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Firms Need Antiviolence Plans

Firms Need Antiviolence Plans

Byran Uyesugi allegedly shot to death seven fellow Xerox employees in a Hawaii office complex last week. As was to be expected, the reaction on the islands, which had logged just 24 homicides last year, was one of shock and disbelief. Perhaps this shooting in paradise (the alleged gunman lived on Easy Street) will finally disabuse Americans of the notion that ""it can't happen here.""

There aren't any ""can't-happen-here"" places left. From children with rifles to teenagers with pipe bombs to adults with heavy arsenals; from poor Bible Belt towns to affluent urban neighborhoods and vacation spots, society has seen the worst. But what hasn't happened in any systematic was is preparation, particularly when it comes to offices.

Some large corporations, such as Weyerhauser Co., have educated their employees about potential risks and made them more aware of the need to report early signs of violent behavior. Other firms have taken a zero tolerance approach: Threaten someone, intimidate someone, harass or stalk someone, much less be physically violent, and you're out of a job, period. The goal is to get potentially dangerous people out of the building and then batten down with fewer exits and entry points and much tighter security, regardless of the inconvenience. Some businesses have gotten court orders barring former employees from approaching an office.

But too few firms have taken up the challenge, particularly smaller businesses. As recently as three years ago, two-thirds of all U.S. businesses lacked a formal violence prevention strategy. More companies now are taking steps to protect their employees, and this is something that every business should do. Security plans cannot assure that violent incidents will not happen, but they can help identify problem individuals before they try to harm others.

Contingency plans and training should be set in place. In an outbreak of lethal violence, how prepared will managers be in getting employees to safety?

Information is available from a variety of sources, including federal studies from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The question is not whether a business should obtain workplace violence information, but how soon.