Tom Brady recalled growing up in Chicago during the 60s, when security was not a major concern and everyone kept their back door unlocked.
But society has changed and the fear of employees dying in a workplace shooting is a reality today. That's why Brady, director of the Homeland Security Training Institute at College of DuPage, said business owners must step up to develop workplace violence programs to assure that employees know what to do in an active shooter situation, and be able to recognize and report potentially violent people.
"There are things that are happening in the country that are happening on a routine basis," Brady told a group of about 75 business professionals at the Workplace and Community Violence Forum presented by the Daily Herald Business Ledger at the Eaglewood Inn & Spa in Itasca Thursday. "We don't want to get active shooter fatigue. Any indication that we can prevent something, we need to do it."
Unfortunately, Brady and Joseph Crimmins, founder and president of Service and Protect, a crisis risk and assessment agency in Arlington Heights, said businesses are way behind schools and hospitals when it comes to having a workplace violence plan in place. While schools and hospitals have emergency plans and regularly practice active shooter drills, businesses tend to ignore adopting such policies despite the increase in workplace violence.
Crimmins noted recent policy decisions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will likely require businesses to have a workplace violence policy in place. But, he stressed, having a policy on paper does not go far enough. Employees must also be trained on how to react to an active shooter, and more important, must speak up if they encounter a co-worker who makes remarks or shows signs that could be considered threatening.
"There has to be zero tolerance," he said. "If you made a comment that 'I would really like to shoot my boss,' that should be the equivalent of standing in a line at O'Hare Airport and saying 'This plane is late. I hope I didn't put a bomb on it.' You know nobody would actually do that in their right minds."
Training employees to speak up to management if someone makes potentially threating remarks is a proactive method that can diffuse a potentially violent situation, the panelists said,
In addition, companies need to develop an emergency plan for a potential mass shooting so employees know what to do if the situation arises. Brady noted a recent survey found half of all U.S. workers fear being killed in the workplace shooting, so owners need to address that fear by developing and championing a plan.
"It starts at the top," Brady said. "If you're the boss and security is important to you, it's going to be important to every single person who works there."
Cummins noted that, especially during drills, it's important the top level of management is seen as taking it seriously.
"If an employee is inconvenienced by a drill and they see the CEO leaving 10 minutes early, getting into his car and driving away, every employee is going to know about that."
Both panelists said it is important to work with local police in developing active shooter policies and drills so they are aware of the company's plans, and they can provide advice. Federal agencies, such as OSHA, Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Secret Service, can also provide advice and resources.
Above all, they said, it's important to remember employees are the biggest deterrent to a potential workplace shooting situation.
"People are our deterrent to these people who are going to commit these acts," Brady said. "When we teach people about fighting back, it's not something an active shooter is planning for."
Presenting sponsors for the forum were College of DuPage and Serve and Protect. Marketing partners were GOA Regional Business Association, Schaumburg Business Association, and the Arlington Heights, Carol Stream, Lombard and Western DuPage chambers of commerce.