William Flynn

Think and Survive Workplace Violence

Nov. 18, 2019
Security and safety expert William Flynn shares tactics to navigate an increasingly scary world.

It's an ugly statistic: Nearly 2 million Americans are directly impacted by workplace violence every year. They're bullied, stalked, threatened and, in the most extreme scenario, killed by a disgruntled co-worker, a contractor or even a domestic partner.

Unfortunately, the ugliness is also a reality, and such was the topic of William F. Flynn's keynote address at the 2019 Safety Leadership Conference, held earlier this month. He shared that bit of data along with a host of other grim statistics during his talk "Think and Survive: Workplace Violence and Active Shooter Preparedness."

Flynn is the right guy to be talking about safety and security. He is a former principal deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection, as well as a former assistant commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Today he is chief security officer, TPOP (The Power of Preparedness).

Moreover, the time for the topic is now. Flynn noted that one in seven people don't feel safe at work, citing recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management. The "divisiveness in our country" doesn't help either, he said.

Importantly, the security expert didn't merely outline the state of workplace violence, but he also provided ideas about how employees can proactively help themselves.

“People don’t just wake up on Monday morning and snap... they are on a pathway to violence,” he said. There typically is a downward spiral.

Flynn outlined several behaviors that may indicate a potential for workplace violence. These red flags include:

  • talking about previous violent acts
  • depression or withdrawal
  • increased absenteeism
  • paranoid thinking
  • a focus on dangerous weapons
  • espousing violence on social media

The goal upon recognizing such indicators, Flynn said, is to intervene and get individuals the support they need before violence erupts.

He also noted the need for increased coordination between companies' human resource departments and their security departments.

Active Shooter Threats

The fact is that active shooter events can happen at any time and in any location, the security expert said. Flynn cited numerous examples, including the May 2019 Virginia Beach shooting in which a disgruntled employee shot and killed 12 people and injured several others. 

"We see these events happening, unfortunately, almost every week," Flynn told the audience. "You've got to take it seriously."

Indeed, a week after Flynn's address came reports of a student gunman killing several students and injuring others at a Southern California high school. 

But how to get more serious about security? Flynn provided some ideas, including the need for multidisciplinary involvement in security planning. "It should be a holistic approach," he said.

Among Flynn's suggestions:

  • Undertake a risk assessment using a multidepartmental team.
  • Update emergency plans.
  • Ensure reliable security coverage. Make guards visible.
  • Secure exits and entrances.
  • Invest in a reliable security system.
  • Coordinate with local law enforcement.
  • Consider implementing or reinforcing active shooter awareness training.

On a personal level, be aware of what is going on around you, Flynn said. While this advice sounds simple, the ubiquitous use of mobile devices is "providing a distraction to maintaining situational awareness," he added.

The ultimate takeaway from Flynn's keynote is that workplace violence – and active shooter situations – aren't going to go away, so you need to be prepared.  

About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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