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Preparing for the Unthinkable: Workplace Violence [Part 2]

Part Two of a Two-Part Series

By Ron Tabaczynski, BOMA/Chicago Director of Government Affairs

In our last post regarding BOMA/Chicago’s recent Open Security Committee Meeting, we explored notable causes and warning signs associated with workplace violence.

The importance of creating and consistently implementing workplace violence policies for employees cannot be overstated.  Assembling a dedicated task force to address specific issues and train employees on pre-incident indicators, how to communicate with HR and security personnel, and take specific steps to prevent an attack is essential to ensuring a safe and secure working environment.

Unfortunately, not all violent incidents are predictable (or preventable), and they tend to evolve quickly. If an attack occurs, how should employees and building management teams respond?

In the second of our two-part Elevator Speech series, we’ll consider several strategies and “best practices” to help address and resolve dangerous situations quickly and with minimal damage.

Employee Training

Emergency training for employees should be the top priority for building management as well as tenant employers.  In the event of a workplace attack, such as an active shooter event, even the best law enforcement teams take several minutes to arrive on the scene – and the response time countdown only begins once they are notified of an issue. As such, employees must be prepared to proactively ensure their personal safety until the police arrive.

Open Security Committee Meeting guest speaker John Busch shared that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have set guidelines on how to react during emergency situations called “Run, Hide, Fight.” More specifically:

  1. Run – Evacuating the building should always be the first course of action if there is an accessible escape path.
    • Even in non-emergency situations, be aware of your surroundings and always have an escape route in mind.
    • Leave all belongings behind, as they will only slow you down (and may appear as threatening objects to police officers).
    • Help others escape, if possible. However, your own safety should be your first priority; evacuate regardless of whether or not others agree to follow.
    • As tough as it may be not to lend a helping hand, resist the urge to move wounded people. They will be attended to by emergency personnel.
    • Keep hands visible and follow all police instructions. Remember: officers will be searching for the attacker. Don’t give them a reason to suspect you’re anything but an innocent bystander.
  2. Hide – If evacuation is not possible, hide yourself from the attacker.
    • Find a hiding spot outside of the attacker’s view.
    • Ideally, the location should provide protection if shots are fired towards you (e.g., a locked door).
    • Take any steps to prevent the attacker from finding you. Locking the door (if possible) or blockading it with heavy furniture are both solid strategies.
    • Try not to restrict your options for movement. As soon as the threat subsides, you should attempt to evacuate.
  3. Fight – As a last resort, prepare to fight the attacker.
    • Act as aggressively as possible against him or her.
    • Yell or throw items as a distraction.
    • Improvise weapons from the materials available to you.
    • Most importantly – commit to your actions. An attack abandoned halfway through can be even more dangerous than doing nothing.

Building tenants should encourage all employees to familiarize themselves with the “Run, Hide, Fight” guidelines. In many cases, being informed on how to react during a workplace attack can be the difference between life and death.

Building Management and Security Teams

According to Keith Martin, security manager at Chase Tower, one of the most important decisions facing management teams during a potential security threat is whether to evacuate, lockdown or shelter in place. The goal should be to establish a “sterile zone” and isolate the threat until police arrive.

Each building and management team is different, and as such, proper emergency preparation and response strategies will vary. At Chase, a Site Incident Management Team (SIMT) of security, IT, HR and building management leaders spearheads safety initiatives for the entire building. The team meets annually, in addition to regular security training sessions, to discuss different emergency scenarios and develop corresponding contingency plans. A few best practices include:

  • Ensure all building tenants and employees are familiar with active shooter and other emergency response plans.
  • Establish communications protocols and instruction guidelines on immediate protective actions (e.g., evacuation, shelter in place, etc.).
  • Ensure emergency communications equipment is present and operable.
  • Assign clear roles for building management, security staff, engineers, etc. to avoid confusion.
  • Gather as much information as possible to share with law enforcement teams upon their arrival. The more informed they are about the situation, the more effectively they will be able to resolve it.

Remember – disarray during a violent workplace incident is inevitable. Emotions and adrenaline among individual employees, building managers and security professionals will be running on overdrive. However, proper education, training and preparation can help ensure the safety of all parties involved.

If you would like further information on any of the best practices we’ve shared surrounding workplace violence, please visit  We also encourage you to leverage the free videos and other training materials available online from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, American Bar Association and other national organizations.