PHILADELPHIA—While there is no way to fully eliminate the risk of a violent incident occurring within the workplace, comprehensive crisis prevention and response planning can help companies greatly reduce an incident's impact, a panel of experts said last week at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s conference in Philadelphia.
Of course, protecting employees, customers and clients from harm should be the primary concern of any company's security personnel as well as its senior executives. However, security and safety planning that is focused too narrowly on restricting facility access or containing an incident once it's in progress often fails to account for the longer-term impacts of workplace violence, panelists said.
“What's at stake are both direct and indirect expenses,” said Sean Ahrens, Aon Global Risk Consulting's Chicago-based security consulting practice leader. “Direct expenses are easy enough to quantify; it's going to be your financial obligations as a result of the incident. But you're not going to be able to determine the long-term indirect costs associated with the damage to your brand and image.
“As a result, you'll see a lot of organizations that experience a workplace violence event and fail to recover afterwards,” he added.
In order to better manage the short- and long-term impacts of violent incidents in the workplace, as well as reduce their likelihood of happening in the first place, companies should take a holistic approach to security and safety planning, panelists said.
For starters, risk managers should assess their existing security stock of personnel and equipment for function and value, instead of merely quantity, said Sarah Pacini, vp of risk management and insurance at Oak Brook, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care Network. Those assessments will not only inform the company's immediate crisis response planning, but likely will influence security hiring and procurement guidelines in the future, Ms. Pacini said.
“Your security program also needs to be represented among your company's senior leadership in order to communicate the value of adequate financial investment in your security infrastructure,” she said.
Communication is a second critical aspect of effective incident response planning, panelists said. Risk managers that have had success in minimizing the short- and long-term damage of a violent event have done so largely by ensuring clear and consistent communication of their company's response plans and tactics with employees, senior management and especially local law enforcement agencies.
“Make no mistake, when there's an incident like an active shooter or hostage-taking, if you haven't planned for that event, the police are going to take over and dictate what's going to happen within your organization,” Mr. Ahrens said. “If you involve them in the planning stages and collaborate with law enforcement, you'll find it much easier to recover the way you want to recover.”
Additionally, panelists said, risk managers should develop ahead of time a robust series of protocols for answering questions from the media and the community at large during and immediately after an incident if they hope to have any control over the public's perception of the company's handling of the event.
Nearly as important as developing policies and protocols to address workplace violence is the documentation of those policies, panelists said, particularly where potential lawsuits after an incident are concerned. Any policy or procedure adopted regarding workplace violence prevention or response needs to be written out and formalized, Ms. Pacini said.
And once you've published the policy, “it's very important that your front-line leaders know what that policy entails, especially from a litigation standpoint,” Ms. Pacini said.
“Just because it's down on paper doesn't mean that it's known and understood throughout the organization.”