responding to threatsViolence has many forms and can come from infinite sources, making it difficult to plan for all potential scenarios. But responding to the threat of violence, from both internal and external sources, is a much more manageable process if handled properly. Take, for example, the recent closing of the University of Chicago main campus in response to online threats of gun violence. After receiving notification from the Federal Bureau of Investigations of a credible threat, school officials reacted quickly to ensure the safety of their students and personnel on and off campus and canceled all classes and events while assisting law enforcement during their investigation. As a result, no lives were lost and a suspect was apprehended. The above is an example of an external targeted threat where the source came from parties not directly employed or contracted by the organization receiving the threat. Typically, they are in the form of a phone call, a handwritten note, or an email; however, a growing method of delivering external threats of violence is online, often through social media. Internal targeted threats are threats of violence initiated by employees or contractors of an organization. Those threats can be directed at the company itself or individuals within the company. When it comes to dealing with targeted threats of violence, it is best to treat every threat as if it is credible, just like the University of Chicago did. The lives of your staff and the damage to your building or operations relies on it. Upon receipt of the threat, contact law enforcement immediately and follow instructions, but also enact the appropriate threat response. To help you determine how to best respond to internal and external threats, review the suggestions below. Internal Threats of Violence If an individual displays disruptive behavior but does NOT seem dangerous and no weapon is present:

  • Display empathy. Ask questions to demonstrate concern and interest. Summarize what you hear the individual saying to reflect your attention.
  • Consider offering an apology to calm the individual and encourage cooperation; for example, “I’m sorry that happened. What can we do now that will solve the problem?”
  • Focus on areas of agreement to help resolve the problem.
  • If this doesn’t work, calmly and firmly set limits.
  • If the disruption continues despite a warning, tell the individual that the discussion is over, and direct them to leave the office.
  • If the individual refuses, seek assistance from security.

If an individual DOES seem dangerous but no weapon is present:

  • Set a distress signal with a co-worker before the meeting so you can signal them to alert your supervisor or the police if you need assistance.
  • Maintain a safe distance, do not turn your back, and stay seated if possible. Always sit near an open door.
  • Be calm and non-confrontational and allow the person to describe the problem.
  • NEVER touch the individual yourself or try to remove him/her from the area. Even a gentle push or holding the person’s arm may be interpreted as an assault by an agitated individual. They could respond with violence towards you or file a lawsuit later.
  • Set limits to indicate the behavior change needed to deal with the concern, e.g. “Please stop shouting or I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
  • Do not mention discipline or the police if you fear an angry or violent response.
  • If the situation escalates, find a way to excuse yourself, leave the room, and get help.

If a weapon is present or if violence appears to be imminent:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Do not attempt to intervene physically or deal with the situation yourself.
  • Get yourself and others to safety as quickly as possible.

External Threats of Violence If a threat is received over the phone:

  • Attempt to keep the caller on the line and find out as much information as possible.
  • Try to keep your voice calm and stay polite and non-confrontational.
  • If a caller ID is displayed, copy the number down.
  • Take note of the caller’s gender, accent, vocal characteristics, tone (angry, nervous, etc.), and whether you can hear any sounds in the background.
  • When the caller hangs up, immediately call 911 and give them as much information as you can.
  • Contact the Crisis Leader and building management and provide them with the same information. The Crisis Leader will decide whether the threat is credible and what action to take, such as sheltering-in-place or evacuating the building.

If a handwritten threat is received:

  • Remain calm and handle the note as little as possible.
  • Contact law enforcement and follow instructions.
  • Contact the Crisis Leader and provide as much information as possible so he or she can decide what actions to take next, such as sheltering-in-place or evacuating the building.

If a threat is received online through email or social media:

  • Document the threat as quickly as possible (print the email, screenshot the post, etc.).
  • Share the threat immediately with law enforcement and follow instructions.
  • Contact the Crisis Leader and provide as much information as possible so he or she can decide what actions to take next, such as sheltering-in-place or evacuating the building.

For more ways to prepare your responses to targeted threats of violence, visit the Workplace Violence section of the portal or contact your Customer Success representative.

Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.