which they ideate and envision how exactly they will carry it out. Undoubtedly, they begin to feel a sense of relief that they finally have a way to resolve what they have felt to be so burdensome.


The assailant will continue on the pathway to targeted violence until one of two things happens… 1) they carry out their planned attack, or 2) their threat of violence is identified, and they are redirected - an outcome that must be preceded by the implementation of a workplace violence prevention plan.


The image below represents actions of two parties…on the top is the trajectory of a typical company…moving forward focused on normal business operations. They have a general understanding of the concept of workplace violence, and they have an annual training on how to respond if an act of targeted violence occurs at work. They are unaware of prevention and threat management efforts that they could be doing to become aware of threats before they manifest as an undetected attack. On the bottom is a potential assailant’s pathway to targeted violence – committed and careful in the planning of an intentional and targeted attack.


The Pathway to Targeted Violence
An Assailant's Uninterrupted Pathway to Targeted Violence

Although an act of targeted violence occurs at a workplace, it does not necessarily mean that the assailant’s grievance was grounded in his/her perceived or real mistreatment by the employer. Often, relationship stressors like divorce and custody battles, or stalking, domestic violence, etc. can create the possibility for violence at any location where the two members of the relationship intersect. The targeted attack is about the assailant’s relationship, whether it be with another person, or a company, a social or religious cause, etc.


Below, we incorporate what many studies and research show – that there are warning signs that originate from the assailant or individuals within the assailant’s circle of friends, family, colleagues, etc. This is defined as “Leakage”. Of all the warning behaviors identified in studies of past attacks, this is the most researched and recognizable (Slemaker, 2023). It is the sharing of information relevant to the assailant’s plan for violence. Leakage enables individuals close to the assailant, or social media followers, or members of shared chat groups and forums to observe and identify statements and behaviors that demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is concerning, threatening, and foreshadowing of a violent attack.


Leakage Disclosed Before an Incident of Active Violence at Work
Subtle Leakage of Information from an Assailant

What good is leakage in the eyes and ears of others who want to prevent an attack, unless they understand what leakage looks like and sounds like, and what actions to take when it is identified? Despite an assailant putting out warning signs, their plans to attack will continue uninterrupted. In the image above, the workplace continues operating without training the workforce how to identify warning behaviors, the importance of reporting them, and creating an internal process for such reports to be received, resolved, and managed.


This final image depicts the goal that every workplace, school, organization, and individual hopes will happen. The workplace has developed a violence prevention plan that incorporates changes in their cultural makeup to start emphasizing training, awareness, policies and procedures, leadership training and team development for behavioral threat assessments and management (BTAM), while still incorporating a response plan in the event of an attack. These company improvements, in turn, develop a proactive and awareness mindset that results in employees understanding patterns of behavior, an increase in concerns being reported, leaders who incorporate compassion and purpose in resolving behavioral concerns; and company leadership strengthening partnerships with community resources to include mental health professionals, local law enforcement, etc.


A Workplace Violence Prevention Plan Can Prevent an Attack at Work
A Workplace Violence Prevention Plan Can Prevent an Attack at Work

When these things happen, a company’s ability and likelihood of becoming aware of threats and successfully mitigating them dramatically improves. The shaded portion of the workplace trajectory represents the trained eyes and ears of the workforce, and procedures that are now in place to receive, triage, and manage threats. The shaded portion of the assailant’s trajectory represents the subtle leakage of information that may come from the assailant themselves or others in their circle. When those shaded portions intersect, due to the proactive efforts of the employer, they now have the opportunity to plan their approach to the assailant and redirect them from that pathway.


The priority of a workplace violence prevention plan is to ensure public safety. Public safety is enhanced when an individual of concern’s well-being is improved. When a company can identify employees who are struggling and manifesting concerning behavior, they should strive to redirect them by providing options and resources (Amman et al., 2017).


Rather than continuing to allow an assailant to have control of when they intersect with the workplace, an employer can position the company to intersect with an individual of concern who is moving along the pathway to targeted violence. Priority Protection Group calls this strategy, Workplace Peace of Mind. An employer should be prepared to brace for impact if an assailant succeeds in remaining undetected, but not without first, implementing strategies to prevent such an impact from occurring.


To learn more about how Priority Protection Group can support your organization and develop a workplace violence prevention plan, please refer to our services page or contact us.


References


  1. Molly Amman, Matther Bowlin, Lesley Buckles, Kevin C. Burton, Kimberly F. Brunell, Karie A. Gibson, et al., Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks. (Washington, DC, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2017).

  2. Slemaker, A. (2023). Studying Mass Shooters' Words: Warning Behavior Prior to Attacks. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 10 (1), 1-17.

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